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July 27, 2007

Taking the Gamble out of CRM Sotware Selection

Lately, I have been spending a lot of my time helping my clients correctly select CRM technology for their businesses. Yes, I know this is not all that interesting, so why am I consuming precious blog space on such a mundane topic? Well, I think it gets interesting when you add the fact that all of my clients have already gone through a selection of CRM, but come away very dissatisfied with their decisions. Can the process of choosing a software package to enable business capabilities be all that hard to get right? It does not have to be. However if you do not pay attention to some key factors, your selection can turn into a big crap shoot. Here is a process that I recommend.

Step 1 – Probably the biggest factor in a successful selection process is not starting with the technology, but rather, starting with the end state that technology will achieve. Get a very clear vision and consensus on what CRM will do for the business. Many get this wrong the first time, thinking it is simple, but leave out key functions of the business, fail to gain consensus and, like one company who spent $12M on CRM but with virtually no adoption, waste serious money. Once you know where you want to go, the rest of the selection process gets easier.

Step 2 – Next it is necessary to clearly uncover the business capabilities needed to achieve the vision, which is harder than it appears because many are not adept at facilitating future state requirements definition. I have a client that chose a CRM system a number of years ago, then later determined they needed to add order management as a business capability. This was not included in the initial selection process and it led to them choosing a package with too narrow a set of abilities. As a result, they have had to abandon the original selection, forcing unnecessary turmoil and expense on the business. Your selection needs to cover your future requirements, not just remove the pain the business is battling with today.

Step 3 – Once you have established a prioritized set of capabilities required by the business, you next want to compare these against inherent package abilities to determine best fit. The pitfall with this step is not knowing whether a package can really do what the sales and marketing people say. Due diligence is the key. Start with creating a shortlist - there are many packages to choose from – weed out the poor fits and focus on the obvious few. To do this well it can be very helpful to know the technology marketplace and where the hidden traps are.

Be careful not to weed out good packages because of inappropriate perceptions. I had a client who told me they would never choose a certain package, but anything else was fair game. As it turned out, the best fit was the one they declared they would not choose. With a bit more pushing, we found out that they had no sound reason for discounting the best fit; it was purely irrational conclusion-forming. They now happily use that software to this day.

Step 4 – With a clear comparison of business requirements against software abilities, it is possible to objectively determine the package that will fit best. However, there are potentially some non-objective criteria included in the decision process. Therefore it is best if you facilitate the decision process with the business choosing the best fit. I have learned that this cannot be an IT decision, and it cannot even appear that IT has a preference because of the risk that the business will resist what IT puts in front of them. We have replaced a huge number of CRM systems for this one reason alone

Step 5 – Finally, with a preferred vendor chosen, develop a realistic estimate of TCO and negotiate your best price with the vendor – software vendors are notoriously horrid at providing estimates, and they lowball shamefully. Plus some software vendors have a history of trying to sell unnecessary services and modules when they can get away with it. This is an area where knowing how to navigate the buying process becomes really key to ensuring a good deal and avoiding the potential of buying shelf-ware.

Sometimes it can be helpful to use a resource that is familiar with the software industry to assist with the process of steering around the potholes. The cost of bringing in some help is a great way to parlay your bet. Good luck!


Big Gambler

July 19, 2007

I Don't Trust My IT Department

It’s hard. You have a lot at stake. The competition is tough. Your customers have high expectations. You have to rely on your team. When somebody lets you down, you have a long memory. Some times when things go wrong, there has to be blame.

Blue House

The IT function takes it on the chin often - sometimes rightly so – sometimes not. Staff functions are easily made into scapegoats, but technology and the high expectations that go along with business technology solutions put IT at the center of the cross hairs, very often. Too often the blame is unjust.

On the other hand, I believe my grandmother was often heard saying something like, “if you can’t stand the heat, don’t stand in the kitchen.” If you are going to cook, you have to operate by the fire in the stove. If you are going to preside over technology, you better be prepared to live or die by the technical solutions you provide, and some of them pack some heat.

I have a client right now with a well functioning IT department that has decided on a set of standards for the corporation, which is a good idea generally speaking. Allowing each of the different businesses to do its own thing can be a problem. However, it seems to have gotten into trouble by standardizing on a CRM platform that literally nobody wants. Different groups are slowly committing mutiny, one group at a time, abandoning the standard and adopting their own platform. It is kind of a mess.

How does something like this possibly happen? In my opinion, it is a situation that plain and simply cannot be tolerated. If the IT function adopts a technology that the business rejects, then it is a necessity to find a technology that the business will accept. IT is a support function after all, not a police state. It is there strictly to support the requirements of the business, not dictate how the business will function.

