Customer Relationship Management

October 28, 2011

Just Get'er Done

We had our first snowfall in Southern New England yesterday. Yes, they have had snow in the mountains but for the rest of us flatlanders we finally got our punkins frosted. When this happens around this time of year you can hear the clock loudly ticking in our community – folks want to use their boats through the last good Indian summer weekend, but you also have to get it winterized fast so you don’t have anything burst unpleasantly. We are up against a deadline set by Mother Nature. Last year I pushed it and had to make some compromises. It is the old conflict between get it done right or get it done before the deadline. When there is a hard freeze coming, sometimes you have to be happy with just getting it done.

I have been experiencing this same situation with a number of clients lately. They have established a CRM program with targeted deliverables, a time frame for completion, and an approved budget to fund the implementation – the three proverbial sides of the “Scope Triangle”. The challenge with this, invariably, is when there is an immovable deadline. Deadlines are normal within CRM programs and don’t have to be problematic. Sometimes you have to get a release out by a certain target –before year end rush, in time for a global kick off meeting, within a funding window.

Meeting program deadlines is also normal, but success is completely based on the effectiveness of the original estimation. Poor estimations lead to scope negotiation – if too much was promised in too short of a window, something has to give. We all know the levers – push out the date, reduce the quality or quantity of the deliverable, or engage more resources and incur more cost. This is the traditional scope negotiation and tradeoff process. This is all fine, except when the scope is set arbitrarily such as a line-in-the-sand deadline or budget ceiling. There is no business reason driving the timeframe or the spending limit, just a threshold that is not to be exceeded. Period.


It is the period that causes the problem, especially when the original program estimation is a rough estimate used to establish a budget approval. Things like that are meant to be refined. Typically, large CRM programs are funded before all the details are ironed out. Estimations are meant to be directional. However, in some organizations they become a line in the sand not meant to be crossed, and that causes problems.

Three of my current clients have scratched this arbitrary line in the sand - each one with a different leg of the triangle –quantity of functionality, timeframe for delivery, and budget ceiling (less than funding). Invariably, once the more detailed analysis is completed, we find that to successfully satisfy business requirements the line has to be challenged. More functionality is needed for success; or the amount of effort will take longer than the targeted timeframe; or the budget ceiling will not enable the program to deliver on the promised business benefits.

So, what do you? If there is a scope parameter that cannot be moved for very rational reasons, then you have to work within it. Find the trade-off that comes with the least baggage. However, when scope parameters are set without merit, then my answer is to push hard to satisfy the business need – don’t be limited by the line in the sand. Every CRM program that I have seen fall short of meeting business requirements ultimately ends in poor adoption at best, or getting the proverbial plug pulled at worst. Arbitrary scope parameters can be the demise of an otherwise good program.

Does this mean that you should boil the ocean with your first phase just to satisfy all the different business stakeholders? Not at all. However, there is always a threshold of business value that needs to be reached for every program and for every early program phase. If you find that the line in the sand does not let you reach that threshold of business value, you need to push hard to move it.

And, if you are an executive that has drawn that line in the sand, I hope you will listen to reason. Your investment is riding on it.

March 04, 2011

Revolutionary CRM Thinking

What happens when the central IT function chooses a standard CRM software platform required for all to utilize, but built for another business unit that does not adequately match your needs? Many times the results mirror what we have all been watching on the evening news over the last few months. When a government is consistently unable to deliver on the needs of its citizens, those people eventually take to the streets. This began in Tunisia and has spread across Northern Africa and into the Gulf States. I have client organizations that have either recently struggled through the same process or are in the midst of it currently, with less violence, but no less drama.

It starts with a smaller division or business unit. They have a slightly different business model than what appears as the company norm. The central CRM platform chosen by IT to serve the enterprise does not fit. Literally it was built for a different part of the organization. The smaller division makes attempts to make their case for something else, but they are a minority and are told to comply. So they take matters into their own hands. With the backing of a senior executive they perform corporate rebellion and don’t adopt the standard CRM platform but secure their own, which fits their needs and can be managed within their own means.

Meanwhile, a second division, a bit bigger, but with a very different commercial market is also struggling with the functionality of the centralized CRM. It has different sales stages than theirs and includes product and process references that are literally meaningless to them. The word gets out that a small business unit just jumped ship and went with a different CRM package. A few meetings happen and a business case is built, and then presented up the chain of command for approval.

Then a cascade of defection occurs. The following fiscal year IT must renegotiate their contract with the CRM vendor. The number of projected users has been cut by 55% and plans for expansion have been halted. A few of the rebellious divisions have collaborated and worked out a cross-division contract on their own with the competing platform vendor. Their cost per user is nearly 30% lower.

Have you witnessed this first hand? It is common and growing. I raise the example above as an opportunity from which others might learn. Let’s look at what leads up to a situation like this.

When I have had the ability to perform some investigation into the histories of this kind technical revolt I have found that it starts with the software selection process. IT conducts an evaluation of different packages, but one or two things get in the way of it going down a successful path. First, it is not uncommon that the selection committee is made up entirely of IT team members. The business is not involved or has only a token presence. Second, the objectives for the selection fit financial and technical objectives: economy of scale, ease of support, robust software programming capability. Business objectives are often in conflict: flexibility to match divergent needs, ease of use, administrator-level change control. I even have two recent clients where the selection team, which did include business representatives, chose a package using a rational evaluation process, but a different vendor was eventually selected because it was deemed the better technical solution. When the software is chosen to primarily satisfy IT, the stage is set for a business coup.

Old Kicks on 66

A variation on the business involvement problem is selecting the software that fits the largest, loudest or closest business user. The software platform might have been a good fit for most groups, but it was built for one and then exported to others as if an afterthought. More groups might have been happy with the original package, but it was so heavily customized to fit someone else that it really can’t be used without pain.

So, the result is that a portion of the business takes matters into its own hands. The most common form of this is the mushrooming nature of micro-IT, the resource work-around. Business units can’t get what they need from the technology IT has given to them, so they hire their own technical resources to compensate. The sales stages in the CRM system don't fit so they build their own pipeline management tool. The central reporting uses the wrong data model so they build their own data base. The examples are virtually endless.

These rogue IT resources represent the symptom of the problem – the business cannot get what it needs from the software so it finds a way to get needs met on its own. This wastes resources and sub-optimizes the objectives for justifying a central CRM platform. Customer data is spread haphazardly all over the place, support is uncoordinated, and the corporation spends too much time and money on sub- par performance. And, this does not even raise the strained reputation that IT suffers in the eyes of the business as a result.

Ultimately, the question is about the balance between software standardization benefits versus higher flexibility and business needs satisfaction. Behind each end point on this continuum are two philosophies with deep entrenchment within each camp. Some of you out there are thinking about all the reasons why software standardization is so critical and some of you are thinking why standardization fails the business (and I’ll acknowledge there are some fence-sitters likely as well). Yes, standardization has many elements of logic to its case. But when the standard approach impedes the business to perform customer-facing tasks and achieve targeted outcomes, the logic fails.

I think it is time to challenge the infallible nature of the standard, single platform position. It may serve the financial and technical interests at headquarters but has a growing track record of not serving the interests of the business in a multiple business unit enterprise.

I have two recommendations – one for IT and one for the business stakeholders.

IT needs to explore and understand why it is not meeting the needs of its customers and embrace a more customer-centric approach to service delivery. IT exists to serve the technology needs of the business, not develop and control software with the least per capita cost. The IT function must still serve in a leadership capacity to guide the use of technology correctly, but it must satisfy needs in a way that supports the realization of business outcomes as its prime objective.

In parallel, the business needs to fully articulate its requirements, both current and future state, and provide clear examples of where technology and support are leaving gaps in the fulfillment of requirements. It is impossible for IT to be successful in satisfying needs when they have to guess at the requirements. These requirements must also include service level agreements that are defined clearly. Expectations have to be clear.

A final consideration: many large organizations are attempting to accomplish a one-size-fits all approach with a single, global on-premise software platform. This is rapidly becoming an outdated approach and we need to change the paradigm. We can attempt to satisfy multi-group needs by building local instances with customized functionality, but that drives software proliferation in the same capacity as using different packages. Data is hard to share or integration is required. Or, multiple groups live within a single, heavily customized instance that has liabilities for managing enhancements and upgrades. Releases take considerable time due to regression testing and business need satisfaction is delayed.

These multi-group situations are increasingly going to be satisfied best with the introduction of SaaS applications that enable the flexibility of business-unit level tailoring while collectively benefiting from both the infrastructure and data residing together in the cloud. But the paradigm change goes further than the consideration of hybrid software platforms. We also have to redistribute IT to work within the business and for the business. By distributing both the right technology and the right technical skills across the business units IT will have the maximum power to truly satisfy business outcomes. It may appear to some like letting go of the control.

Well, I guess it is letting go of the control.

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

July 16, 2010


The current issue (July ’10) of CRM Magazine is taking a stand on some fuzzy history and devoting the entire editorial to a celebration of 15 years of CRM. The research that I personally have conducted on the origin of the industry represented by this acronym puts us nearing a 20th anniversary (after all, the most implemented CRM application was first released in 1994). But who am I to argue with this fine publication? If they want to declare a 15 year milestone post, I’ll go along with the party. If nothing else it is a good excuse for a look back.

So, with that look back, I considered some options for a review – we could do a little bit of chronology, but that seems too much like watching a documentary. We could do an expose on the CRM software industry, but I would prefer to leave that to the tabloids. Ups and downs could make a good topic – there were certainly plenty of downs to write about. However, I have chosen to look at the 15 most significant things that I believe we have learned over the last 15 years of CRM.

So, here goes my list of fifteen:

Another Happy Birthday

1 – We got a new version of the 80/20 rule. In this case we learned that CRM is 80% people and organizational challenges, and 20% technical challenges. Those that had to learn about this the hard way found themselves as a statistic in Gartner research reports. At first the industry came up with the idea of People, Process & Technology as a mantra to get folks to understand the correct balance of focus. But even that term is not really correct (my math says 67/33). The people and process portion of the PPT thing is complicated and requires much more elaboration,n including things like culture and sponsorship and buy-in.

