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March 26, 2010

Art Versus Science

I like to shoot with a camera, something that I have been doing since I was a kid. Not too long ago I succumbed to the digital conversion and I have been pretty happy with the switch. Yes, there are some things that I prefer about film, but all-in-all I like my digital cameras. What I find that I like most is the introduction of more science, more control over the output. There is still much art, especially when it comes to capturing the image. Composition, timing, getting the right angle, and capturing a story – these are the art aspects that cannot be made very scientific.

On the other hand, when it comes to producing the image, the tools for digital production are all about science: getting the brightness right, setting the contrast, improving color quality, removing or covering undesirable elements of the photo, and synthesizing layers of images together. These new abilities enabled through computer software are really powerful. But, in the end, I still find that digital photography remains more art than science. The instant gratification and elimination of film costs makes it all more enjoyable as well.

Certainly there are photographers who would argue that it still remains all art, and I am happy to leave them to their opinion. There is, however, one art versus science debate raging that I will choose to enter into. This debate is with regard to the question whether the process of selling is an art or a science. Much like the separation between the taking of the photo versus the production of the photo, I think it can be useful to also separate the notion of sales force effectiveness from that of sales professional effectiveness. One looks at the total process of selling while the other looks at the individual within that process.

I truly believe that sales force effectiveness is a science. We now know the factors that separate successful sales functions from less successful sales functions. When you introduce those factors, largely a set of sales process disciplines, teams on the whole produce better results. These elements, such as segmentation, account planning, pipeline management, and reporting of metrics are the science of selling.

On the other hand, I believe that sales people can follow the steps of this science, but their innate skills are huge difference makers. The ability to build rapport, the possession of the right patience and temperament to continue in the face of rejection, a sense of timing, and the confidence to ask for the sale are personal characteristics that are truly artful. I believe sales folks come from a different gene pool than the rest of us mortals. These things are hard to teach to an individual without the sales gene. However, sales force effectiveness components are highly teachable, can be practiced, and, when the correct compliance to the process is followed, becomes the science of sales put on top of the art.

Photography is 80% art and 20% science perhaps. It is truly difficult to take a quality, artistic photo with just the mechanics – the basic art needs to be there. You have suffered through being forced to view horrid pictures from your friends and family. You know what I am talking about. Selling, in reverse, is 20% art and 80% science. The science can compensate pretty well for the individual without that strong innate ability, but a little bit of art goes a long way.

And when you mix the two together, the science of selling becomes true performance art.


Plum Roots

March 19, 2010

Centrist

How do you define the concept of Customer Relationship Management? I have discovered in my travels that CRM is defined in many ways, and I have concluded that there are some variations that I particularly dislike. Those that know me might conclude that my least favorite is a definition that equates CRM to technology. While I do find that definition particularly bothersome because it gets companies into loads of trouble, this is not my least favorite because it is one that can be confronted and overcome fairly easily. Organizations that take a techno-centric approach to CRM eventually come around to recognize that technology is only a small piece of the overall CRM formula.

What I find as a greater challenge to effectiveness is a CRM definition popular with a number of prolific and well respected business authors. You may think I am crazy, but the customer-centric definitions are the ones that I think cause the most problems. These definitions espouse the need to advance the organization, through the use of CRM, to the ultimate end state of placing the customer in the middle of everything that is done. At this point you may believe I have flipped my wig. Of course CRM should drive toward customer centrism. Not.

Most of the companies I have worked with harbor some form of centrism. It is a part of the business culture. I have seen marketing centrism, sales centrism, patient centrism, engineering centrism and even creativity centrism. I have always considered these centrisms as just a given – something that may require some compensation to achieve balance, but not necessarily something to battle. Yours may be a customer-centric culture by its design. However, declaring that all CRM programs should place the customer at the center of the picture is limiting. It is a flawed academic concept. It is a pendulum swinging counter attack to the product-centric approach (which is also limiting). But, it swings the pendulum too far and causes just as much imbalance. Customer centrism is not practical and it will sub-optimize your business strategy. Here’s why.

Center Ring

Building a strong CRM program relies on building a strong CRM strategy - the foundation of which should be laid upon the business outcomes targeted for success. Each organization needs to define their targeted outcomes to fit their business strategy at the time. Depending on market factors and the developmental stage of the organization, the outcomes should be some combination of growth, efficiency and customer experience. There may be periods where growth has to be the focus and there may be periods where efficiency takes over. There may be periods where the focus must drive toward better customer experience. Seldom should all three be equally focused and seldom can you aford a total neglect of two in favor of one.

The problem with customer-centrism at the center of CRM is that it expects that customer experience is the dominant outcome and this is its downfall. There may be times when growth is king and there may be times when efficiency is king. Our CRM programs must enable the organization to achieve the defined strategy for the business, which may change every few years as things in the market change. Customer-centrism limits that flexibility.

