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July 23, 2009

GPS For CRM

Way back at Christmas time I got a portable GPS for a present – one that you stick to your windshield with a suction cup. Given that I drive a soft top I thought it was a ready-made disaster for vandalism, which means a hole in the roof. So, it went back to Circuit City. Hopefully, this return was not the final straw that broke that camel’s back. Interestingly, since that time, I have rented cars in multiple countries getting a portable Tom Tom at the rental counter and really enjoying the ability to confirm where I am going with less stress. Of course, the fact that Liechtenstein was not on the map was a bit problematic – an entire country lost in cyberspace (I did eventually find it, but with a bunch of wrong turns and wasted time involved).

Crapola

This has only underscored to me the benefits of having something that assists you in plotting your journey and helps you find your way when you are lost. I wish there were a portable GPS for other things in life in addition to driving. For example, a GPS for the right way to drive teenagers would be really useful. The good news is that there is a GPS for CRM, but it is something I find much underutilized – just like me taking back my Christmas present.

I find that having a strong CRM program charter is the equivalent of having GPS for your CRM initiative. It points you in the desired direction, it helps you know when you are lost, and it can get you turned around and heading the right way without a lot of undue panic. Getting the charter built well requires a bit of effort and doing some key things correctly. But the extra work at the beginning of the program will have a big pay back, much like the effort needed to punch in your destination (which the navigation manufacturers do prefer you perform while stationary prior to your departure).

Ultimately, a strong program charter needs to be founded in a strongly defined set of business requirements and those require sponsorship from the impacted executive stakeholders. If anything gets in the way of creating a solid charter, it is the fact that multiple stakeholders must eventually reach consensus. I will never forget the day when working with a client team on developing a CRM program roadmap (notice the travel theme here) with representatives from the five impacted functions involved. One of the team members, referring to her boss, made the comment that I should not worry, that this executive was in consensus on a conflicting and serious issue. In other words, this executive was in consensus with herself and that because she had reached a conclusion there was obviously no more need to push for agreement. I had trouble keeping a straight face when I reminded her that consensus, as a rule, required other people to be involved.

But that is the problem, consensus does require that multiple people come to an agreement on what a program is supposed to achieve. It can be much easier to get a single sponsor to support a program and get it launched, but CRM, by its nature, is multi-functional and therefore stakeholders from the respective functions need to be involved with the direction setting process.

A second key element of a solid program charter is the clear definition of scope - what is in and what is out and in what time frame. Getting expectations aligned around strategic scope is related to the difficult issue of developing sponsorship. Should CRM focus on business development or should it focus on service effectiveness? Could it include both and does one set of groups advance before another set of groups? This is the nature of setting strategic scope and it is a contingency for setting direction correctly for a CRM program. For example it is common that clients request that we help with selecting CRM software but not unusual that this simple definition of scope is not in place when are expected to begin. How do we know which is best if we don’t even know for sure which groups are to be satisfied? Getting strategic scope clear in the program charter is essential.

Finally, there is a third key element to building a solid charter, which focuses on the outcomes of the program investment. A good charter must have a targeted end game – what do we get from all the work? Are we doing this to facilitate growth or is this more focused on pulling out costs? Is it our drive to improve the customer experience or is CRM intended to address internal customer-facing processes? Nothing creates clarity like the drive toward the end result and the pursuit of business benefits. This final element of the program charter serves as the motivator, the reward for getting to the destination (and the reason for staying on track).

In all fairness, a solid program charter does not necessarily map out the route to take, at least not the three elements just described above. In this case the metaphorical comparison is not exactly like a nifty GPS unit. However, with a solid charter in place, the program team can build the path, working out the priorities and laying down the steps needed to get to the outcomes. So, a good program plan adds to the value of the charter, and truly completes the GPS metaphor. However, I thought it important to raise attention to the charter itself, and the need for getting the direction set – something that too often is neglected or rushed in my experience.

Get those coordinates correctly punched in to the Garmin and you are going to be ready for much smoother sailing than otherwise - enjoy the trip!

July 17, 2009

Unsung Heroes

Our local soccer team finally had a player return from a many game-missing injury. His return sparked the team immediately. Interestingly, he is a player that does not get a lot of publicity. He does not score a lot of goals because his job is to pass the ball to those who do score. Likewise, his job is to keep the ball out of the net, but he is not the goal keeper. Instead, his job is to keep the ball from getting close. He is an unsung hero for his team and within his sport. There are many like him on other teams and these are my favorite players. We don’t hear much about them – they certainly don’t toot their own horns. They may not provide much glitz, but they do serve as the heart and soul of the game.

A common activity for me when working on a team with a client is to map their sales process as an initial means of understanding how the function is operating. The business of selling can have a lot of moving parts, but there are also plenty that reoccur from company to company. There are common process elements that most companies want to improve such as forecasting. And there are common process elements that get a lot of attention in the trade press such as opportunity management. Then, of course, there are those process elements that everyone would love to have their sales force excel at such as prospecting.

But there is one component of the sales process that does not seem to get a lot of press – it is not all sexy. However, I find it everywhere I go and I wonder if it isn’t one of the most critical parts of the process for success. I am talking about the process of sales call planning.

Twin Tooters

Good planning for a sales visit can make or break the effectiveness of the call. What is the status of the current contract? What was the last service issue raised? Who has visited the account last and why? Are there any orders pending or is there an outstanding invoice? What was your most recent activity and have you followed up on all your promises? Does your contact have an upcoming critical activity or event (such as attending a convention or an approaching birthday)? Has your customer received a marketing promotion?