2 – Strategy and planning became popular. We learned that the biggest cause of problems with a CRM program was the lack of a plan based on a solid CRM strategy. It took some time, but the word got out and CRM program success rates have seen improvements over the 15 year trend lines.

3 – Direction is OK, but alignment with that direction is essential. Too many CRM false starts are tied to key executive stakeholders not being on board. You cannot build your CRM direction behind closed doors – every senior manager impacted has to be at the table. It is easy to let them off the hook – we learned that they need to be on board from the beginning, not at the end.

4 – CRM has to be a business initiative. This learning was painful. CRM began with the good people in IT who were the first to envision the power of the technology. However, tied with number 3 above, because CRM was originally considered a technology thing, too many business stakeholders did not understand the ramifications. Large programs were rolled out to provide big improvements, but the intended audiences were somewhat reluctant – it was not something they had asked for. Eventually we got clued in that CRM is something that solves business problems, so it has to be driven by the business and with a clear business case for program funding.

5 – Users of CRM technology must perceive a benefit. Those scoundrels! Why can’t they recognize when something is good for them? Well, it turns out that CRM does not work well when it is deployed to satisfy just the business. It also has to satisfy the individual within the business who does all the work. If not, it does not tend to work very well.

6 – Size matters after all. What a relief – bigger is not better. In fact, bigger puts you at risk. The numbers don’t lie and the stats tell us that chunking your project phases into small manageable bites gives you a fighting chance at success. Of course the challenge is delivering the message to the group who gets to go last or having to explain why the much anticipated functionality cannot be released until phase 3. See again, item number 3 above.

7 – Think process first, technology second. I remember back in the 90’s when I was told by the CIO of a client, “We want to get the technology in first, and then deal with the process changes – and I think they will just work themselves out organically.” He had his way and, oh boy, what a mess he made of the call center for his company. Fortunately we have learned that you do things in the reverse order now. It is important to get the process right first. That does not mean you cannot take advantage of some of the inherent processes that many of the platforms are built upon, but you need to build those into your design and not assume they will just take hold organically.

8 – Yes, the data is a really big deal. This was a learning early on, then it got lost and was found again. The big on premise programs discovered the need for a clear data strategy. Otherwise things did not work. Then the cloud arrived and we thought we could bang-in solutions really fast. The data did not go along with the quick and dirty thinking. Rather, it caused a lot of CRM sales reps to lose face. Even small SaaS projects need to have a clear data structure, cleansing, migration, and stewardship plan. We know that all over again now.

9 – CRM is not SFA. It has been a hard learning to achieve, but we have reached an understanding that CRM is something far beyond the singular focus on one function. Rather, CRM gets its real power by integrating all customer functions together. If you really want CRM to produce, you need to go beyond the parochial approach. This is your big opportunity to finally achieve that integration between marketing and sales. Carpe Diem.

10 – Don’t forget about the roll out. We need people in our CRM programs who understand how to deliver training. We need people who know how to communicate. We need people who understand how to deal with organizational change management. And we learned that you cannot deal with all this as an afterthought. These elements of the CRM program are just as critical as the configuration of the software and we learned that having experienced professionals run the non-technical elements of the program leads to success.

11 – And then there is the concept of owning versus renting. This is something we weren’t expecting to learn. You can be successful with your CRM program no matter whether you buy and manage your own CRM software or whether you use a service provider who does the work for you for a monthly fee. Yes, each alternative has benefits and disadvantages, but both are viable options, and some companies do best by employing both in a hybrid approach.

12 – Customer 2.0 is not a fad. What we figured out is that CRM is not static. Just when many businesses finally got it right, the second web revolution finally took hold. Customers added a preference for engagement with your company and it had www as a prefix. The learning here was that our CRM programs need to keep up. And that includes effectively utilizing CRM capabilities for all channels such as those who prefer to surf to you rather than walk up.

13 – One size fits all, not. Perhaps one of the most important things we learned about CRM programs in the last 15 years is that not every group and every function in the company will benefit from the same solution. One single approach to solving the business problems of many different groups is not feasible, even if it is ultra efficient for the group responsible for providing the technology. The lesson here is that the economy-of-scale benefit of managing technology centrally does not always outweigh the benefit of having a correct solution for each unique contributing business unit.

14 – It’s good to be cultured. You don’t have go to the opera or marvel at Ming Dynasty pottery but you can’t ignore the culture. When the changes planned in your CRM program have the potential to rub up against your company culture, the culture will always win out. It is an easy conflict to want to ignore, but we have learned that is not a good idea. You need to attend to the compatibility of your program with the personality of your company. If you are introducing a bunch of discipline wrapped around some new technology to a traditionally undisciplined field force, it will take extra effort. You can’t assume that the changes are just going to be accepted without some substantial compensatory activity that helps reduce the natural resistance from the culture.

15 – And finally, CRM is the correct term. Over the course of the last 15 (or 20) years there have been attempts at changing the moniker. When things were going rough for the CRM software industry it was a feeble attempt at rebranding. Even the analyst firms and watchdog groups got in on the game. However, none of the changes ever took hold. CRM is still customer relationship management. Perhaps the reason is that what we are actually talking about is managing relationships with customers. It seems like a label that has at least another 15 more years of life.

June 18, 2010

In And Out

Photography is a hobby of mine, something I have been doing for some time. Early in my career I was friends with a group up young twenty-somethings who had too much disposable income and as a result tended to travel more than the average person. These unmarried and upwardly mobile professionals would return from their exploits and proceed to throw a party. However, at the center of these parties was a slide production of their trip. Now, these were not your Uncle Fred’s slide show of his station wagon venture through the Smokey Mountains. These were the chronicles of action-packed adventures such as climbing K2, bobsledding at Lake Placid, running level 4 water on the Colorado, or back packing across Vietnam. Each show told a story and was highly entertaining, mixing in the local culture and offering a glimpse inside the travelers’ experiences. Plus, the photographic quality was high. Those parties changed the way I use a camera today.

Many folks take snap shots – kids, birthdays, vacation scenes, pets, the occasional sunset. You point, click, and the light sneaking through the lens is transformed into an image on film or onto a memory chip. The output is pretty easy to get these days. But most pictures get shot, looked at once, then packed away in a box or a CD and their value diminishes as they get further buried in the closet.

This phototechnic capture of our experiences seems a lot like how we also capture customer data. CRM technology has made the point and click pretty easy to make happen. We store a bit of information of our visit with the customer, look at it once, then store it away just like the overexposed snapshots from last year’s Halloween party. There is an obligation to shoot our guests as they arrive in costume, but we never really do anything with it. We shoot quickly and then get back to the party, putting in the minimum effort. Maybe you look over the snapshots when you download your camera, but you have to move on to the next event and the obligatory shots of your niece’s graduation.

Many of my clients have similar tendencies, asking for a little bit of sales activity to be captured, maybe a tad of information of who the customer is, but really, we don’t want our sales people to be admin folks – let’s have them sell, not enter data on their computer all day. After all, we won’t do anything with the data anyway, other than to monitor that a certain level of sales call activity is happening. Why would we want to put any more effort into it?

Watch Dog

I see this as a classic input / output situation. The value of the output is totally contingent on the value of the input and the ability to perform a transformation of the input to increase the output value. I can take 100 images with my camera of a visit to Bermuda, random shots of beaches, candids of my traveling companions, and the random historic building. But, if that is all I do, a view ingof those 100 images is going to be really boring. However, with a bit more input, I can make the output exponentially more appealing. If I decide I want to tell a story about the visit, I will look at things differently, I will see them differently. A sign that I would not have noticed helps deliver some of the message. A close up detail of an object when viewed after seeing a panorama of that object provides more insight. Capturing the activity of my traveling companion then adds yet even more insight. But the capture of the image is not the end. There also needs to be a transformation step before the output really has value. You need to sequence the images, edit them to remove distracting or poor images, and then make sure there is a start and a finish to the story. (Adding a soundtrack also creates an even more enjoyable output, should you be so inclined.)

We can do the same with our customer data. We can build our customer interaction processes to capture key customer information rather than ignore it – because we know what the output possibilities are and we expect more value from the input. We can also combine different data elements to become more valuable in their combination. A customer profile trait combined with a correlated activity helps to perform better targeting just like a sequence of images tells more of the story than a single shot. Having a sufficient amount of data input helps us to perform more transformation, but it is not just the analysis that is valuable. It is also the storage of the data in a central and accessible location that adds to the value. When a service issue is captured and a sales rep can view this prior to making a sales visit, this extra insight can be invaluable. This is similar to the value of shared photo sites. Grandma can access pictures of her grandkids with greater regularity because of the many sites for posting snapshots. The extra effort of loading the pics onto the shared site is far outweighed by the value Grandma experiences from viewing them.

Yet, there is a huge amount of resistance to putting effort into the input. Sales managers, for example, strive to minimize the effort their sales teams have to expend on this task. The problem with this is that they are actually acting rational in this case. If we don’t get much value from the output, why would we put much effort into the input? Let’s minimize that input to keep the balance correct.

That very logical sentiment is one of the primary drivers of CRM program sub-optimization. We need to focus on the output and the expectation of value. From there we need to further examine the transformation – are we building value with the data? If not, it may be that we need to examine the input – are we collecting and sharing the data sufficiently? All three elements of the input/transform/output equation must be in focus, but it really needs to start with the output. We need to make sure we know what value we are targeting, and we also need to know who is getting that value. Many times the data collector does not reap the benefits of the collection, which gets in the way of basic motivation to be a good collector.

So, the next time you have your camera out, think of the output as you are pointing and shooting.

