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July 25, 2008

The Page

You know what CRM is. I am certain of it. Therefore, I don’t need to share with you what I think it is.

Our company works with strategic partners in collaboration to bring the benefits of CRM to our mutual clients. At a recent even where I was leading a session on the topic of selling CRM we were discussing this exact subject. We all know what CRM is.

More over, so do our clients. All the folks I talk to are quite certain that they understand what CRM means, thank you. So, it is certainly a waste of time to talk about the definition of this three letter acronym.

Funny thing is, ask somebody to put this in writing, and then it gets interesting. With 10 people in the room, you will get 11 answers. There are a lot of different interpretations of what we think is obvious, and, in my opinion, there are misconceptions too.

Differences of opinions make the world go round. That is fine. But when we use a term and assume that everyone follows the same interpretation, we can get caught short. I think it makes sense for us to be clear with our versions and don’t let assumptions get in the way of serving our customers who rely on our expertise.

I have some strong convictions on what this definition is and what it should mean to our customers. You are welcome to adopt what I offer below or use this as a foundation for developing your own working definition.

1) CRM does not equate to technology. This is the biggest misconception and not talking about this hurts our customers. Many are still misled by this belief. The greatest risk is that it sucks people into believing that a technical solution can solve difficult organizational problems.
2) CRM helps to manage all customer touchpoints. CRM is not just for the sales process. Rather it is a strategy for managing all interactions, plus secondary activity that supports touchpoints. Is order management an ERP function or CRM? My definition of CRM encompasses order management.
3) Further, CRM is intending to derive synergy across functions, not just touchpoints on their own. Successful CRM connects Sales with Marketing, not just between these functions and their customers.
4) At the core of CRM is the dynamic of people, process and technology. CRM brings these three elements together as effectively as possible. Good CRM focuses on all three.
5) Ultimately, CRM must be in place to achieve business results. What ever the investment, what ever the effort, CRM must be focused on outcomes.

So, this is my perspective. I would be delighted to hear what others would add or modify. Ultimately, the objective is to make sure when we discuss the pursuit of CRM with our customers that we are all singing from the same page.

Fins to the Left

July 18, 2008

Get Ready


Discussing change management along with CRM has become pretty commonplace. Back in the 90’s I had trouble getting an audience when attempting to explain the need for managing changes within CRM programs. While I feel some vindication with the amount of press that the convergence of these two topics gets today in the technology media, I feel there are still some misconceptions.

One of the difficulties is that the term change management is now offered up too easily, as any buzz word. This causes program managers and CRM stakeholders to become careless with what it means and what it requires. Plus, it has taken on meaning in some circles as synonymous with down sizing or with business transformation. So, there is confusion out there.

I like to begin the process of clarification by asking the question, is your CRM program being put in place to keep the lights on or are you out to change the business? The answer is going to be somewhere on a continuum. At the one end is an organization embarking on CRM by bringing in call center automation in an effort to assist the service agents to better keep up with demand. At the other end of the continuum is the organization that develops a customer segmentation model utilizing newly implemented analytics software. This program will change everything from how the company thinks about its customers all the way to how a customer is treated during every touchpoint.

If your program is going to look more like the latter than the former you need to be ready for change. If you need to transform the business to get the results you are seeking from your CRM program, then you also need to put the correct effort into it. Most programs are good at providing the tools needed for making the business changes. However, transformation requires more – changing the strategy, leadership, policy, roles, rewards, processes, competencies, and possibly even the organizational culture. These all need to be planned and managed as much as the implementation of the tools.

Business transformation is hard to do, mostly because it requires making changes to all the factors above, plus dealing with the resistance to the changes. But the number one cause of business transformation failure is due to programs starting without sufficient clarity and alignment regarding the expected end state. So, when answering the question, “are you ready?” it is best to start with asking whether the program objectives are clear and agreed to. Where are you on the continuum – just run the business or actually change it? Once you have this truly settled you can plan effectively for the rest of the program.

July 11, 2008

The Perimeter of Demise

There is a project underway in my basement. It involves plastering, wiring, finish carpentry, and, eventually, painting. The project has been underway for years. However, this weekend somebody needs to actually sleep down there, so the project pace has picked up a bit. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful deadlines can be.

The term deadline has a pretty powerful meaning, when you look at the words within it and the history of the term. Apparently the term comes from the physical or virtual line surrounding a prison along which a prisoner can expect to be shot if crossed. That is a pretty powerful metaphor, even though we don’t think about it consciously when we use the term in our regular dialogue. Metaphors in our regular language have a pretty interesting way of influencing us. Listen to a recording of the late great George Carlin as he describes the metaphor differences between terms from football and baseball. But, I digress.

Perimeter of Demise

We set time boundaries for ourselves driving our action to be completed within that dead line, or otherwise we are toast. With the exception of those with pathological procrastination disorder, setting deadlines is a very, very effective tool for managing our time. And, this serves as a particularly effective tool within our business projects, including CRM.

Many of the deadlines we work within make a lot of sense. Projects need to be completed within a budget cycle. They need to be completed in time for supporting an event. They need to be finished quickly to resolve a problem that is causing losses.

There are also deadlines that don’t make sense. They are set for the purpose of completion, but their inappropriate targeting may result in dysfunction for the project. I have seen project teams work 16 hour days, week after week, just because there is a random deadline. This kind of project death march causes burnout and unnecessary turnover of important project resources. Poorly set deadlines can also cause scope-related expenses to soar, driving the overall project budget to be worse than if conducted along a more reasonable timeline.

Deadlines can also be set too far out and serve no value in driving to completion. Within these circumstances, project behaviors form a culture of under-motivated activity. There will always be time tomorrow, so why do it today?

Ultimately, I think we take the deadline thing for granted. They really work, but need to be wielded like a sharp tool, such as the metaphorical double-edged sword. Let’s give the right attention to this one element of the project so we don’t inadvertently cross that perimeter of demise.

And, yes, thank you for asking, the basement looks pretty good. Come on by if you need a place to stay or want to play some ping pong or foosball.

July 04, 2008

Independence Day

So, us Yanks are just celebrating the anniversary of our independence from the tyranny of colonialism. Sorry to my friends in the UK – I truly don’t raise this to rub salt in the wounds. Just pretend I am talking about bonfire night. We have different ways of observing the celebration around the country. Mine typically involve being on a boat and concluding the day with a pyrotechnical display over the harbor. I try to be an observer of the fireworks while in the boat, rather than a target, but sometimes we get a little too close due to our enthusiasm.

While we take this opportunity once a year to mark our independence, I can’t help but to also focus on the things to which we remain dependent. My car comes to mind with gas going out of control. I still have not achieved independence from the airlines, which deserves its own revolution. My PDA has become a source of dependence that is a new development.

And then there is CRM. What is your dependence there? Could you do without your forecast? How about that new lead management process? How are things when the system crashes – feeling dependent? While I really would like independence from OPEC, some dependencies might be a sign of success.

If your CRM program is running well and you now recognize that you could not live without it; that is probably a good thing. If you feel that you are a hostage to the tyranny of a bad system; that is a bad thing. So, I guess the question is, would you celebrate with fireworks if you could free yourself from your CRM system or would you celebrate because of the success of your dependence?

Thank you to all, past and present, who have contributed to achieving the freedoms we enjoy.

Pyro Ipswich 08