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November 30, 2007

A Bottle of Relevance, A Bottle of Meaning

Piano Man Dance

That previous entry with the picture from high above the City by the Bay ended with a strong message. If you are going to keep your CRM program from imploding under the weight of all your customer data, you must get serious about Relevance and Meaning.

I think this is a really big deal. In fact, these two every day words loaded with big significance should be two of the foundational elements of virtually every single CRM program. So, why all the ruckus? Let me attempt to explain.

Let’s start with a brief review of the problem already raised in a prior entry – there is too much data for the average CRM user to assimilate. And, what is worse, the CRM industry is building super weapons of data proliferation, setting the stage for an impending information overload of epic proportions. And the key to survival, I postulate, is these two simple words, Relevance and Meaning.

What’s so special about Relevance? It is all about filtering the noise. Most customer-facing employees only deal with a subset of your company’s customers. The last thing you want to do is bombard them with information about all your customers. Sophisticated CRM systems can easily accomplish that feat. Relevance is the means of holding back information that does not pertain.

So, how does one go about achieving Relevance? Think “my CRM”. This is where you utilize the technology to only display information that pertains to the customer(s) at hand. Functionality such as role based views and task based views are designed for just this purpose. Software embedded scripting works well as does workflow used correctly.

Meaning is all about converting data into knowledge that can be acted on. This too can be successfully achieved with the more recent developments within the CRM software, specifically analytics. This is where the technology transforms multiple data points into more substantive information – either as trends, probabilities, or finding relationships that would otherwise be lost due to the data volume. The analytic tools provide reports or indicators that help CRM users take the most effective action with their clients.

One observation that you might make is that I am proposing that technology is a core component of foundational elements of every CRM program. Those of you who know me understand that I am often the one who cautions about putting too much importance on the technology variable in the CRM equation. This is an important example of where the technology truly is at the heart of the success.

November 23, 2007

CRM Cornucopia

One of my responsibilities each year at Thanksgiving is to make an apple pie using an old recipe handed down from a branch of the family from Iowa. They probably know something about apple pies out there. This pie is always a hit after all that turkey and potatoes.

Now, this particular recipe starts with a pie crust that is a bit unusual in that it is pressed into the pie plate rather than rolled and laid out. The tricky thing about the crust is that you have to keep a bit of the dough set aside to create a crumble top as the final step prior to going into the oven. It is important to keep this step in mind, or the pie is just not the same.

The great thing about following a recipe is that you have all the steps written down and you can read through the instructions in order to know what to anticipate. Without the directions, it would be an easy error to use up all the dough building the bottom crust and not have any for the crumble top.

No matter what you read, CRM does not come with a ready made recipe. However, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of baking a nice CRM pie. For those of you reading some of the previous entries on this site, it is no secret that I strongly value the benefits of planning. A good CRM strategy is the closest thing you can get to a recipe.

What I see as the greatest value of planning is that it increases the chances that you will get that crumble top on the pie at the right time. But there are other parallels with pie making as well. Many of the ingredients for pies are similar from recipe to recipe, but the fruit changes to suit taste and the season. Likewise, your business may focus on the sales force during one stage of your program, and then put emphasis on the call center at another stage. Cooking times and temperatures may differ between a berry pie and an apple pie just like the speed of implementation between a vanilla marketing deployment may differ from a more complex field service project involving competency-based dispatch.

If you are looking at building a new CRM program, don’t expect somebody to hand you a recipe. But there is a lot of knowledge out there to help assure your program comes out of the oven smelling, looking and tasting savory. Use the available research to supplement that planning process – this will help you identify the optional ingredients, cooking times, and preparation techniques.

Then again, you always have the option of just winging it. Stay clear of the rocks.

Rock Baby

November 16, 2007

Too Much

I had the pleasure of some down time for reading. It was one of those cross country flights from bean town to fog city. Once a year we converge as Larry takes over Howard Street and 40 thousand members of the world’s best IT organizations fill the Moscone.

After getting through a copy of Ski Magazine I switched genres and dove into a techie editorial on EIM. While it was a difficult switch to make from a compelling photo journalistic essay of Sun Valley, I somehow became interested in Enterprise Information Management. Yes, I understand that those of you out there who know me don’t believe that could be true, but it is true, just not for the correct reasons.


But it gets worse. Not only do I read on the plane all about the virtues of bringing together every possible source of data a company could ever hope to generate all into one spot, but then, the opening keynote address the next day at Open World lauds the same exact virtues.