Bho Dog Gone Wild

June 11, 2010

Mangrove in the Contact Center

If I were to start my career over tomorrow I would go back to my original plan as an 18 year old and follow through with my desire to be a marine biologist. And, should I actually graduate with that once intended degree, I would then go off and try to save the mangroves. Don’t read into this in any way that I am unhappy with my current career. It has been a really great ride and I have no regrets. But, for some reason I would change if given the chance to do it over. Maybe it has something to do with that visit last fall down to the University of Miami Marine Science campus on Key Biscayne over parents’ weekend.

I have helped plenty of companies in my quarter century of consulting, but I think the mangroves need the help even more. This ecosystem located along the tropical coasts of all of our continents serves an incredibly important role. It cleanses the water. Young fish are nurtured until ready for open water. The complexity of roots protects the coastline from erosion. And, when the meteorological feces hits the fan, the mangrove keeps the big storms from washing away the villages. It virtually serves as the lifeblood of the tropical coastline.

Until I get that opportunity to start over again, I guess I will have to settle with helping the organizational equivalent of the mangrove, which is the contact center. You might snicker at the analogy, but there are some significant parallels. The contact center is a critical organizational ecosystem and serves some very similar functions as its marine counterpart. First, their number one charter is all about cleansing customer issues. But, at the same time, they can nurture new customers until they are acclimated to their new product or service. They also protect the company from erosion – defending against customer turnover. And they likewise tend to be the first line of defense when the big storms come, such as recalls, bad publicity, or distribution problems.

Largo Sunset

Why do the mangroves need saving you ask? Well, there are a number of reasons but the biggest is that it takes up shore line that could otherwise be utilized for something else, such as shrimp farming or creating tourist friendly beach fronts. The problem is that the destruction of the mangrove is the same as the destruction of just about any critical ecosystem. There is a balance that each creates and their loss has impacts on the surrounding ecology. The service it performs is not performed by anything else when it is gone, and therefore problems develop, such as pollution, erosion, loss of fish stock, and less defense against catastrophic storms.

Biologists have been able to calculate the economic losses due to mangrove deforestation to far outweigh the benefits of replacing them with the short term economic gains of farming and tourism. It turns out to be all about the big picture versus the pursuit of quick returns.

This too is parallel with the situation in many contact centers. Pressure remains to squeeze their costs and use that funding for more attractive commercial pursuits. Yet, experts also continue to laud the merits of managing the customer experience as a means of protection from turnover. And the contact center can always be leveraged for other compatible pursuits such as upselling or lead qualification. Limiting the funding of the contact center is pretty much the equivalent to the destruction of the mangrove when it comes to economics. Yet it is hard to get the full picture to be sufficiently visible to everyone that matters.

One thing that has helped me personally to be more appreciative of this tropical ecosystem is to have spent some quality time within it. For example, I have had the opportunity to stay at resorts that harbor a mangrove barrier, which has enabled some up close exploration. Kayaking through a number of mangrove waterways has also been educating as well as totally enjoyable. This exposure has helped me understand it all better, and therefore pay more attention when the experts raise their warnings.

Maybe we could schedule some kayak trips for business execs to paddle through the contact center more than they do. Have them listen in on more calls. Encourage them to read some customer testimonial e-mails when a resolution to a difficult problem made a difference (and drives some loyalty). Exposure goes a long way. Hearing about the contact center in sterile business reviews conducted via spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides is no substitute for a kayak ride.

Go find some paddles and life jackets and take your senior team for a ride.

Mangrove Tunnel

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

February 12, 2010

Getting Schooled in CRM

This week we are heading to the higher side of the continent, just along the divide, to check out some schools. My son is shopping and the subject of his prospective purchase is four years at an institution that will mould him into an environmental scientist. I have been assisting him with his shopping and I am impressed with the process.

Back in 1977 I went on a buying spree for the same thing. It was a lot of fun and I ended up picking Tulane, but at the last minute I changed my mind and fell into a school at the other end of the Mississippi. As I think back on that period I am finding some things to be quite interesting now, 33 years later.

Last week as we were making our final preparations for our trip that will span Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and a brief spell in Idaho, we were contacted by the schools. They wanted to make sure that everything was on track and we were ready. Prior to that point there were e-mails with interesting stories, maps and brochures that came via postman, and just a lot of contact. We were being courted just like any prospective buyer of a big purchase.

That summer so long ago when I changed my mind and backed out of a trip down to New Orleans, I had never once been contacted except to learn of my acceptance. I never got pictures of the campus or an offer to come and visit for a day to sit in on some classes. They never sent a decal for my parents’ car. They assumed that I was going to buy and they spent their attention on shoppers who were perhaps more elusive. As a result the good folks in the admissions office lost a customer.

Things are pretty different today, at least with some of the schools we are looking into. For example, in Montana we registered for our visit on line. Since that time we have been in contact via newsletter with regularity. We were reminded of our logistics as we approached our visit date and the whole process has been surprisingly easy. They are using CRM (or at least a college recruiting version of the software) along with modern marketing techniques to nurture their buyers. The nice thing about these software packages is that they tie into other university systems just like any other good CRM platform is integrated to ERP or MRP. Ironically, a recent customer of mine just happens to be in the business of selling this nifty software.

I think there is a very good chance that I would have not ended up at Valparaiso if my original selection had been using this same CRM orientation. They did not have the software back then, but they could have been more focused on me as a prospective buyer. They could have communicated much better. They could have kept me interested. This vicarious college shopping has been a learning for me in that I have been reeducated about the pervasive value of CRM beyond its core application. Managing customers correctly is fundamental. If you know who your customers are, you can improve your success with them. Tulane did not view me as a customer or if they did they were not very customer focused.

Naturally, I want my son to pick the school that is right for him but I secretly want him to choose Montana State. Not just because it is strategically positioned between world class skiing resorts, but also because it has demonstrated the best CRM on our list.

Go Bobcats!


December 18, 2009

Clouds on the Horizon

Grand Shower

If 2009 was the year of social media, I predict 2010 will be the year of cloud computing. To be honest, I will welcome the change. There were just too many newsletters and webinars on how to use facebook for lead generation. I am happy to change subjects. Of course, social media is not going away. If you don’t have this included in your CRM strategy, it is time to rethink that position. However, you are also going to be forced via the tech press to get your head in the cloud.

So, I am not planning on making this entry a treatise on computing in the cloud – you have lots of other places to go for an education. Instead, I think it would be useful to understand some of the ramifications around CRM technology, especially for those who are on the verge of making decisions regarding the investment of a new platform. The nature of the cloud is something to take into consideration.

Some of you out there are teetering back and forth on whether to go on premise or SaaS. Every day there are more reasons to go the path of software rental and it is all because of the cloud getting more and more populated with applications. Because so many software vendors are building their applications to be accessed via the web, the likelihood of finding a solution that snugly fits your business requirements is getting higher with every release.

Even if you do choose to buy licenses for an on premise CRM solution, there is a good chance you will be connecting SaaS applications to it because of this exact phenomenon. Somewhere out there is an app that fits what you need.

Perhaps more important is the selection to be made between SaaS CRM platform vendors. While all of these folks are up in the cloud, some are more connected to the cloud than others. Top tier CRM packages are like planets with gravitational pull. They attract moons into their orbit. However, these are not all created equally – some have more gravity and attract more moons, becoming more like a big solar system. This is to your advantage. The more vendors that write code to fit up nicely with a CRM platform, the greater the likelihood you will find one that fits your requirements with precision. You get a composite application that fits together seamlessly, reducing your implementation costs and driving up your adoption. This translates into higher success rates for CRM programs.

I prefer not to name names here, but with a little bit of research you will see for yourself which vendors have generated the most gravity. Back in the 90’s we used to talk a lot about having to make the choice between single vendor platforms versus best-of-breed approach. Well, that whole debate now goes away because you can get a best-of-breed galaxy and have it act like single platform. You just need to decide which vendor has the best options in their orbit to suit your needs.

If the transition from the atmospheric metaphor to the astronomical lost you, the connection is this. Vendors who write their software to be accessed via the web are operating in the cloud. This computing paradigm enables what can be seamless combinations of applications that are tailored to fit your business. In the universe of CRM some of these platforms have attracted many vendors to build their applications to play nicely together. If you are in the position of having to choose, I suggest that you consider the platforms with the most gravitational pull. Not only do they have the best chance of satisfying you now, they will likely attract more and more new apps – things are being built right now to satisfy needs you don’t even know you have yet.

Watch out for those asteroids!

December 11, 2009

For Mature Audiences Only

I remember when the motion picture industry first came out with its movie rating system. At the time I was just a kid and it was the first time I encountered the word “mature”. So, one night while at the cinema I required my mother to explain to me the meaning. Rather than just tell me that some movies were for kids and some were for grownups, she attempted to explain to me the more elaborate definition (she was a career-long school teacher and every long car ride involved a lesson of one kind or another). What was strange about it all to me was that one would be required to reach a certain level of maturity in order to watch a movie. It did not help my full comprehension that my parents often let me accompany them to more adult-oriented movies, even as a pre-teen.

Thanks to my mother this lesson really stuck and, believe it or not, I think this whole maturity thing plays a critical role in managing CRM strategy and program planning. For example, a very common request that I typically field from a new client will be to help answer the question, “what should be next for our CRM program?” Naturally, as a consultant my answer is always the same – “it depends!” But I am not acting flippant with this response; it truly does depend on the maturity of the different elements within their program. The best things to focus on are commonly those that are less mature and most likely holding back the effectiveness of the whole program.

So, you are probably wondering, does this mean some CRM programs are PG13 while some are rated R, and then are there serious programs out there, which get the infamous X rating? Well, no, that is not exactly the right way to think about it. I prefer to think about maturity on a five point scale. At the low end of the continuum (I prefer not to use the term “immature”) are program elements that we might view as just getting initiated such as a first attempt at creating a customer segmentation model. On the other end of the continuum would be what we might view as world class capability – you do it as well as the best companies on the planet.

