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September 10, 2010

Executive Readiness

The next celebration of the anniversary of my wedding day will take on a silvery hue. And, if there is anything that I have learned in this quarter century of marital bliss is that some actions are just not possible without having my spouse completely on board with things totally up front. Moving down a path without that buy-in tends to result in tire spinning and road rage. It may have taken me a while to get this all figured out, but after 25 years I completely get it now.

You don’t have to take this long to apply this same understanding to a CRM program, but a very similar dynamic exists with executive buy-in and the pursuit of your CRM roadmap. Some of the biggest CRM disasters I have had the pleasure to witness (always from a relatively safe distance) are due to the lack of gaining adequate consensus from senior stakeholders. Attempting to drive forward the types of changes required of CRM is just not possible when those at the top of the organization chart are not on board with the plan. Even little programs need executive buy-in otherwise you end up with the same disasters, just on a smaller scale.

One organization I have come to know well wasted somewhere between 12 and 20 million USD (different team members used different accounting methods to reach the range of totals) on their first attempt at CRM. The first consensus I was able to facilitate with that team was with regard to the history of the first CRM go round. The story goes that the SVP of Sales did not really agree with the program approach, checked out of the process early on, and the program implementation was declared dead on arrival. Everybody agreed it was due to the SVP of Sales, including his boss. But, he was not blamed – the program went forward without his agreement. Culpability was spread around.

The moral of the story is that you can’t drive CRM into the organization without sufficient executive agreement. When key stakeholders are not ready to consent, pushing past them can lead to tire spinning at the least and a complete train wreck at the worst. I have seen everything in between as well.

Genius Dragon

So, the practical question to ask at this point is what do you do if you don’t have all the key exec stakeholders on board? The good news is that you have options. The foundational step is to have evidence. Many people are CRM skeptics. They have heard too many horror stories and they don’t want to be the next victim. Some of these good folks can be won over with evidence. Help them see how CRM will help their part of the business, help them see that others have been successful getting there, and also show them what they will miss or lose by not taking the CRM path. However, if you present all this to someone who is not ready to hear it, you probably can’t move until they are ready.

There are still options. It may be that your evidence is not strong enough. It may be possible to continue with gathering CRM requirements, especially learning what the business pain points and benefits for moving forward are for each function. You may be able to gain momentum from the bottom up and let others do your selling. A groundswell of organic evidence and momentum can sometimes convert the skeptics. I have seen this work.

On the other hand, sometimes you have to wait. There will be times when the environment has to change, not the logic. I have had many client organizations require a strong competitive threat to emerge before the whole team gets behind the CRM thing. I have seen this many times as well – you have to wait to strike when the proverbial iron is hot. This works when you have patience and good timing.

There is also the option of not attempting to push CRM with the whole organization. Sometimes it is best to find that part of the organization that is ready, led by an executive who is ready to take on the sponsorship of the program. I like this option best for many reasons. First, you are working with those who get it and want to go forward and will do what it takes to be successful. Second, you are biting off the right amount of the elephant, what you can chew and what you can swallow. This drives success and success attracts company. I have started many CRM programs with just the sales function. They have wanted to move forward while marketing hasn’t been ready. However, it is amazing to see how interested the marketing function gets when it realizes all the golden data sitting inside the sales SFA repository. This can work with an interested function or it can work with an interested geography. The challenge is in finding the interested group that wants to move forward.

No matter which option you find yourself best to pursue, one common denominator between them all is the need for sponsorship. You cannot take many steps forward with a CRM program without it. If you enlist one sponsor you can get started. If you enlist multiple sponsors you can make more progress, but you have to have full executive sponsorship if you want to push the whole organization forward.

Otherwise it is like planning a vacation or boat purchase without your spouse on board. Without the buy-in it is likely that all your scheming will be for naught. Trust me; I am approaching 25 years of experience with this.

September 03, 2010

A Way of Catching Bugs

Where did the summer go?

How can this possibly be the last weekend? It did not help that I spent the last couple of weeks of my summer on the road. That caused me to miss out on a portion of my favorite season one of my favorite pastimes – sitting out on my deck overlooking nature at the end of the day and watching the swallows swoop across for their evening barnstorming. I live in a valley full of bugs, lots of different kinds, and that truly attracts the swallows. They put on an amazing show darting across the sky randomly in a display of absolute wanton abandon. Together with the backdrop of a teal and coral dusk horizon, it is an absolute spectacle.

But I had work to do and customers to visit and so I was away. Then, in the middle of my trip, there was this one evening halfway across the world. I was having dinner, sitting on a large deck and overlooking a harbor full of boats. It was a similar environment as my home, which is why I sought it out. And I happened to look up and there were swallows. I could not have been more delighted. It transported me home.

These swallows, I was later to learn their name in the local language, were following the precise same process as those that perform this ritual over my house at exactly the same time of the evening. It was the standard approach swallows follow for collecting bugs, their evening meal. They got the same training as their cousins who I am familiar with and they carry out the process in exactly the fashion. I was mesmerized at the prospect of this standardization with a squadron of dive bombers so far removed from my own.

But yet, we also attempt to do this with CRM. We define best practices for managing customers and launch them with one flock of customer-facing professionals and we expect another flock on the other side of the planet to follow the same process and utilize the same tools. If it is working with the same bug, should the birds not use the same process if it works? That is our rationale when we manage global CRM programs. And, if my experience with the swallows plays out, this may actually be a reasonable pursuit. If one group is having success, why not expect that process to transpose to other locations as well? It was working very well for the swallows.

But what happens if there is a country where the swallows cannot fly as high as the bugs or cannot fly as fast as the bugs? Are there countries where our flocks are not as capable as other flocks? Ultimately, that has been my experience when it comes to managing customer interactions. Customer facing teams are not always of the same maturity or development. Should we expect them all to perform equally with the same processes and tools? One answer is that we could attempt to drive them all to the same level, taking learnings from one geography and exporting them to others. But then again, some countries may just not be ready.

Or we might accept the possibility that not all geographies can perform at the same level and perhaps we should still set out standards but build them with multiple levels of capacity in mind. Some flocks of swallows may be best suited to capture bugs at high altitude, but other flocks may be better capable to fly just inches over a swamp due to different reasons impacting their development. As you build out your CRM best practices intended for world-wide deployment, you may want to consider setting a number of standards, designed for varying levels of readiness or capability for assimilating your deployment. I recently worked with a client that built three levels of expectations – both for process standardization and also for the accompanying CRM tools that supported the three levels of capability. It was a great approach. And, it increased the chances for all countries to be successful from the start.

This does not mean that we never expect countries or geographies to improve or evolve. But we design our CRM program to accommodate their level of growth and evolution. For whatever reason, Albanian swallows may just have different preparedness as compared to the Danish.

So, I propose that we manage our global CRM programs with this possibility in mind. We may have constructed a great set of best practices and a really robust platform to support them, but we may also crush some of our internal customers with all the weight of those expectations. What you might consider as you build your program plan is to examine the gaps between your future state program capabilities and what the range of deviation is from that ideal end point. If you find that there are wide variations – some countries or units are closer to the end state than others, you might look to stage the closure of the gap. In other words, don’t force everyone to close their gap at the same time if some have farther to go than others. But this requires you to then build staged degrees of achieving the end state. Plus you may have some countries that due to size or economic conditions are never going to be capable of getting to the end state targeted for others. Either way, think it through carefully .

So, enjoy these last days of summer (or the approaching spring for all you down under) and take a glance up at sunset if you are outside and check out how the birds are acting.

The Birds