I will disclose that I have not necessarily been a fan of the whole centrism thing. It smacks of political or religious ideology. Let’s just accept that ideology thwarts flexibility and not get into a big discussion about the merits of having strong ideological convictions. However, I will also disclose that I have recently considered a moderation of my own view of the benefit of centrism. There is a centrism, when it comes to CRM, which I now believe does have some merit. This would be an engagement-centric CRM approach.

Let’s start with a definition of the term engagement. I offer that an engagement is any interaction that your customer has with your organization. These touch points serve as the core reason for your organizational being and they include:
- Reading an e-mail that has been sent from anywhere in your organization
- Searching for a white paper on your web site
- Yelling at a customer service representative
- Participating in a focus group
- Filling out a feedback card
- Watching their mobile phone being repaired at one of your franchise outlets
- Paying a bill
- Standing in line

Customer engagements are not limited to a sales visit or a call into a customer service 800 line. Additionally, the engagement involves more than just the customer. Also involved in an engagement are potentially:
- Someone from your company
- A representative from one of your partners
- The product or service
- The task needing to be performed
- The medium utilized for conducting or enabling the engagement
- The outcome of the engagement, which ultimately leads to:
* Buying more or less from you
* Costing your more or less
* The customer becoming happier or unhappier with your organization

Engagement-centric CRM cares about all of the above, not just the customer. Focusing most on the customer – customer-centric CRM – is too narrow of a focus. It leaves out too many critical elements of the complete engagement. To be successful with CRM requires that you attend to all the engagement elements. Engagement-centric CRM will drive a focus on each element, and therefore, increase the likelihood of positive outcomes. If you leave an element out of your focus, such as the engagement medium, you may not be uncovering that one medium is costing precious resources while not delivering the same results for a type of engagement versus another less-costly medium. Success demands that you keep a watch on the whole package.

If your culture is one that is customer-centric, that is great – you should not go out and change it because customer-centrism is bad. Rather, you should as a rule not conclude that driving your business to become customer-centric is the best way to be successful. But, if you want to center on something, if you have a need to hone into the bulls-eye, focus on the engagement.

Gee, maybe we should call it Customer Engagement Management.

March 12, 2010

Slammed

Do you remember the Phi Slama Jama?

Yes, it is March Madness time – when college hoops go crazy starting with the frenzy of conference tournaments to get into the dance up to the pinnacle of NCAA sports, the Final Four. Back in the 1980’s there was a particularly popular team (U. of Houston) with a set of impossibly tall forwards who were peculiarly fond of dunking the ball as a means of racking up two pointers. Their specialized fraternity of verticality contributed maximally to the madness of the tournament. Those were good times.

There is something about slamming the ball through the hoop that gets folks fired up. A team can be in a listless impenetrable lull, but one steal and fast break that leads to an artful but violent slam dunk will fire up both the team and crowd, potentially changing the momentum of the game into a checkmark in the W column. My personal preference is the alley-oop – where an assist and a score happen in one arc of the ball. That is just pure unadulterated enjoyment.

So, when it comes to B Ball, I am truly good with a slam-in. But, when it comes to CRM, the slam-in is an egregious affront to everything I have learned that produces positive outcomes. Let me explain.

As everyone knows, the hot topic today in CRM is all about the cloud and at the center of that storm is CRM platform-as-a-service – the use of a CRM application that you rent, as opposed to buy. This new approach to the software ownership has changed some of the economics, both in reality and perception. The reality is that it is possible to have world-class CRM technology on the cheap. If you use the technology straight out of the box you can rent some pretty good software for not a lot of investment, particularly up-front investment. This reality has significantly changed some of the dynamics of the sales process – much of the messaging is around getting a lot for a little. This in turn has attracted a lot of folks who are interested in the little part.

This is where the slam-in comes in. Those who are selling cloud oriented CRM technology are focused heavily on the affordability angle and they are promising a lot for a little. Now, this is where the perception part enters. If you believe that you can get your company up and running on rented CRM software without any other investment, such as preparing the organization for the changes involved in automating processes , then your perception of the economics are skewed. SaaS sales reps are out there right now promising companies all the benefits of CRM automation with literally the flick of a switch. They are selling slam-ins. You too can enjoy all the benefits, and all you need to do is install it.

Unfortunately it does not work that way.

Virtually all of our experience with this approach – a rapid implementation of the technology with no focus on preparing the organization for its utilization – results in the same outcome: the adoption of the technology is marginal at best and totally abandoned at worst. I guess you do get what you pay for.

Now, I recognize there can be logical reasons for justifying the slam-in. I have heard some reasons that were hard to argue with. The results are still the same. The software does not provide the necessary business benefit. Which leads us to the proverbial fork in the conversation – we can talk about what you should do if you are contemplating a slam-in. Or, we can talk about what you can do if you were lured into the snare of the slam-in and now are unhappy with the results.

