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September 26, 2008

A Time to Sow, a Time to Reap


I was participating in the largest annually conducted festival on this planet, one that is focused pretty seriously on malt beverages and sponsored pretty seriously by the malt beverage industry (ground meat products wrapped in animal entrails and bread products tied into knots are pretty common as well).. On top of that it is in the one country where the malt beverage industry takes itself extremely seriously. So, how could it be possible that it took me two hours to get a beer?

The last time I was a participant at Munich’s famous beer party was 30 years prior as a college student studying abroad. The whole thing seemed a bit more contained way back when. The festivities have gotten bigger since then and it felt like most of the 6 million people who are expected to attend this year were there on the night of my visit. With so many kegs of world class beer within my grasp, it was quite exasperating that they were also just out of my reach. There were simply too many people between me and the tap.

I was warned not to go on a weekend, especially Italian Weekend, but I had no choice. All in all, it was great to see the spectacle again, not to mention the opportunity to savor a bratwurst in the company of so many people wearing leather shorts and wonder bras (think St. Pauli Girl). It was a good party once I was finally able to get ahold of a liter sized stein full of hop flavored barely water.

Certainly many of you out there are thinking that this scenario is just like your CRM system. This thing that has grown bigger than expected and chock full of precious customer data that is amazingly difficult to belly up to the bar and actually get a drink of. It is so close, but yet so hard to access. Why does it have to be that way?

It turns out that there are a bunch of reasons why companies don’t seem to get back what they were expecting from CRM. They include: bad data, wrong data, insufficient data, too much data, and no tools for managing the data. One can write a book on what it takes to fix each one of these, so I don’t have the attention span to address them here. But, if you suspect that one or more of these situations exists within your CRM program, I do have a recommendation.

My mistake at this year’s Oktoberfest celebration was trying to take on such a significant endeavor without adequate help from a professional. I spent 15 minutes looking over a web site and thought I was in good shape to crash the party. It turns out I needed a professional’s help. The key to successful partying is getting into one of the Beer Tents, not just witnessing the melee from the outdoor beer gartens. The gemutlichkeit is indoors – that is where the polka music is hot and the beerfrauen even hotter. On a weekend you need to have an insider’s knowledge and connections otherwise you miss out on the core aspect of the party. I was missing that this time around.

This is my advice for unlocking the value of CRM as well. There are folks out there who know how to help you reap what you have sown within your CRM program. Remember, Oktoberfest is a celebration of the harvest, after all. There are CRM insiders – they can get you to the real party.

Find a firm that is a good fit with your company and you will truly start to maximize the return on your CRM investment. It was a big effort for me to get to Munich in the 48 hours between clients on Friday in Amsterdam and Monday in Wiesbaden. If I had just invested a bit more with an insider I would have harvested a bunch more fun.

Here’s to all you pilsner consumers out there – ein Prosit!

St Pauli Frau

September 19, 2008

Lipstick On A Pig

Interesting phrase - lipstick on a pig - it evokes some pretty interesting imagery. Mostly I think of the Muppets plus also my freshman year roommate in college who was a farmer and told me stuff about pig raising that you don’t want to hear.

Then, of course, it is a phrase with some legs lately in American politics, or it least a phrase with some lips. But, it is probably better not to go down that path. That governor up in Alaska looks fine without lipstick, anyway.

Using cosmetics ineffectively to hide unpleasant features is something that happens in the CRM industry as well. Giving handhelds to folks in the field as a way of making the CRM system more acceptable is a great example. Thinking that the gadget will make a poorly designed CRM system work better is the perfect example of lipstick on a pig. The handheld may be a really good idea, but without some key process changes and usability fixes, the use of the smaller device will be just as poor as the laptop-based adoption.

Lately there has also been a lot of talk about the use of social networking within the CRM context. Again, it is a great idea, but one that needs to be amended to a healthy CRM program. If the customer facing portion of the CRM system is plagued with a terrible UI, the use of social networking options will be compromised. Getting the fundamentals right is the key.

