The big picture: How to build a CRM strategy
A strategic approach is crucial to customer relationship management success. So what are the key components and considerations of a successful CRM strategy?
Back in 2001, the sorry state of CRM implementations was captured for posterity by a headline-grabbing piece of research from Gartner, which reported that 50% of CRM programmes were failing to meet expectations.
Accompanied by a warning that an over-emphasis on technology at the expense of strategic direction was responsible for many of the shortcomings, the research became synonymous with CRM.
Yet by the end of the decade, little had changed – a Forrester study from 2009 reporting a 47% failure rate among CRM strategies. Once more, one of the main culprits was software dictating the strategy, rather than the other way around.
The CRM industry has changed dramatically in the last four years, with adoption powered by the proliferation of Software-as-a-Service tools. But have businesses still yet learnt the lessons of the past?
CRM is a tool and a very powerful tool at that - one that empowers salespeople to better engage with customers – provided that it operates within the framework of a customer-centric strategy.
“A CRM system is an important tool for building customer loyalty and encouraging retention, it will also keep your business competitive, but one common trap that can be fallen into by organisations is to see it as a standalone tactic, rather than developing it as a strategic function,” says Andrew Brittain, MD of digital agency Advantec. “If you have a CRM system and it is not currently achieving what you hoped then it may down to the absence of a strategic plan, or because the system is not fully integrated and in line with business goals.”
And even those that do have a CRM strategy would be wise to revisit it regularly to ensure that it still fit for purpose in an age of changing customer behaviours and new emerging channels.
“Recent research we conducted along with Forrester Research identifies a number of reasons for companies deciding to implement a new and improved CRM strategy,” says Julie Hesselgrove, group president at Xerox CMS. “The top three include:
- Standardising decentralised processes that impede customer relationships – to replace old systems that risk quality, cost and customer experience.
- Enhancing connections with customers via new technologies – to prioritise human-driven interaction with customers, and move away from dated mass automation.
- Utilising new channels that offer a path to more personal customer communications – practicing communications across smart devices, video and social media to achieve a personal approach.”
How do you start to create a CRM strategy?
But developing or updating a CRM strategy is no mean feat, not least because of the scale of the exercise.
“A CRM strategy must look holistically are the business processes and systems that deal with customers, including marketing, sales, ordering, customer care, technical support and business intelligence/customer analytics,” warns Yossi Zohar, head of product and partner marketing, customer management division at Amdocs. “In addition, it should span all interaction channels, including call centre, retail/branch/outlets, web and mobile self service and sales and service partners. The CRM strategy needs to optimise all of the assisted and unassisted processes and ensure all channels are using the optimised processes consistently.”
As with any strategy, it is critical that you do your research, and are very clear from the outset about what your key objectives are going to be, both in the short-term and the long-term.
“A successful CRM system is not simply a case of going out and buying magic software that will transform your business. The key to it all is knowing what you want to achieve and understanding your customers – before you even think about software!” emphasises Brittain. “It takes good planning, starting with clear and achievable goals. Where do you want the business to go? Therefore what is your vision for the CRM system? Work back from there to allocate and set responsibilities.
“The foundation of any strategy should begin with consideration for the range of capabilities that your company has. This should include every step of the process, from the business process to your technology and your people. Focusing on just one or two of these and ignoring others can lead to problems further down the line, as each is part of the journey from the business to the customer. If one part falls down it can have a ripple effect through the whole chain.
“Above all, remember that the customer should be at the heart of the strategy, not your product or service. This can mean a complete change in thinking in some cases, but it is an important shift and one that your whole team need to understand and get behind from the start.”
Annette Giardina, CRM UK lead at Avanade UK, summarises the following preparatory steps to lay the foundations for building your CRM strategy.
- Understand the issues and challenges that you currently face when interacting with your customer. “For example, do your team have the information they need readily available to respond to customer queries? Can you provide a seamless experience for your customer regardless of the channel? Is time being spent with customers or on repetitive manual tasks? This will help you understand your internal challenges,” she explains.
- Identify your customer journeys. “A customer journey is how your customer interacts with your business, e.g. purchasing a product, reporting an issue. Then align your internal business processes with these journeys. This will help you determine if you are easy or hard to do business with.”
- Identify how you will measure success, what will your KPIs be. “Once you have identified them, measure your current state of play. That way you will have a comparison point.”
- Identify critical business dates or milestones. “Do you have a new product launch coming? Do you have a busy period that requires a systems freeze, etc. This will he you determine critical timing.”
With customer data such a critically important part of any CRM project, another task that it is important to undertaken before strategy building begins in earnest is ensuring that your data management is in good shape. Remember, as the old adage reminds us: garbage in, garbage out.
“Without having data on your customers, you can’t learn what does and does not engage them, and what effect this engagement does or doesn’t have depending on what you say, to whom and when,” says Felix Velarde, CEO of Underwired. “So before you can do CRM you need a decent data collection policy, and the means to analyse the data in the context of the CRM programme you envisage for them.”
It is vital to ensure all data is accurate and up to date (in accordance with the Data Protection act 1998).
Crafting a CRM strategy
This preparation will not only have given your organisation a good platform on which to build a CRM strategy, but it will also have determined your CRM maturity, highlighting how much work and the types of work that need to be completed to achieve an effective CRM strategy. Furthermore, you’ll also be clear about whether or not external experts are required to assist in the creation of the strategy.