The next thing you are probably asking is what exactly is it that we are rating on this 5 point scale? Naturally, that gets another, “it depends”. Some of our clients want us to look at their whole CRM program to determine what is needed. Then, there are those companies that have a very focused need, they may want us to focus just on campaign management – where are they on that five-point scale and what do they need to do to advance just that one CRM element to the next stage of maturity? We can work at either end of that range, and everything in between.

When we focus on the whole CRM program we take a look at the full spectrum of CRM domains:
- Technical CRM,
- Functional CRM and
- Enterprise CRM.
Technical CRM is what many people think of when they consider CRM. It is the software that defines the industry. But there is more to it than just configuring your CRM package. You also need to consider the data, which may be in many places. Then you also need to include the integration and middleware that brings those disparate data elements together into something useful. And then supporting all of this is the infrastructure in place to make it wall work – servers, networks, portals, handhelds, all kinds of stuff that make up the backbone of our CRM technology.

Functional CRM is all about the customer touchpoints. How do you make your company known to prospective customers? How do you convince them to become customers? How do you keep them happy customers once they are through the door? These are the business functions that touch the customer. CRM is all about how those customer interaction processes work and how to make them as effective as possible. For example, are your pipeline management processes well developed? Do they need to become more mature? And don’t forget about your partners who sell and service for you? The channels you have established to reach and support your customers are also one of these functional components. Don’t leave them out of the maturity assessment.

Enterprise CRM includes all the other parts that can be overlooked. What is your customer strategy and how well is it aligned and executed across the customer facing functions? What measurements do you have in place to know how well you are doing relative to customer-facing objectives? And then there is your company culture – is it customer friendly? Finally, achieving higher levels of CRM maturity requires the ability to define and implement initiatives. How well do you manage programs – process improvement initiatives, technology deployments and the management of these organizational changes? Yes, this is all a part of the CRM capability.

If you are really focused on CRM software as the center of our program, there is a good chance some of the other elements are not as well developed. Often customers will ask us about what tools they should add as the next step in their CRM program. If all of the focus has been on the technology, our answer will probably be to focus on something other than a tool as the next step. Here is the reason. The least mature element of your CRM program may be the least common denominator to your success. If you have good software but weak processes or poor alignment with your strategy, adding more software is not going to make you more successful. You have to address the less mature items first. If you want to run faster, but you have a strong leg and a weak leg, don’t exercise the strong leg more – the weak leg is what is holding you back.

Weak Link

Improving your CRM capability can be managed at multiple levels. You can assess your maturity with the big picture as the focus or you can get up close and personal with targeted capabilities that you know need attention. If you are not sure where to begin, start at the broad level. If you are confident that you know your weak links in the chain, examine them in more detail. Improving those links then will make the entire CRM chain stronger.

Good luck with your maturity rating analysis, and don’t forget the popcorn.

November 13, 2009

Patience is a Virture

We are marking the one year anniversary of the Change We Can Believe In. Starting with the 100 day milestone and ever since that time there has been a slow but clear descent into many not believing in The Change. Yes, this growing dissatisfaction is fueled by right-wing fundamentalists and exacerbated by unemployment figures hovering around the double-digit range. But the part that I find troubling is the lack of patience that the nation seems to suffer from. We are so accustomed to instant gratification from everything ranging from fast food to overnight shipping from Amazon that we just can’t give the current administration camping out on Pennsylvania Avenue a chance to get things actually changed.

Sadly, this is the way it works with many CRM programs I encounter as well. For example, we have worked with one client that has insisted on changing its CRM platform three times. Each need for change was blamed on the software. Believe me, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the software. There was, however, a serious problem with patience.

Cane Score

I think there are a couple of important lessons here.

First, if you have been tasked with the job of investigating the prospect of changing out your CRM system, stop! Take a really close look at some telltale factors. Is it really the software that is failing? The statistics would indicate otherwise. I would be willing to place a huge wager that you are more likely hampered by a combination of weak management sponsorship, lackluster adoption, and a poorly designed data structure. You don’t need new software to remedy this. In fact, if you bring in new software you will likely encounter the same issues, just like the example above. Address the issues, don’t make the CRM package the scapegoat.

Second, if you have been tasked with the job of investigating the prospect of introducing a CRM system into an organization that does not truly have one; please consider this one piece of advice. You will have many detractors across the organization, just like we are witnessing across the US of A today. The one way to quiet the crowd is to score early. As you build your program plan, find a way to produce a quick win. The financial stimulus package may or may not turn out to be the quick win for our current package – historians will eventually be the judge of this.

You absolutely cannot afford to have historians evaluate your CRM program success. Find a quick win that everyone will recognize as a quick win, at the time that it happens. Where is the pain? Can you alleviate it quickly, even if only partially? Nothing beats failure and naysayers like success. Plan the earliest possible success you can practically produce.

Patience is not an easy thing to manage. If you can find a quick win you will then be playing its game – feeding the beast. Who cares? If you can overcome impatience by satisfying it, you will win in the long run (and in the short run). Don’t confuse this with the action of inappropriately reinforcing a bad behavior in a child. Go for the success and forget about B.F. Skinner. You will never teach the organization to be patient. So, be impatient yourself and build a success into your plan as soon as you possibly can, even if it adds a bit of extra cost. You may not be able to buy happiness, but you can buy success.

July 23, 2009


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).


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!

May 22, 2009

Are You Sure You Want To Do That?

As we think about Memorial Day Weekend and the official start of summer here the states I have to reflect back on Labor Day Weekend last year, the official end of summer, and the official end of our boat of 19 years. We gave it a proper burial over the winter and then followed the rite of spring by shopping for a replacement. Having narrowed it down to two previously skippered vessels, we set out one Saturday morning in late March to examine the finalists up close. We had looked all winter long, made a number of flip flops, and finally settled on a particular model that seemed to fit our needs. Within a couple hours radius of our place there were two that seemed to stand out.

The first was waiting for us lakeside, just having been unwrapped from its winter blanket. It was spotless and gleamed in the early spring sun even while there was still a bit of rogue snow on the hillside overlooking the marina. Nevertheless, the prospect of summer enjoyment exuded from this candidate. It had everything we wanted and was in pristine condition as if just from the factory.

Our second visit was to the sister ship sitting curbside a few towns away - the exact model and color, just in a different setting. However, immediately there was an obvious difference. The proud owner offered up a tour and explained every critical customization that lurked around each corner. We were flabbergasted. Why had he done these things? It was like having your teen come home with a nose ring or a tattoo covering an entire limb. We ran from this boat as fast as we could politely end our inspection.

Certainly one of the most significant learnings about CRM we have reached as a company is that customization can be fraught with danger. For many of our clients it really seemed to make sense at the time - building a cozy little addition to the code that made something easier or made it seem a bit better of a fit to an existing work process. But the dangers lurk and eventually emerge with time. Something changes, most likely a process, and you want to use the system a bit differently. However, that nifty little customization is now in the way. Your flexibility has been reduced and the repair will include a huge price tag – if it can be undone. When we stepped on that second boat, this was all I saw – those small changes that were irreversible and made the boat seem tainted.

This CRM technology snag seems to catch our SaaS customers most often. These systems can be appealing for their ease of administration, but there is a risk that too much is modified. Many of my clients wish they had not made some of the changes that seemed like such a good idea at the time. The system gets clunky and the costs add up. Ironically, these same packages often come with a boat load of applications readymade to satisfy those needs that otherwise would have required some custom bit of coding. Want to capture training requirements within your CRM platform? Would it be great to include expense tracking? Feel the need to do something really fancy regarding territory assignment? You will most likely be better off with the app that somebody else already built and tested. Some of them are even free!

Yes, we are back on the water again, and, yes, we went with the un-customized watercraft. There is one change we did choose to make, although there is a bit of a risk associated with this particular customization. Folklore dictates that changing a boats’ name brings bad luck, unless you through a coin in the bilge. With my luck, I should probably use a Krugerrand.


May 01, 2009

Yes Man

Have you seen the movie Yes Man with Jim Carrey? I was on a long haul flight with it playing on those monitors hanging from the ceiling. Seriously – Air France 747’s need to be updated to the current century. Anyway, the woman behind me asked me to put my seat forward in the middle of the movie. This was not for any solid reason, such as meal time and she needed room to eat. She just did not like having me reclining back in what she believed was her space. It was OK for her to recline, but she did not want me to.

With Yes Man on the small screen you can imagine my predicament, as there was a lot of momentum in the air just to say “yes”. However, I did not succumb to the moment; but, rather, I said no, almost politely. The same thing happened to me the week before. The passenger behind me felt that it was unfair for me to recline. I said no then as well. In between those flights I had yet another passenger request that I give up my isle seat for the window for the purpose of freedom to get up on a regular basis. I tried to be more polite when I said no this time. For all the miserable trips when I have sat in the middle seat with a full bladder, I feel justified in keeping isle seats when I can get them.

Some folks believe they should have their comfort at others’ expense. Sorry, but that does not work with me. I remember as a kid listening to a sermon in church that opened with a story about dessert. One person ate theirs and one person saved it for later. When later arrived, the immediate gratification dessert eater requested that the delayed gratification person share the booty. The only part of the sermon I recall from this experience is that it would be OK to say no. Unfortunately, I don’t remember all the rationale, but I am quite certain that some of the lesson from that sermon would prove really useful right now. Thank you anyway Pastor Bretcher, and sorry for not paying better attention.

This happens in CRM programs frequently. Some groups want stuff that comes at the expense of others, and, sometimes, the answer is really appropriate to be no. Jim Carrey ultimately comes up with the correct criteria for saying no, which is what I believe is the solution here as well. When you have good logic for why it is sometimes yes and sometimes no, things are easier. So, then the question becomes, “what makes good criteria?” That is harder to answer directly, but I think that it will depend on having agreements on scope and budget and other program parameters. In other words, this stuff can’t just be random “you can have this, but you can’t have that” kind of criteria.