The first discussion is short. Don’t do it.

Bone Dangle

The second discussion is a bit longer. When I encounter a slam-in I attempt to do a number of things. First, I try not to be judgmental. Second, I like to understand what is working in the eyes of the user and what is not. Then, I like to find ways to preserve what is working while I look to find ways to improve what is not. Some of the typical improvement areas include:
- provide more training
- make process adjustments
- fix the reports
- clean up the data
- build a plan to add enhancements and potentially some data integration

These are pretty standard activities that would have likely been identified if the company had spent a bit more time with CRM preparedness. The difference is that the slam-in costs less initially, costs more in the long run, and does a marvelous job at convincing everyone that CRM software is bad because of the poor results.

So, don’t be lured by the faux allure of the low-cost SaaS implementation. It is merely an illusion of economic misperception. The person selling you on the idea will be gone when you learn the truth, by the way. It is easy for them to make the case when they have no accountability for the result. They are not rewarded on whether it works for you, just a commission on the contract value of your rental agreement. Less is more – they are making their money on volume, so they are happy to sell you a lowest cost approach.

Getting positive results from any CRM technology, whether you rent or buy, requires some effort and investment. The quick, low-cost slam-in will not deliver positive results (well, the odds are dramatically against you). Get your slamming fix at the NCAA or NIT tournaments, not within your CRM program.

March 05, 2010

What To Learn From Olympic Curling

I confess that I am suffering from the post-Olympics blues. I truly get sad when the torch is extinguished – this event on the global stage absolutely transfixes me. I think it is because the Olympics serve as the ultimate reality show. No, it is the Uber Reality Show, nothing can top it for drama and entertainment. So, now that it is no longer dominating things on the boob tube I am found wanting, and, I am still thinking about all the activities that were jammed into a very compact 17 days.

And that all thinking has left me reflecting on that obscure sport of Curling in particular. This one does not get the attention of the downhill or figure skating, but I suspect it is growing in cult popularity. In fact, NBC had a page on their website dedicated just to the screaming associated with the sport. You may think I am reaching here, but I think there are things we can learn from Curling that apply to the effective management of CRM programs.

The first connection is strategy. If you slide on a luge you have one objective – go fast. If you push a big stone toward a bull’s-eye painted beneath a slightly course sheet of ice, your game plan just involve much more. You have to think about your blockers and you have to think about your scorers, plus you have to anticipate the other team’s moves. CRM also requires strategy. In fact it is one of the big three predictors of program success – CRM programs with a solid, well thought out strategy have a better chance of achieving objectives. I have encountered some programs that have attempted a luge strategy – get it done as quickly as possible – poor outcomes invariably.

Perhaps more importantly, a champion curler will make modifications on strategy execution based on how the match develops. Should you knock out an opponent’s stone with your next stone or wait? Should you hit hard or stay conservative? How much curl should you attempt to avoid a blocker? The execution constantly changes based on the current configuration of stones. When you make your second slalom run the consideration of execution is simple – go faster.

Adapting the CRM program plan is also a requirement for effective results. Things change. Funding can shrink. Events can be rescheduled. Sponsorship can wane. A champion program manager also has to adjust the execution of the plan to adapt to the changes in the environment. Just like the unexpected ricochet causes an unplanned blockage in the ice, CRM programs are constantly encountering obstacles to execute around. Changes to the plan also require discussion, which is so critical to Curling that a time out is permitted so the team can reach consensus before the next stone.

If you had the chance to watch much of this growing ice sport, you might have also noticed that the curlers wear some unique footwear. One shoe is designed to slide and the other shoe is designed to grip. They are quite ingenious. I think CRM requires something similar to achieve sure-footed fleetness on such a difficult surface. A CRM program manager has to wear two different kinds of shoes, figuratively, to be successful. On one foot is needed a tread that has a good grip on the business. On the other foot a sole that can maneuver deftly through technology is essential. Navigating both at virtually the same time is critical for success.

There is one significant difference that I should mention about how CRM is not like this frozen sport. Every good program manager has a team that is doing what is needed to advance the metaphorical stone across the ice. The rigorously swept broom heats the ice for speed when needed. Sweeping at an angle to the trajectory bends the path and creates the curl. The sport cannot be played effectively without the team performing these key tasks – in this the analogy continues. However, in the sport of Curling it is expected to scream instructions maniacally at one’s team mates as the stone approaches the bull’s-eye. Communication is essential within the CRM program, yes. But I am certain that the screaming is where the analogy pretty much ends.

Stay tuned for the next entry, which will examine the similarities between the rapidly growing sport of Beer Pong and effective lead generation.

March Madness