Brother and sister CIO’s I implore you, please don’t declare a software package as a corporate standard until you have done an honest due diligence, and you have the business on board and involved in an educated decision. This is serious stuff, not to be decided based on politics, cronyism or technological purism. Nobody wins unless the technology supports the needs of the business as a first priority.

Selecting software to best fit the needs of the business can be a tricky exercise, especially with all the different options available. Look for an upcoming entry focused specifically on the process of evaluating and selecting CRM software to best satisfy the requirements of the business.

July 13, 2007

ADD or LDA?

I have been finding that it is quite in vogue for my clients to refer to themselves or to one of their functions as suffering from corporate ADD. While this affliction is not something to joke about for those who suffer its effects, I do find it commonly referenced in only partially teasing fashion within many of the organizations that I visit. No function within the enterprise is pointed to more commonly than sales.

You may think your sales function has Attention Deficit Disorder, but it is more likely Limited Discretionary Attention (LDA), the insufficient ability to give the requisite amount of attention to all the different issues that demand it. ADD implies the inability to stay focused due to incapability, but I think this is an unfair characterization for many of the sales functions that I advise.

These people are not incapable - to the contrary - they are often amazingly capable, but they have too much on their proverbial plates. It may appear that they can’t stay focused on the topic that you want to be the center of their attention. The problem is that you are competing with a bevy of other just as important topics, and they all require attending to now.

If you want to work successfully with functions encountering LDA, you have to learn how to work within this environment – it is not a disorder, it is a reality. I learned this lesson most potently when working with a global media company a while back. All of the executives had an array of video screens in their offices, monitoring most of the cable news stations. My time with these high-powered individuals was spent sharing their attention with news anchors across the channels. To be stopped mid-sentence was continuous. To have an exec bolt from the room shouting orders at handlers in the adjoining cubes just as I was about to get to the point was commonplace.

Kookie

This was their work environment, and I needed to adapt if I were to be effective. There are methods for making this work. Some suggestions you might consider to work effectively with your LDA function follow:

- Sound bites on steroids – if you want to get a point across, be brutally succinct, cut to the chase first, give detail second, don’t blather

- Solutions, not just problems – while this is important in a lot of places, the last thing you want to do is to point out a problem without a solution in your pocket (otherwise, you are the problem)

- Relevance, to the right person – raising something to somebody with LDA when the topic is important to you but not to them is the first step toward becoming noise

- Avoid becoming noise – you have a finite number of times to raise things, if you always sound the same and don’t vary your tune, you are officially noise

- Don’t take it personally – perhaps the hardest lesson to assimilate, but being ignored is not a sign of rudeness or your status, it is an indication of another priority getting attention instead of yours

July 06, 2007

Got Pie?

Please pardon the analogy if it seems a bit of a stretch, but I think building CRM strategy is a lot like picking berries. Go with me a moment with this. There are actually a couple of elements that I think are particularly relevant.

What are you going to do with your berries? Are they going into a fruit salad, or are they for an ice cream garnish. Perhaps they are going into a pie, or maybe you just pop them in your mouth as you pick them. The process of berry picking needs to match the final result. If you want to make a pie, you can’t pop very many in your mouth, otherwise you will never reach your goal. On the other hand, berries for a pie don’t need to be a perfect specimen like those that need to beautify the top of a sundae, so what gets picked and when very much matters matters.

This is how I view the development of initial CRM strategy. What you do with your software and customer-facing processes need to match the outcome you want from your effort. Are you trying to grow market share rapidly or are you trying to drive efficiencies throughout maturing operations? Everything needs to be tied to the outcomes, just like picking berries.

Another element of the analogy is a bit more salient to the effectiveness of the berry gathering process. Raspberry bushes, the object of my early summer attention, have long branches, big leaves, and when healthy, tend to be full and bushy. These circumstances make for excellent conditions for berries to hide from would be harvesters. Therefore, to be a successful collector of the little red fruit, one must look at the targeted bush from many directions. One must look from above, one must look from below. Then one must look from the left and again from the right. Not finished, you then have to look from the back and circle again to the front - each change of vantage point yielding another prize.

This is exactly the way it works with CRM. There are obvious benefits and sources of reward within a CRM program. Better forecasting, more efficient issue resolution or improved lead generation are typical examples. Those berries get picked first. But there are more benefits to be gained and it is important to look from directions that you might not have initially expected or assumed.

You might believe that the important reason for your CRM investment is to improve sales effectiveness. However, you might find that you will double your ROI if you include your field service organization because of the benefit of collecting key customer information available at that touchpoint. It is really critical for success to look beyond your initial scope – don’t limit yourself to only a portion of the berries.

And to answer that other lingering question – I am going for a raspberry pie.

Flower Labia