This is really starting to bug me by this point.

So you are all thinking, what is the problem with all of this? The tech industry is finally making some progress to help companies manage their businesses better. Why should I be having difficulty with it all?

I’ll tell you what my problem is. I think ideas like EIM are going to crush my clients who are already struggling with mountains of data that they can’t handle. These businesses have too much information at their fingertips now. This overwhelming amount of data has already reached the point of becoming very loud noise. EIM is going to be a sonic boom.

The problem is that we probably don’t have a choice. This is all coming as progress that we can’t prevent. So, I guess if you can’t beat them, join them. But we are going to join on our own terms.

We need to make sure that all this data does not drown the business – we need to make sure that it nurtures the business instead. This can only be done by turning that data into something that provides both meaning and relevance, filtering out the noise.

Stay tuned for more on achieving meaning and relevance.

November 09, 2007

Goal or Target?

When I first started getting heavily involved within CRM as a consultant, back in the last millennium, I did a lot of surfing around the web to see what others had to say about it. Many posted definitions that were offered up for others to consider, even though this was before the era of the blog. The most prolific authors pushing commentary on the topic of CRM tended to include the concept of “customer centrism” within their definitions. I will disclose to you all here and now that at first I bought in to this idea.

When I think about the concept of centrism the image of concentric rings comes to mind - a bevy of PowerPoint slide variations dance in front of minds eye with the customer in the center and other business functions surrounding the customer in expanding interaction orbits. Essentially these images are portrayed as targets with the customer as the bull’s-eye.

Twellman on Goal

But I don’t buy it any more - CRM is not just about becoming customer centric, unless of course that is the strategy that your business chooses. You don’t have to become a customer-centrist in order to build an effective CRM strategy and achieve beneficial CRM outcomes. Interestingly though, I am starting to see the centrism thing pop up again in the blogosphere.

The goal of CRM should be to maximize or optimize the results of your complete span of customer interactions. These results, which I prefer to call outcomes, really fall into three categories of business benefits. This is something I have outlined in previous postings on this site, but in summary, these outcomes can either result in some form of revenue growth, cost savings, or customer perceived value.

Becoming customer centric will most likely assist you with finding means for providing more customer value. But it may not help you reduce costs or improve revenue. Why would you want to choose a CRM strategy that limited you to only one of the three possible types of outcomes unless you already had those nailed?

My advice is to determine what centristic balance is required to achieve the needed outcomes for the business. Are you too product focused or are you too marketing focused? Maybe putting in a bit more focus on the voice of the customer would a good thing. Is it a good thing to swing the pendulum completely to the other side? Maybe, but it is not the answer for everybody. It is also possible to be too customer focused. Yes, I know this is likely considered CRM heresy by many of you out there.

Maximize your outcomes as your goal for CRM and place your strategy for managing customer interactions in the bull’s-eye.

November 02, 2007

How Many Sales Reps Does it Take to Change a...?

Heine Wagon

Did you ever notice that an awful lot of life sciences industry companies seem to have a sales force for each product or drug they offer? That has always seemed like an extravagance to me.

The way this works is that a company comes up with a new product and then sets up a division to manage it. Each division has an R&D group and product managers. They set up a team to market the product and then there is a natural extension to set up a salesforce to push it to the medical community.

The more mature organizations eventually create a shared set of central services such as Finance, IT and HR. This seems to be acceptable to each division to share IT support, but each division seems quite bent on having control over who is doing the selling.

Ultimately this seems to come down to measurement and remuneration. The perceived risk or lack of trust may revolve around the belief that another division’s sales force is going to be more motivated to sell their own product rather than another’s. This gets veiled with things like skill concerns – nobody could have enough knowledge of how their product or drug works – so they have to do it themselves. I am not sure I buy this. If your salesforce can learn it, why can’t another salesforce learn it?

There are times when it does make sense to specialize, especially when each sales team needs to call on a radically different call point such as cardio-vascular surgeons versus endodontists. Otherwise, I question whether it does not make sense to consolidate the bag.

Does your company carry the cost and burden of 4 or 5 different sales teams, each specializing on a single product or product suite? Can you justify it? Could some of them be consolidated? If you were to combine those teams you might achieve one of a couple of really great outcomes. Think about how great it would be to have greater reach with a bigger team for the same price you already pay. On the other hand, think about how great it would be to combine those sales calls and reduce your cost of sale. Either way, think about it!