Perhaps it is best to have your criteria for what is a yes and what is a no be defined by your steering committee. A good governance structure is the solution to a lot of tough situations, and this is certainly one of them. When I fly I rely on my flight attendants for that kind of objective oversight, but it did fail me recently. So, just make sure you set up your steering committee with some solid direction at the beginning of your project. Otherwise you may have to tell them you won’t be putting your seat upright just because the person behind you is too large for the space they are renting on the plane. After all, if the airline wants their passengers to be comfortable, it should be at their expense, not yours.

Bon Journee!

Cow Lick

March 06, 2009

In A Fix

I had this noise and it finally crossed the threshold. The original diagnosis was that the drive shaft was bad, but I let it go on for a while. The noise got to a point where I was afraid I would leave a large chunk of iron on the pavement at 70 MPH. So, I left the car with the mechanic during one of those trips where I was away for a week, giving him plenty of time to get the repair accomplished.

You can imagine my frustration when I picked up the car on the night of my return and that horrid noise had not gone away. It turns out that a wheel bearing was bad and I really didn’t need to address the drive shaft. If only I had requested for the mechanic to look it over one more time before simply making the repair.

This thing happens all the time in businesses across the globe. The CRM system is not working – it is making a terrible noise and needs to get fixed. Most of the time the expectation is that the fix should be a replacement with a new product. We get these requests continuously. The CRM program is not delivering on expectations and the tool is taking the blame.

The far majority of the time the tool is not the problem, but it can take some serious convincing to get my clients to accept the diagnosis. It is much easier to blame the technology than accept that more difficult repairs may be needed. Sometimes it is the data and sometimes it is an issue of adoption. There can be a lack of management sponsorship or there can be process issues. Most of the time it is a combination of these factors at work.

What is sad is that many companies replace their CRM technology because of a bad diagnosis when these other factors are actually the issue. It appears as the easier and more attractive fix, but results in wasted resources and unresolved organizational problems. It is no wonder that so many are skeptical about the real possibility of getting benefits from CRM.

If you are sitting on a CRM program that is making bad noises be very careful with your diagnosis. Take a close look at multiple sources of potential contribution. Even when there are some obvious improvements needed with the technology, there is a very strong chance that other factors are contributing to the unmet expectations. Give the technology the correct level of attention but don’t let it become the scapegoat. If that happens you may be the next one.

Eye of Goat

February 27, 2009

Random Acts of Kindness

The flight was late due to weather in Atlanta. The highways leading to the airport were all turned into parking lots. It was one of those afternoon travel situations following a day with the client that turned particularly sour. I was relieved to make my flight but camping on the tarmac quickly turned the joy of getting to the plane into no joy on the plane. At least I got bumped to the front cabin.

Unfortunately the single father behind me was closing in on a meltdown. The toddler on his lap was at the end of her rope and pretty much out of patience with the tower telling us to continue to stand on the taxi way.

When I travel, which I do a fair amount of, I tend to collect things - the snack left on the night stand at check in; the bag of pretzels from the plane; maybe the apple from breakfast that never got consumed; the chocolate on the pillow; even the mints at the hostess station. Almost always there is something edible in my briefcase.

I made eye contact with the unsung hero behind me. Yes ,my Fritos would be a welcome attempt at distraction. I handed him the bag and he doled the chips out one by one – trying to make them last until take off. Finally we were in the air and there was peace.

The tempest was only momentarily subsided. By the time we reached altitude things started to get uglier. A banana was the next peace offering and my last bit of stash. I did not even ask with body language, I simply handed over the goods. My guess is that the traffic jam caused him to reach the airport without time to stock up on in-flight nutrients. The little girl devoured the banana and then tried to eat the peel. We may not have achieved compete satiation, but we averted disaster.


After we reached the gate no words were exchanged, but the look he gave me, laced with extreme gratitude, was sufficient to explain his thanks.

When I lived in Vermont it was common to see very social minded bumper stickers on the backs of Subarus and Saabs. Save the Whale was popular as was Think Globally, Act Locally. But the one that I never really understood was Practice Random Acts of Kindness. Why Random? Should this not be something we just plan on?

I think this is a problem with the practice of Account Management as well. Account Managers give away all kinds of love and kindness to their customers, but it is not always planned, and worse it is not typically well measured. Do you know how much you have invested in your different accounts? Do you have a plan for it? Most of the time when I ask this the answer is pretty much, “not really”.

This is a mistake. When there is no or little planning and no real measurement then the likelihood is high that we are dealing with randomness. And, this means we are dealing with having no control over cause and effect. Account investments may pay off and they may not. This ultimately means we are wasting money.

Account investments need to be made with a clear strategy driving expected outcomes. If those outcomes are not achieved the plan needs to change. Otherwise we are investing in the wrong accounts.

Now in some countries certain industries have pretty tight regulations about this, so care must be taken in what is analyzed. But, even under these circumstances we want to still drive the investments with a clear strategy and at least an implicit understanding of cause and effect.

Don’t get me wrong on this. I certainly don’t expect that you have to plan who you are nice to on the plane or which car you let in front of you in traffic. That kindness needs to be spontaneous. When it comes to customer love – be strategic.

January 02, 2009

Can Your Phone Do This

The i-phone is becoming an irritation.

In the middle of a recent conversation, my friend stops me mid-sentence and says, “hey, can your phone do this?” He then navigates to an application that turns his screen into a mug of beer. He tilts the phone, as if quaffing the lager, the pale yellow liquid disappearing from the screen, virtually sliding down his throat. Less taste and less filling.

Why does a phone have to do that?

Please do not misunderstand. I think it is great that I can send an e-mail, get a map, and check my calendar in addition to making a call. My crackberry addiction is as bad as the next person. But, I think there is a bigger issue when the desire to have the phone is based on a bunch of gadgetry that is no longer connected to the purpose of the device – communication and productive connectedness. It does not really hurt anything when you have the ability to turn your phone into a virtual pint of ale, but at some point we cross a line and the desire for the gadgetry gets in the way.

Beer Phone

This is a more serious issue in the world of CRM. Beginning in the late 90’s many IT functions bought CRM because of the appeal of the gadgetry. The business did not ask for it – they were happy with their spreadsheets. CRM software had such a great promise – use technology to increase efficiency and drive more business. And look at the stuff it can do - we can’t run our business successfully without this great dashboard.

Frequently I will get asked by a prospective client to help make the CRM tool do more – “what can we do to get the folks in the field to better use this great tool we bought for them?” What is really being asked is, how can we change people to fit better with what this technology can do? This is the wrong question.

If you bought a CRM package and you wish you could convince your organization to use it more effectively, you would be better served to ask the question differently: what can we do to have this tool better serve what the business needs?

This is an easy trap to fall into. You make a big investment, putting your neck on the line. You are measured on whether the investment pays off and whether it actually works or is even being used. No wonder it becomes the center of your focus. It does not make you a bad person. Just make the tool satisfy the business and not the other way around.

Hey, there is some music coming out of the pocket in my jacket! Oh, I think my phone is trying to tell me that the beer is cold now.

December 19, 2008

List Management

Frosty Morning After

We all have our little irritations with the holidays, and while I do get pretty turned off with those Christmas decorations that creep into the stores right after Halloween, a bigger irritation is when Christmas cards start arriving in my mailbox at Thanksgiving. So, you are probably wondering why that is such a problem for me and you are thinking that what is really going on is that I am jealous. If you are thinking that you would be right.

How can you get your cards out six weeks early? These folks that are working on their cards in mid-November are organized. They have selected a perfect picture of their children in October. They have them printed by November 1st. They have even written that annual summary of family accomplishments two months before the year is finished. But, most importantly, they have a list. In one place, all of the targeted recipients of that synopsis and snap shot are assembled. The addresses are ready to be placed onto envelopes with an assembly line of efficiency.

I had a co-worker back in the 80’s who was two decades ahead of his time. He decided that he was going to re-think the whole holiday card thing. Rather than do the traditional picture and letter stuffed in a mass-produced card,. he converted it all to e-mail. It was a thing of beauty. He had a distribution list that would be updated over the course of the year. One night in December he would pen a poignant story and then press a button and his burden was over. The savings of postage and printing were donated to a local charity.

Today, this does not seem like much, but in 1985 it was pushing the envelope. Of course much has changed since then. Lots of folks are putting up their holiday pics and letter on Facebook or creating a goofy holiday podcast posted on YouTube. I still do things the old fashioned way and use the US Postal Service. But, the good news is that my list is getting better – at least I have the addresses stored electronically. I could print onto labels and move closer to that assembly line approach. But I keep it hand written for now.

What surprises me is that I still have clients struggling with lists. One customer recently built a good portion of their CRM business case on the notion that it would allow them to more efficiently produce their holiday card mailing. The good news is that they can do mailings now with great ease, including their recent holiday greeting card. This is somewhat of an extreme case, but I do think it illustrates how fundamental effective management of customer contact information is to a successful CRM program.

If you have purchased software to automate marketing campaigns, sales activity, and service interactions, but you have not put in the effort at getting your customer data in order, you are totally sub-optimizing your investment. So, it is critical that CRM programs do the basics well first, including getting customer data in a state that enables all that expensive technology to perform. If you do, you will be able to get your holiday mailing out in November as well.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Focus on Lights

PS: I don’t have my Christmas cards in the mail yet.

November 28, 2008

CRM is Green

Polar Plight

We celebrated Thanksgiving this year with the Eagles, that rock band who sang famously about a metaphorical hotel on the west coast. Of course, the “we” refers to me and about 30,000 other folks who gathered to listen and sing along to songs on the eve of the great turkey roast. Here in Eastern Massachusetts, the location of the first ever turkey roast, the Eagles are a very popular group, especially Don Henley. Of course Joe Walsh is popular just about everywhere.

Mr. Henley received especially big applause at this particular gig because of his involvement in protecting a small and unpretentious body of water known as Walden Pond. This is the one made popular in the book with the same name by Henry David Thoreau. The reason for his loud and long applause is becuase Don Henley took on a cause, with both his name and his efforts, to keep Walden Pond from becoming a condo complex. Today it is a preserve and available to the public in its natural state, just as it was described with affection in the book.

