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Too big, or not too big?

That is the question. No, not for the King of Denmark. Not for the Jenny Craig spokesperson, either. We are asking about the size of CRM programs.

A circumstance that I have been encountering with more frequency lately is one where things are summed up roughly as, one big program or a bunch of little ones? The typical situation goes something like this. A client organization is comprised of a number of business units and functions, each of which is looking into some form of customer management tool – SFA, campaign automation, managing contacts, managing service requests. Some groups share customers with others, some groups don’t, and some groups work with all the customers.

Likewise, some of the business units share information about customer activity with other business units. Some don’t, but they should. Customers don’t always call into the correct place and sometimes they get lost and sometimes that get taken care of.

This probably sounds like the poster child for a company that can benefit from an enterprise-wide CRM platform and should become a case study for the infamous 360 degree customer view.

Not so fast. This same company has a history of failed company wide initiatives. Different executives are in different places on the need to make a big investment in a large software program. And, one or two of the business units are on the verge of pulling the trigger, including approved budgets and selected software. Meanwhile some of the other groups are months or even quarters away from making any decisions. Going down the path of a single enterprise program would delay the groups with the biggest pain from getting needs met for longer than will be tolerable.

Gnarley Horn

Sound familiar? What is the answer? Too big, or not too big?

Ten years ago the answer would have been automatic. The IT department would select a CRM platform and begin implementing for the groups that ask first, and maybe even for the groups that did not ask. However, by the third or fourth implementation it would be discovered that the data model for the first group does not fit the next group. Of course, today we avoid this by building a single data model first and then force all the groups onto it whether there is a fit or not. This has caused a backlash and in some cases mutinies where business units abandon the company platform and build their own CRM. And we are back where we started.

Can’t we all just get along?

For organizations with multiple business units and multiple customer types, it should not be a given that a single CRM platform and a single source of customer information is the correct answer. If there is a need and a benefit for an integrated approach, it should be considered. But that needs to be addressed first. Just because it is convenient for IT to support a single CRM software package does not mean it makes sense for the business.

For most of the organizations I work with there are three categories of requirements in these situations. First, there are the common requirements such as the need for a single forecasting model or the need to share a single customer identification number. Second there are best practices that are useful to share, but not mandatory, such as following a similar set of sales stages or using the same codes for service issues. Finally, there are requirements that are unique to business units, such as the need for distributor information in a single geography or compliance differences driven by legislation.

To answer whether a company should have a single or multiple CRM programs will be contingent on the ratio of common versus unique needs. I am not sure there is a single threshold that once crossed drives the decision one way or the other, but it is this ratio that needs to be examined and then the decision made whether there is strong enough need to drive conformance to a single platform or whether the agony of that conformance will outweigh the benefits.

Ultimately, the decision needs to be made by the stakeholders who will benefit from the common approach, but also pay the price of the conformance (and the length of time it takes to get everybody up and running with one approach). Enterprise wide CRM is a challenge, and not enough organizations have proved it to be successful. That does not mean it is not right for your organization, but you do need to go into this with eyes open and make the decision with all the stakeholders at the table.



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