Having access to this information prior to a sales call is essential for managing the visit productively. It is what sales people tell me is one of the most critical elements of their performance. If they have the information they do better. If they have trouble finding the necessary information, the added burden of preparation can reduce the number of visits they make during the work week. Not being able to access information can reduce their understanding of the account to the extent of eroding credibility and even blowing deals.

A real key to successful planning is the CRM system. Certainly the ability to check up on customer profile details is critical. Better is the ability to review the most recent sales actions and follow up activities that may be outstanding. Seeing activities from other groups such as customer service is another feature that is highly valued. More advanced abilities include checking order completion and revenue against targets. Dashboards make it possible to check key indicators on a PDA literally minutes before a call.

Another feature loudly applauded is the idea of placing all tools in one location if they are not already co-located inside the CRM system. Most of my clients have calculators, reports, forms, and sales collateral that are separate from their CRM platform. Sales folks are most productive when these are all located together on a portal with speedy access and navigation. Of those items, the one I would raise as a super high priority for planning is access to content – product collateral, white papers, studies, objections response – anything with knowledge needed for advancing the deal.

Sales call planning is the unsung hero of the sales process. But, like most in this role it is also the workhorse. It is important that the CRM program or the sales force effectiveness initiative provide the correct tools to support this process appropriately. Efficient data and knowledge access is the name of the game. Fancy automation is not the key – simple ease of use is the true value.

With the right tools your unsung heroes will also be winners.

July 10, 2009

Support Your Local Competitor

The celebration of our nation’s independence fell on a Saturday night this year. For most towns here on the Eastern Seaboard that rely on visitors to help pay the bills, that meant a three day weekend of ringing cash registers. My little village is overstuffed with boutiques, restaurants, and antique shops that cannot be supported by our small population alone. And it is for this reason that I am simply flabbergasted that our town chose to cancel its 4th of July fireworks due to the budget cuts caused by the recession.

So, that special night we drove the boat a couple of towns north and saw spectacular displays from other beach towns that were catering to the tourists. It was without question the best pyrotechnics I have ever seen from such small communities. One would never know we were experiencing a tough economic climate. Well, guess where the tourists were eating that night. Guess which town had their shops full of visitors. They were not in our little village and I am pretty sure there is a correlation here.

Meanwhile you have your own budget cuts to deal with. How many sales reps have you trimmed or not replaced? How much of the call center training budget has been cut? How many marketing programs were delayed? My final question is, did you cancel your fireworks as well?

I recognize that the recession has served as an opportunity to make some changes. Cutting out some deadwood in the field force is not a bad thing. But that has caused you to reach fewer customers. If you don’t supplement your reach with marketing or telesales, you are potentially pushing your customers to your competitors. If you have added a more sophisticated slice to your segmentation model, that is even better – now your sales folks are most likely talking to the right customers. But do you really want to ignore the lower segments? That is why you need to keep your campaign engine running at 100%. Maybe you really need it running at 150%!

Don’t send your customers to the fireworks in the town next door. That is where they are going to shop if you do. Keep your customer reach extended in the right directions so your customers are still with you when the fireworks are over.

Pyro Painting 2

July 03, 2009

How's Your Weather

For those of you reading this posting from outside of the New England region you may not be aware that we have had a run poor weather to the degree that some of us are thinking about moving to sunny spots like London and Seattle for an improvement. But, there is a silver lining to the plethora of clouds otherwise ruining our summer vacations. Berries. If blackberries were a disease, the WHO would declare my back yard as an epidemic zone.

At our house berries equate to pies. There have been years where we have had to go on long berry picking expeditions just to get a pie’s worth. This year you can pick about 4 or 5 pies an hour and not have to move more than about 20 feet just on the edge of my lawn. So, we are going to capitalize on our good fortune and bake some pies. If you invite us over for a BBQ don’t expect potato salad because we will be bringing a pie – maybe two. Of course, the cook outs have been problematic as we have been going through some trouble getting the grill lit during the down pours.

Silver Lining

The better question is what is the silver lining you are pursuing right now? One of the great things about a difficult economic cycle is that it can serve as a catalyst for your business to create a change. Some may be dealing with a burning platform type of situation. Revenue has been hit so hard that it is a situation of change or go extinct. However, I am not referring to that sector. My recommendation is for those of you who are doing so-so, if treading water.

One of the things we have learned about organizational change is that people can do very well when they have a mobilizing force to rally them toward a cause. A recession can serve as that force – although we may be looking at a window that is starting to shut. Have you been considering a new product line or market segment? This may be the time. Yes, there are risks, but the psychological environment is good and sometimes it is the organizational culture that gets in the way of change not the market.

If you do decide to take this on, there are a couple of things I recommend. First, make a big deal about the fact that you are making a change in the business direction. Don’t do this under the radar as a test – at least not internally. Once again, the opportunity here is one of mobilization. You want to do the all-hands-on-deck thing. It is a way of also getting folks out of the burrowing down attitude that can come with the doom and gloom they hear on the news.

Second, don’t be too conservative even if the capital is a bit tight. If you can act quickly in turning the ship you may be in a very good position when things turn the corner economically. If you don’t have as much money to invest as you would like, be aggressive in other ways. Maybe push hard on web and e-mail marketing if you can’t expand your sales force. Use contractors for development if you can’t increase your R&D staff. It is a time for creativity

Finally, don’t ignore your existing customers in all this. Invite them in. They may be the best source of your input and feedback. They are changing too. Doing this whole thing collaboratively may be your best path. If nothing else, send some of your front line folks out there to get some suggestions.

Eventually it is going to stop raining here in New England and the water may warm up in August enough to actually swim. I’ve got my boat gassed up and ready to go, when the clouds break. Are you ready for when the money starts flowing again?