This all happened in the previous century – much before the concept of being green was stylish, but you could say that the act was at the core of what it means to be green. The entire green movement would be well served to look to this great success as an example.

Lately, the whole green thing has been invading the CRM space with different vendors jumping on the green marketing bandwagon. I suspect a lot of this is just green crap. Most of the advertising I have seen is nothing more than disguising the monetary savings of energy cost reduction as something that is good for the planet. Businesses won’t put effort into cutting resource costs if it costs more to do it. Let’s not perpetuate that mythology. My clients won’t spend $4M on a CRM system to cut out $10K of paper waste.

On the other hand, most CRM programs do create great efficiencies that are born on the reduction or elimination of wasted resources, which can include paper reduction, reduced travel requirements, and reduced postage & shipping waste. I have also seen the argument made that using hosted applications helps reduce electricity usage due to the economy of scale from a multi-tenant environment. I buy that logic, but I am offended when SaaS vendors jump on the green bandwagon and claim they are saving the planet with their software offering.

Driving home after the concert on Thanksgiving eve we passed by another pond literally just a few miles from Walden. It is located next to one of the busiest highways in New England and surrounded by a massive office complex. This is the poster child of non-green. Literally thousands of office lights were causing a twinkle on the pond at midnight during a 4-day weekend. It had once looked attractive to me, but now all I see there is a polar bear barely hanging on to a melting iceberg. There was virtually no human being who needed those lights to work – they were consuming needless energy and contributing to our planet’s peril.

Yes, CRM can contribute to energy conservation, but let’s not use marketing hype for the wrong purpose. If you really want to go green, turn off the lights.

Thames Ultra

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

August 15, 2008

Birth Order and CRM

Are you a first born? A middle child, or perhaps you were born last in your family? Do you subscribe to the whole birth order thing? I remember, from a very, very long time ago making the observation that one of my brothers, a middle child, did not get as many Christmas presents as others in the family. At the age of about 4 or 5 it started becoming obvious to me, well before I had ever heard the term referenced.

Anecdotally there seems to be a lot of evidence, but of course the research also supports the notion that who you are as an individual is highly influenced by when you popped out in relation to your siblings.

So, I would like to offer that this birth order thing has just as much impact within the working environment as it does around the kitchen table. However, I would like to take the conversation up a level. I also believe there is a birth order dynamic when it comes to the generations within the workforce.

Certainly we have all heard about the Baby Boomers followed by the Gen Xers and now we have Generation Y starting to make a strong contribution to the organization. Attributes regarding each generation have been postulated, some more similar to astrology-like characteristics than what might be found through conventional science. My preference is not to get caught up in the content of the differences, but to acknowledge that they exist.

More importantly, if there are real differences between those who are 55, 40 and 25 other than just the experience of age, then it might be worth thinking through how that plays out with business effectiveness. For example, if your SVP of sales is a Boomer and has worked hard to figure out how to manage and reward a team of X’ers over the years, what happens when all the new recruits are Gen Y? Have we built a set of policies to manage and motivate one group that might not work with another group? I think there is a good chance that this can become an issue.

What happens if you have a Boomer SVP of marketing, but your customer base is heavily weighted with the younger generations – can there be a mismatch of preference? One might have learned the value of direct mail marketing, while the other wants to see a podcast on the 4 inch screen of an i-Phone. The call center team today is made up of a different group of folks than who was jockeying the phones in the 90’s. Do they have different aspirations and expectations? That is what I have been led to believe. Are you managing the call center with what you learned about the function a decade ago and with a whole different generation of workers?

H+E w PFDs

My apologies if you were hoping for some recommendations. I don’t necessarily know what to do about the differences between the three generations who make up our customer facing workforce and management team, but I do know that the differences between them will impact how the whole thing works.
Back when I was in graduate school we got trained how to write research papers. One of the things I remember most was making sure that every paper ended with a recommendation that would positively influence the possibility of getting more grant money for more research. I will conclude the same with this entry.

This topic merits further investigation.

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

June 06, 2008

Fried Pickles

Last week was another first for me. Yes, I had my inaugural taste of fried pickles. Perhaps some of you out there have no experience with this culinary oddity, while some of you might wonder how it is possible that a person with nearly half a century on this planet could have gone so long without such a staple in their diet.

The concept of a fried pickle had never occurred to me. What is most strange is that it is a food item that has been doubly processed. First, the cucumber goes through the pickling, which is typically the end of the road. But, the fried pickle then goes through the whole batter and fry process, an extra set of steps for something that is already supposed to be ready for consumption.

I have run into other food items like this. The chocolate frosted glazed donut comes to mind. Again, this is an ingestible product that has gone through a preparation twice. I always wonder about these – are the glazed donuts stale, so they add the extra chocolate topping to make them appealing again?

Did these fried pickles follow a similar path? Did the vinegar and garlic wear out causing them to require a cooking process as a form of second sterilization? Is this a lipstick on a pig situation – covering up something that is not quite right with something that is a superficial betterment?

Of course you figured out where this is all leading. How many CRM systems have been deep fried in an attempt to make them more appealing? We get asked all the time to get involved with this. The CRM system does not satisfy anybody, but if we just layered an extra topping of analytics it would be just fine. Or is this is a situation where we are deep frying the CRM system with even more capability such as adding lead scoring to an already good lead management.

So, you might ask, was the deep fried pickle good? Actually, it was really good. Just like enhancing lead management with lead scoring is good. But, that situation starts out with an already good lead management capability. Too many times I see the stale glazed donut with a request for adding chocolate in an attempt to improve it.

Admittedly the metaphor gets a bit weak here, so give me some journalistic license. If your CRM system is like a stale glazed donut, please don’t expect that a chocolate topping of analytics or any other pleasant distraction will make it less stale. You have to fix the donut, not disguise it. In the case of the stale donut you simply start over with a fresh donut and cut your losses. This may not be the case with your CRM system. You might not have to put it in the trash compacter – it is likely improvable. But, the point is, don’t try to cover up the problem with a superficial improvement. Fix the problem, and then add more capability.

Enjoy those pickles.

Manneken Pis Choco

May 16, 2008


The sales guys certainly can make it appealing, but how do you know if renting a CRM package rather than buying it makes sense for you? Software as a Service (Saas) is gaining momentum within CRM and more and more companies I visit are asking if it makes sense for them. It might have been easier to answer this question in the past – smaller companies who did not want to make the investment in a sophisticated package could ease into CRM with a hosted solution without a lot of fuss. But the separation of whether or not it makes sense is getting narrower.

There are some factors to consider if you are looking into this form of CRM for your business:

I believe one of the strongest arguments for going hosted is if you plain and simply don’t have the bandwidth to manage the complexity of a CRM platform internally. Here it is obvious that smaller organizations are likely going to fit here. You may not want to invest in the CRM competency because you want to keep your investments more focused on the core of your business. That is logical.

However, small divisions and functions within large organizations can fit this mold as well. This is most true with those groups who have a different business model and customers than the rest of the enterprise. These folks have been dragged along by corporate IT to conform to the chosen standards, but CRM for everybody else does not fit for them. This is the perfect situation for a hosted solution, which the industry has now labeled hybrid CRM – some folks get on premise and some get a hosted package. This leads to a lot of happy customers for big IT functions.

Another fairly obvious consideration is the length of time a company expects to utilize a hosted CRM system. There has been some conventional wisdom accepted in the past that SaaS is particularly useful for an organization that wants to have a CRM system for the short term, prior to moving to a different system in the long term. There can be many reasons for this need, such as an impending business change or a preference for minimal expenditure. Under these circumstances, a large outlay of investment for a CRM system that will be changed does not make sense. The thinking has been that if you plan to keep the system for less than three years, hosted is the way to go. On the other hand, the cost of renting the software starts to add up after a while and it eventually will make sense to own rather than lease if you want a lower cost of usership. Again, this seems to be around the 3 year mark.

I find this 3-year price break perfectly logical. However, I have seen too many companies that first try out CRM and then change it radically, that they would have been better off renting for a while prior to jumping in the CRM deep end. If you really are uncertain what you want, but you know you want to have CRM quickly, I believe it is much more affordable to rent for a bit and then buy when you really know what you want.

A third factor that is gaining some ground is the notion of integration. Are you attempting to plug your CRM system into many data sources to have the best picture of your customer? If so, you may want to invest the needed integration effort in an on premise solution as the limitations of what you can do with a hosted package may impede your integration requirements. The vendor sales folks will surely argue the point, but we wary on this factor.

There is a fourth factor that seems to have resurfaced as a critical consideration and that is the notion of data security. I have had many clients who plain and simply were unwilling to store there confidential client data in a data condo complex side by side with others. This factor has some interesting dynamics going on in the market place at the moment. On the one hand the one leading vendor maintains their multi-tenant approach is completely secure. On the other hand, the other leading vendor has offered a single-tenant service to quell the concerns and now offer a more secure solution. Is this service being offered just to satisfy the perception of a potential security breach or is there a potential for a security breach? It is not entirely clear to me, but I raise it for your consideration.

The final factor that I raise for consideration is whether you are looking for a full suite of features to satisfy a broad range of requirements across the enterprise or whether you need a simple solution for a few set of common requirements. Certainly the hosted solutions started out simple, but they have evolved and are becoming quite sophisticated. The differences are narrowing in this case and you might not want to rule out SaaS just because you feel that you have a sophisticated set of demands. However, the one area that remains unsatisfied is a broad set of industry tailored solutions across the different vendors. Many of my clients have ultimately ruled out hosted CRM because they would spend more money than they preferred customizing packages to fit the look and feel of their business processes. The on premise options do hold an edge in this regard.

So, do your homework and don’t get overly influenced by a flashy demo touting the bells and whistles that you may or may not require. Determine the criteria that you need to satisfy and carefully compare the options before you buy (or rent).

Eye of Goat

April 18, 2008

Make Money or Save Money

Within the same week I was told by two different clients, quite emphatically, that CRM can only produce increases in revenue but not reduce costs, and that CRM can only reduce costs but not increase revenue. So, the big question is which point of view is correct? I say, “let them eat cake!”