With all of this addressed, John Everhard, technical director at Pegasystems, recommends that businesses start crafting their CRM by ensuring it addresses the following topics:
- The cultural readiness of the organisation to adopt a customer-centric approach to business.
- A clear vision of what good CRM looks like across the organisation.
- Clearly documented customer journeys across the organisation.
- A communication plan for sharing the actionable items within the strategy, progress charts that show what has been implemented and where.
- An education program for the entire staff, including third-parties who may have involvement in the interactions with the organisation’s customers.
- An implementation plan, including a feedback loop that allows everyone to highlight implementation or execution problems.
- Clear leadership – ideally including the responsibilities of the most senior managers in terms of managing the operationalisation of the strategy.
- Clear measures that show everyone the value of adopting and applying the strategic initiatives.
- The selection of appropriate software to support the unique CRM strategy of the organisation.
- Celebration of excellence when it is achieved – how do we know we are at a point of excellence?
Generally, a comprehensive CRM strategy should have multiple levels, including business objectives, data strategy and analytics, experience/communications planning, channel strategy, content strategy, technology, continuous improvement and metrics/measurements.
“Once the objectives are set and defined, one can then start mapping the customer journey, utilising all information, data and analytics at your disposal – understand where and in what way your business touches or interacts with the customer,” recommends Ben Silcox, head of data and technology at Havas EHS.
“At every one of these touch points you will identify a piece of data or opportunity to impact – you will also potentially identify large gaps in touch points where as a business you are not communicating with the customer, and yet these moments are the ones that matter. Simple conversion and journey segmentation can highlight the difference in these journeys between different types of customers.”
Once you have highlighted the moments you wish to impact, you can then build your CRM data strategy, encompassing: what data you have; what data you need; how you use that data to understand your customer; what segmentations you should apply; what propensity models you should use; whether you should use predictive analytics (if you have enough data) to understand when and where to communicate; and whether you should use systems dynamics to understand the complexity of multiple channels and the interaction between those channels in impacting customer behaviour.
“You can then begin the creative process of experience or communications planning – what experience can you create, or communication can you deliver that helps the customer make the decisions, take the actions that give them a greater experience or better outcome,” continues Silcox.
Once you have highlighted the moments you wish to impact, you can then build your CRM data strategy.
Next up is the content and channel strategy. “This is where you are matching channels, audiences segments and content together to weave your communications experience,” says Silcox. “What messaging will lead where; what do you want the customer to do there; what channels are best for acquisition vs engagement vs advocacy vs conversion (purchase); do you need to work with any third parties/partners; how does the programme get integrated with other activity taking place in those channels; how much of what type of content do you need to feed the programme; and what needs to be planned vs reactive?”
Before the business begins the process of looking at appropriate software solutions, Everhard recommends engaging the organisation with the strategy so far.
“The leadership team needs to clearly define what they mean by their CRM strategy in terms that every employee can understand,” he advises. “This needs to be repeatedly communicated across the organisation along with the procedures and policies that should be adopted by each employee to operationalise the strategy. At this point organisations can look to appropriate software solutions.”
Finally, at the end of this process, and when everything else is clear, it’s time to consider which technology platform is most appropriate. “The most important element in your technology choice is integration,” notes Silcox. “A seamless flow of data and integrated analytics will rely on this – and the hard work should be on creating a configuration and implementation that delivers against your strategy only. There are a number of options but this choice is made easier when you have a clearly defined plan and strategy.”
Even once the CRM solution has been chosen and integrated, the strategy should ensure that there are ongoing processes in place to monitor, measure and improve CRM.
“Once your programme is defined and up and running – the hard work begins!” warns Silcox. “You must continuously listen, measure, and change – looking to learn more and be more effective. A/B tests, multivariate tests, segmented personalised comms, etc. are all important.”
CRM strategy checklist
Matthew Walko, head of strategy at Omobono, summarises the strategic priorities with the following checklist:
- Relationship objectives - What are the key objectives of the programme? What is the ultimate vision and mission for the brand’s relationship with customers and prospects?
- Customer need states - Through customer/prospect research, determine the needs of customers throughout their purchase journey and after as a customer. Determine priorities and identify gaps that should be met.
- User journeys - Map out example user journeys of customers interacting with the business to determine when, how, and what the CRM system would provide.
- Data strategy plan -Data is the core of the platform. Consideration should be given on how to make sure all data is passed back to the CRM from any additional platforms and how the data flows out of the CRM to any relevant platforms.
- CRM system plan - Determine the stages of relationship with prospects/customers, map out the moments for contact interaction, and identity the necessary workflows required by employees to make it happen.
- Content strategy and process - Content is at the heart of CRM. A content strategy must be developed to determine the topical themes, forms, channels, tone and cadence of the relationships with contacts. Equally it’s important to identify a process for creating the content (internal/external), how it’s created (production, design, approvals), and when it will be published (editorial calendar).
- Feature requirements - Interview end users of the system to determine the most important features and user cases so that the system is selected and built in a way that meets the most important requirements.
- System selection - Research and demo different systems to determine the one that most thoroughly meets the CRM objectives, customer needs, feature requirements and budget model.
- Training - Training is a key element to determine adoption. Investing in one-to-one or group training, as well as continued support, will help to establish adoption and unlock the value of the system amongst employees.
Brittain concludes: “For organisations looking to develop a CRM strategy I would say it is as much a people and cultural change as it is a technological one. It takes on going investment in people, training and processes and shouldn’t be seen as a quick win. The payback from such a system can be substantial if used strategically and as an integrated part of the business function.”
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.