Perhaps the lipstick wearing poster child of CRM is the analytics package being heaped on top of the troubled CRM program. This is like burning money if existing data issues are not resolved first. There is no better example of garbage in – garbage out than this.

This is not to say that mobility, social networking and BI are bad ideas. They are fantastic capabilities that can and will take CRM programs to the next level if utilized correctly. It is the “if utilized correctly’ clause that is the hitch. Adding more capability to a troubled CRM system just causes more trouble.

To keep the lipstick off the pig, it is best to address the pig either first or as a component of a larger program plan that includes the introduction of the new capability.

For all of you lovers of our bovine friends please don’t be offended. It is, after all, just a saying. Perhaps we should change the metaphor and say something like, “paint on a leaky boat”.

Old Boat Bones

September 05, 2008

Not Good To Be King

My first professional, wear-a-suit-and-tie job was for the world’s largest computer company. At the time it had 360,000 employees across all continents – not bad for a company that got its fame by manufacturing and selling typewriters.

As a young buck I had an early opportunity to speak with a high ranking official of this venerable company, a division president I recall, but it was a long time ago. Something he said to me at the time made me wary of the conversation, but it stuck with me, even though I was not sure at the time how to really assimilate its meaning. I was working within a function that provided leadership training to managers in the division, so the conversation was focused on leader qualities.

This extremely powerful, sickeningly high paid, navy suit and wing tips Ivy Leaguer told me that he was frustrated with the fact that, by climbing to the position he was now occupying, he had lost any real control over the organization that he was in charge of. At the age of 22, and a student of organizational psychology, I was dumbfounded. I was still getting a grip on the concept of power and this did not fit with what I was learning.

Flash forward the better part of three decades and check out a study recently published by a large audit and consulting firm. In the report outlining the interesting results of this executive survey is a bar chart listing the factors executives believe are the biggest barriers to their ability to affect change. The longest bars in the chart place the problem squarely at the feet of other senior level and middle mangers in their organizations. In other words, senior executives believe they have lost control and the rest of management is in their way of actually having an impact on things.

So, I am a little embarrassed to disclose that I remain dumbfounded. I didn’t buy it then, and I still don’t buy it now. Is it possible that you lose your ability for influence just by virtue of your rank at the top of the organization chart? No, I think not. Business leaders do have plenty of control but some may be at the helm of a ship where the controls are challenged.

Sometimes I get frustrated with my boat. Shifting into forward can involve a moment of delay. Turning while in reverse can lead to a position I had not intended. A bit of wind and current can easily thwart attempts at docking with dignity. In tight maneuvering spots, such as in a marina surrounded by expensive boats tied up in their slips, sloppy controls, especially in compromising conditions, can lead me to believe that my boat is in control of me, rather than the skipper being in charge. Improving the controls or improving the navigational skills of the skipper are the solution.

So, what does this have to do with executives believing their mid-mangers are the problem? I question whether the skippers have the right controls in their hands or whether they are trying to steer with loose rudders. Good leaders will fix the controls. Leaders that blame their mid-managers are trying to steer the ship and may not even realize their controls are compromised.

When it comes to CRM, solid steering requires a clear customer direction and metrics to determine how well objectives are being achieved. If the plan is in place and measurement systems working, then it will be clear if parts of the ship are causing drag. Those parts need to be corrected. The skipper is responsible for making sure the corrections happen. If not, the skipper is accountable.

On the other hand if the plan and measurements are not in place, the ship is going to be hard to steer, but it is not mid-management’s fault. The skipper is responsible for making sure the ship is properly outfitted. If not, the skipper is still accountable. Under neither of these circumstances are mid-managers the problem.

I think the blame is incorrectly assigned. My bet is on the rudder being loose. If the controls get tightened up, it will be clear where boat isn’t performing. Then the skipper can take action.


Fireboat Tall Salute