When I look at my own experiences I can recall clients who have wanted to make more money, but ended up only able to reduce costs. I have some clients who have wanted to reduce cots but have only been successful with improving revenue. And then of course, there are those clients who were not able to achieve either.

So, what to make about all of this? Taking a look at a recent editorial in the April issue of CRM Magazine some trends are reported that offer up a little insight. In this case, those organizations that are looking to increase revenue from CRM are focusing on the sales force. This certainly makes a lot of sense because if you use CRM and SFA tools to improve efficiency it will either lead to better use of time driving better sales or it will lead to sales people being able to spend less time at home or in hotel rooms doing admin tasks. But, it won’t reduce any cost (although the sales force is happy about having more time with their families).

Bank Stocks

Back in the 90’s a lot of my CRM experience was focused on call centers, much of which were dedicated to customer service. Unless you use CRM to migrate service personnel into blended sales and service roles, your only hope for bottom line results is through driving out costs. And, I believe there were plenty of examples of success where CRM improvements within the call centers led to cost reduction – mostly in the form of being able to scale the call center to handle growth without adding comparable headcount.

Taking this all into account, it may be that the answer to the question of whether CRM is good for making money or saving money is that it can do either one, but it might depend on which function you are supporting with the program. But, to complicate things, let’s throw the marketing function into the mix.

CRM software and process improvements can help drive lead management efficiencies, plus automation can dramatically drop the cost of managing campaigns. At the same time, analytics that drive better targeting and evaluation can improve lift. Marketing can realistically achieve both benefits of making more money while saving money.

Getting back to those strongly convicted clients of mine - you can have your cake and eat it too.

February 22, 2008

Hail To The Chief

We spent the Presidents’ Day holiday week nestled at the base of the Presidential Range, while the presidential race was raging in the sound bites at 11. It all seemed pretty appropriate.

On more than one occasion over the course of the week we went to top of those mountains named after our founding father figures. Most of the time we paid for the privilege to ride to the top in high-speed comfort, but we did scale one of those peaks using shoes made for snow travel.

The journey was good, and we were ready. We had the tools, we had the experience, we had a path, and we had the motivation to get to the top. At times we considered turning around and going back.

But we kept going. The driver was the reward at the end of the journey (we actually had a few reward expectations – a really nice view, a sense of accomplishment, and a strong desire to see where the path actually went). Some times I had to convince my climbing partner to keep going, using colorful reminders of the expected rewards.

The journey required effort, which we were not in complete understanding of at the beginning. Once again, we did not truly know where the path went, but we bet on the fact that it would lead to the desired rewards.

You might see where this is all going by now – CRM sure is like scaling a mountain – the ends justify the means. The preparation for the journey was significant, with a number of factors driving the success:

- get clear on the end-state and keep it clearly in mind;
- set expectations with all involved using a path or plan;
- get agreement to make the effort, even with some unknowns; and
- be ready for the journey with the right resources.

It was a very rewarding journey.


February 15, 2008

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Paris

It was one of those trips. 12 days, 6 hotels, 5 Countries. They happen on a regular basis. Cross the big pond and visit as many clients as the sales reps can squeeze in. This was a particularly rough version of the usual excursion with irritable customs agents, 5:00 AM taxis, and food poisoning. But I catch myself whining, which is not my intention here.

The interesting part was the client visits. As it turns out, if you go to London, where a dinner costs as much as my parents’ mortgage payment, you will hear about the same thing you hear in Pittsburgh, something about needing to generate leads. Rotterdam conversations sound just like those in Boston, better ways to get management alignment. What I have heard in Chicago previously, discussions around leveraging the web for CRM, has resemblances to conversations while just in Dublin. We got the same stuff going on at each side of the Atlantic.

Customers demand the same things. We all have customers and we all have to do similar things to be successful with them. It was a hard set of travel days, especially the food poisoning (and from a client’s cafeteria, too!), but it was an affirming set of client visits. It feels like we are making progress out there

By following the best practices that have been established over the last decade and standing by the principles that have been built repeatedly from effective CRM programs, I believe we can replicate success across borders and time zones. Although, a translator can be helpful at times - some Dutch terms just don’t convert to English easily.


January 25, 2008

Stubborn & Persistent

I spent Christmas Eve Day on the Island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands snorkeling with my family. We rented a Jeep and drove to a remote part of the island to commune with nesting leatherbacks and search out the illusive featherduster coral. While on the idyllic crescent shaped beach in between dives we encountered an interesting pack of wild sea donkeys. As it was our first trip there, we were not familiar with this institution, and while they were not troublesome, they were persistent. They wanted the food in our back packs. They would not go away, which meant that we had to stay on guard lest a mobile phone be mistaken for a sandwich.

Wild Sea Donkeys

Returning to civilization after the holidays, one of the first calls I received was from a colleague asking me to prepare him for a visit with a prospective customer who was hoping for help with a CRM program gone astray. My advice to him was that there was a 95% chance, not knowing any details of the situation, that the problem could be traced to one of three factors, or a combination of the three. He needed to be prepared to talk about weak strategy, crappy usability and technology sub-optimization. Later, during a debriefing, I learned it was a combination. There was no solace in being right.

This all reminds me of those wild sea donkeys that just wouldn’t go away. The same problems keep coming back looking to steal our lunch. The CRM industry is about 15 years old, depending on how you define things. It is amazing to me that after that much time, the same things keep going wrong.

Companies still fund CRM programs thinking they can relegate the process to a bunch of good intentioned IT folks who never get the license to bring together the execs to set expectations about what the program should deliver. CRM software gets designed and implemented to satisfy a whole boatload of different stakeholders, except not the users who have difficulty making it work efficiently and get back no individual benefit. And, on top of that, CRM has become so much a central concept in contemporary organizational thinking that everybody has it including your dry cleaner – but the problem is that there is not enough talent to go around to get it all installed correctly now – so too many software systems are put together like a cheap condo complex.

So why raise this? Two reasons: first, if you are planning a CRM program, please make sure you have a solid strategy and buy-in across management; make sure you design the system to satisfy the performance needs of the user; and make sure you have competent folks helping you build and implement the technology. Second, if you find yourself dissatisfied with your CRM program, use this as a diagnostic tool – examine each of these three factors to find what you need to repair. It will get you most of the way back on track. Then go eat your picnic lunch before the wild sea donkeys come back.

August 17, 2007

Hedge Fun

One of my bigger challenges as a consultant is convincing my clients not to think too small. When I am approached by a business that is looking at the possibility of buying a new SFA tool there is often an expectation to keep things fairly narrow in scope. Typically the interest will focus on a primary capability such as better forecasting or more sophisticated contact management. But, while the desired scope of effort may be small, the expected outcomes are disproportionately big. This is where the problems arise. Spending a few hundred grand on better forecasting or contact management may not ever see a positive return.

If you were to pour through the different research reports on sales effectiveness, especially those utilizing CRM and SFA software, you will find trends that help to resolve this problem.

Viva Las Vegas

First, one of the big limitations of SFA as a stand alone solution is that it tends to be best at lowering cost of sale, but less effective as a sales growth solution. This can be a big disappointment for those sales VP’s who were making the investment in order to drive higher sales volume. However, further digging into the research indicates that this potential disappointment can be abated with the correct additional investment. The best chance of improving sales growth is to combine sales force automation with marketing automation, particularly lead management solutions.

The irony for me regarding this significant benefit of combining sales and marketing as an integrated solution is that I often have to push to get marketing invited to the table when it comes to planning for these CRM programs. The push back is often centered around wanting to contain scope in order to maximize results. Buddy, if you want results, don’t think so small.

A similar inappropriate scope limitation involves the idea of containing the reach of SFA. This next problem is often disguised as a desire not to burden the field with unnecessary admin. It goes something like this. There is a recognition that the customer data base is patchy. Too much contact information resides on PDA’s and rolodexes. So, the request is to implement SFA for the resolution of this problem but not to overtax the field with unnecessary tasks such as sales call reporting. However, when you look further at the results of the research we find that these programs have the least ROI. You want results, then you need to build a sales methodology into your SFA – these initiatives show the best returns.

The added discipline of the sales methodology drives better account targeting, facilitates coaching, enables collaboration, and reduces the risk of leads falling through the cracks. It does take more effort to get right, and it does increase the scope of the program, but it also delivers better results. Is that not the reason you were making that CRM investment in the first place?

Now, you may be thinking, “wait a minute, the research also indicates that keeping project scope small also improves the likelihood of success!” This is very true, but the studies specifically point out that chunking programs into bite size project pieces is the best way to implement. This is not intended to imply that keeping the span of the overall program small will lead to better results. To the contrary, the integration of multiple initiatives spanning functions like sales and marketing leads to the best results - according to the research.

Hedge your bets. You don’t have to do it all at once. Start with sales then add marketing, or the other way around. Just don’t think small.

July 27, 2007

Taking the Gamble out of CRM Sotware Selection

Lately, I have been spending a lot of my time helping my clients correctly select CRM technology for their businesses. Yes, I know this is not all that interesting, so why am I consuming precious blog space on such a mundane topic? Well, I think it gets interesting when you add the fact that all of my clients have already gone through a selection of CRM, but come away very dissatisfied with their decisions. Can the process of choosing a software package to enable business capabilities be all that hard to get right? It does not have to be. However if you do not pay attention to some key factors, your selection can turn into a big crap shoot. Here is a process that I recommend.

Step 1 – Probably the biggest factor in a successful selection process is not starting with the technology, but rather, starting with the end state that technology will achieve. Get a very clear vision and consensus on what CRM will do for the business. Many get this wrong the first time, thinking it is simple, but leave out key functions of the business, fail to gain consensus and, like one company who spent $12M on CRM but with virtually no adoption, waste serious money. Once you know where you want to go, the rest of the selection process gets easier.

