The past five years have seen an enormous amount of hype around CRM. The technology has been hailed as the only way to integrate silos of customer information into a single, holistic view of the customer. Important enterprise software companies have grown huge on the back of sales of such systems to Global 2000 companies, drawn to the goal of using such applications to better market to, sell to and serve existing and potential customers.
The original CRM philosophy has been accepted. The problem is that there is much controversy about to what extent organisations have fulfilled it. A November 2001 study by analyst firm Meta Group suggested that a high proportion of early US CRM engagements had disappointed their sponsors, while fellow analyst Gartner group caused much controversy by suggesting in the same year that as many as 80% of all CRM projects were set to fail.
Organisations that have reported failure with their CRM initiatives seem to have foundered on organisational resistance – those at the coal face not fully understanding what the systems are for, or how that can make both their own jobs and those of their colleagues easier and more productive, and hence failing to enter that vital piece of information that another department needs.
Against this backdrop, maybe it's surprising to ask companies to think again about CRM. But the fact is that CRM is changing and enough lessons have been learnt from the first wave to help new adopters gain advantage from best practice learnt the hard way.
A key understanding: any complex IT system, CRM most especially, adopted globally across the organisation by fiat from above seems doomed to fail. This was the fate of too many CRM projects, certainly the ones in larger firms.
Its also become apparent that too many organisations fail to consider the other factors in making a business system work - people and data. Poor quality data is a terrible basis for a good system; staff not convinced a new system can help them do their jobs is another.
Therefore a holistic approach is needed. By taking a bottom-up, not top-down, approach, a CRM system can rapidly deliver real improvement. By solving one discrete problem - perhaps by helping to improve the support available for your sales team, or by raising visibility of who your best and worst customers in a given market really are - CRM can radically improve your organisational effectiveness. But by ensuring your people and data are on-board or improved, real ongoing success is possible.
Hence beware the 'Pan-Galactic' solution. Look for proven deliverables in a short time span. Think of how a specific business process could be improved first. Then look to market for software, where you may have a few pleasant surprises.
The Microsoft seal of approval?
The CRM supplier market is now at a stage where systems have a proven track record, with enough real customer references of organisations that have got value out of CRM to warrant real investigation. That's welcome news for many. Even better is the news that Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, has finally, and very dramatically, entered this market.
This is valuable because Microsoft has engineered a solution that not only works with its dominant suite of desktop productivity tools and operating systems, but is functionally highly promising and is tailored with the small to medium business’ requirements firmly in mind. If nothing else the news will galvanise the market as other software authors attempt to compete with as strong a product as they can to match the 'Beast' - which is excellent news for organisations looking for maximum return on their IT investment.
Getting the best from your efforts
The real secret of CRM is that it is a way to de-randomise your marketing, sales and service activities. To finally really know what works and what doesn’t will save time, resource, and increase opportunity at a stroke. Which sales people do the best for me? What promotions worked last year, and why? Can I be confident this demographic profile will be interested in this sort of product? What are our customers asking for and what are their biggest complaints about us. These questions can only be answered with a functional CRM system assisting you in collecting, connecting and sharing information about your organisations interactions with its customers..
At a time when products or services may becoming feature-wise not that distinguishable, surely only the best sales, marketing and customer service effort will produce the success you need?
By Steve Sydee, CRM Sales Director at Touchstone IT Services Group