Step 2 – Next it is necessary to clearly uncover the business capabilities needed to achieve the vision, which is harder than it appears because many are not adept at facilitating future state requirements definition. I have a client that chose a CRM system a number of years ago, then later determined they needed to add order management as a business capability. This was not included in the initial selection process and it led to them choosing a package with too narrow a set of abilities. As a result, they have had to abandon the original selection, forcing unnecessary turmoil and expense on the business. Your selection needs to cover your future requirements, not just remove the pain the business is battling with today.

Step 3 – Once you have established a prioritized set of capabilities required by the business, you next want to compare these against inherent package abilities to determine best fit. The pitfall with this step is not knowing whether a package can really do what the sales and marketing people say. Due diligence is the key. Start with creating a shortlist - there are many packages to choose from – weed out the poor fits and focus on the obvious few. To do this well it can be very helpful to know the technology marketplace and where the hidden traps are.

Be careful not to weed out good packages because of inappropriate perceptions. I had a client who told me they would never choose a certain package, but anything else was fair game. As it turned out, the best fit was the one they declared they would not choose. With a bit more pushing, we found out that they had no sound reason for discounting the best fit; it was purely irrational conclusion-forming. They now happily use that software to this day.

Step 4 – With a clear comparison of business requirements against software abilities, it is possible to objectively determine the package that will fit best. However, there are potentially some non-objective criteria included in the decision process. Therefore it is best if you facilitate the decision process with the business choosing the best fit. I have learned that this cannot be an IT decision, and it cannot even appear that IT has a preference because of the risk that the business will resist what IT puts in front of them. We have replaced a huge number of CRM systems for this one reason alone

Step 5 – Finally, with a preferred vendor chosen, develop a realistic estimate of TCO and negotiate your best price with the vendor – software vendors are notoriously horrid at providing estimates, and they lowball shamefully. Plus some software vendors have a history of trying to sell unnecessary services and modules when they can get away with it. This is an area where knowing how to navigate the buying process becomes really key to ensuring a good deal and avoiding the potential of buying shelf-ware.

Sometimes it can be helpful to use a resource that is familiar with the software industry to assist with the process of steering around the potholes. The cost of bringing in some help is a great way to parlay your bet. Good luck!

Big Gambler

June 29, 2007

Do I Really Need CRM?

Munching Koala

Did you read that the Australian National Rugby League recently implemented a CRM system? It is easy to ask the question, why does a Rugby League need this kind of technology, which then easily transitions to the question, “gee, does my company need CRM too?”

Actually, sports teams and leagues are jumping on the CRM bandwagon right and left, the Aussies just being the latest. CRM is really popular in AAA baseball where attracting fans is more about marketing than the appeal of the national pastime. But it does beg the question, what drives the rationale for the CRM investment?

I think there are three questions to ask to determine whether CRM makes sense for you business.

First, are you satisfied with your customer outcomes? The NRL was not. They wanted to have more attendance at games, possibly doing more to improve gate revenues and ancillary sales. What about your customer outcomes? Do you sell as much as you want to as many customers as possible, and at the price you prefer? Or do you feel cost of service is too high? These are all examples of outcomes that can be improved with CRM.

Second, what changes to your business capabilities are required to improve your outcomes? The NRL believed that they do not know well enough who their fans are and believe that some traditional marketing capabilities would help. How about you – could you benefit from better marketing, or better customer targeting, or improved tracking of buying behavior? Are you good at keeping on top of service issues? Again, these are examples of common customer-facing capabilities that many organizations want to improve. CRM is intended to address these, either through technology, or through process improvements included in a broader CRM program.

Finally, will technology do anything to further your capabilities, and will it be worth the price? This is a harder question to get right. Some companies feel that CRM technology is a necessary ticket to play in the big leagues and make the investment without worrying about a clear ROI. I even had one client executive tell me, when working to determine if a CRM purchase made sense for their business, “The fact that we don’t have a real CRM system at this company is immoral!” Those are strong words, but it does reflect a sentiment that CRM is simply part of the fabric of the modern enterprise. However, it is possible to improve capabilities through better process, policy, and human resource initiatives.

For most businesses the benefits are pretty strong. Automation of sales, marketing and service processes lead to both effectiveness and efficiency results improving both growth as well as profitability. A third outcome is also common, which is the improvement of customer satisfaction through CRM. Automated auto registration and license renewal is a great example there.

So what about the Aussies – will they benefit? Go see for yourself, starting here
but maybe take in a match and draw your own conclusions.

May 25, 2007

Uncovering Coverage Collaboration

Getting through security at the airport these days has become seriously complex - too complex. Everything has to be uncovered. First it was the metal objects, then the laptop, then came the shoes, next came the coats, and now we have the liquids in the Ziplock. Getting this all onto the tables and into the bins while walking closer to the entrance of the x-ray machine has turned into quite a dance. I don’t have enough hands to manage it all, but as a regular traveler I feel pressure to keep the line moving. It makes me long for a simpler time.


I am also seeing a similar trend with a lot of my clients who are also becoming more complex. But for them, everything has to be covered. When a new sophisticated product gets launched, a special sales force gets introduced. When a complicated service is added, a new layer of service specialist is layered onto the team. When a new customer segment is identified it leads to the development of a new layer of account management. It seems like every time there is a new wrinkle there is a new group added to the org chart. When will this coverage complexity stop?

It may just likely continue. It appears to be a necessity.

However, I also see some risks. When the number of groups and the number of customer touchpoints reaches a certain complexity, the likelihood of problems grows exponentially. Opportunities get missed in handoffs, cannibalism between groups increases, the cost of sale inches up, and the chance of a customer becoming irritated from having to talk to too many people, or not knowing the right person to talk to skyrockets.

There are choices when the coverage model gets out of control. Certainly one option is to scale back, but this is not popular I have found. A second approach is to create a single point of contact. This alternative seems appealing, but I find it is intensely hard to operationalize. The third approach is collaboration – linking all the groups together in a way that attempts to present the right resource to the customer based on the need at the time.

To accomplish a collaborative model for handling complex coverage, there a few variables that become essential. First, it is critical that each individual become crystal clear with their role. Overlap of tasks or responsibilities to permit flexibility is one thing. Ambiguity is another, and needs to be driven out.

Second, it is positively necessary that the CRM system be set up to enable push and pull communication that is both robust but not burdensome. The sharing of information both instantly and historically is a threshold requirement. Without it, the approach won’t work. This means that everybody has to hold up their end of the bargain, as well. Nobody is too important to share their interactions with others. That is why it is called collaboration.

April 20, 2007

Balancing Act

The March issue of CRM Magazine has a number of interesting articles, each with a top ten list. Unlike what we have come to expect from Letterman, they are provided in ascending order, but the content is still good, ranging from SFA through CRM Program Management. On the latter list, the top item is, “Put the User First”. There was a time when I would have enthusiastically accepted this recommendation with great applause. After all I have spent a good portion of my career as a self-proclaimed expert on change management, constantly extolling the virtues of user buy-in as a key critical success factor.

Now, before I make anyone upset with me, please understand that I still very firmly believe that a focus on the user to ensure acceptance is really, really important. However, I am no longer certain that it is correct to claim that good CRM requires for us to put the user first. Seeing that in print makes me cringe at the thought of the incoming hate mail.

Well, what about management needs from CRM? What about timely and accurate forecasting? Isn’t that important? I’m not fooling around here. This is really important stuff. How could the average user be more important?

This is resolvable.

Surfer's Balance

It’s all about balance. Ultimately, I believe it is important that the needs of the user are balanced with the needs of management. Getting out of balance usually causes problems. When forecasting is all that matters, sale reps have a means of finding ways to not do forecasting sufficiently. Having declared this so emphatically, I’ll also disclose that there are times when being out of balance briefly is needed as well. For example, when the first phase of an SFA project is all about getting the forecasting module up quickly due to problems with inventory shortages, it is totally fine to let the second phase be all about the folks out in the field. Ultimately it is essential to get to balance.

There are a number of key balance dimensions in addition to the management / user relationship. Getting things balanced between headquarters and the field is good. Having a reasonable balance between a focus on business processes and a focus on technology is also good. Striking a balance between a customer orientation and an internal orientation is really good, too.

More on those later - go get balanced.

October 27, 2006

What is CRM, Really?

CRM is not technology. This is a sentence I have spoken possibly more than any other one sentence in my career. Now, the truth of the matter is that it is a little more complicated than that, especially since there is technology that is categorized as CRM. I would like to take this opportunity to sound off on a topic that I find causes some confusion.

Customer Relationship Management, most commonly referred to as CRM, is an approach to optimizing the interactions your company has with its customers. CRM is really all about managing customer touchpoints for fun and profit. Now, why get all caught up in my shorts about this issue of CRM not being technology? The answer is connected to the naïve belief that implementing CRM technology alone will solve customer interaction problems. Most of the time when you throw technology at a problem as complicated as customer touchpoints you are destined to make matters worse. In fact, this has often been the case for many companies.

For the far majority of companies that want to improve the outcomes they achieve from managing their customer relationships, the effort required must involve a number of different organizational elements. Typically this means making adjustments to policy, processes, skills, attitudes, and also technology.

In fact I recently ran across an article in Industry Week that proposed that CRM has become one of the top five mechanisms for managing organizational change, up there with others such as TQM and process reengineering. This is a pretty significant amount of progress made since the mid 90’s when CRM first hit the market as the next killer app.

However, it is still quite common for companies to equate an investment in CRM to strictly the effort required to implement software. This narrow consideration for planning a CRM program has led many organizations into great peril. This is all made more difficult with the siren song of software sales and marketing professionals lauding their wares for achieving great business benefits. It is true that amazing things can be done with the current generation of products on the market. Never has the technology been so good.

Don’t get lured into the rocks on the shore by the CRM software siren. If you are thinking about taking this CRM voyage be prepared to address more factors than only the introduction of new technology. If you view CRM as a total business approach to better managing customer interactions, you will be more successful (and have more fun and profit).