When it comes to CRM size matters, but that doesn't mean bigger is better.
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Many companies are finding that smaller and phased CRM implementations work best, because they are easier to manage, simpler to deploy, require less of a monetary investment, and can be expanded as necessary.
One company succeeding with that approach is HelmsBrisco. The company, which has more than 460 sales representatives (all of whom are independent contractors) deployed in 22 offices around the globe, does hotel site selection, booking events like conferences and meetings, and procurement for large groups. In 2002 the company booked more than 2 million room nights in major hotels.
HelmsBrisco just implemented best practices and is initially focusing on getting the wisdom and tribal knowledge of the sales reps into a CRM system before the company moves into other phases of its CRM implementation, according to Greg Malark, executive vice president of the Scottsdale, AZ, company. "We looked at the big CRM systems, but the problem was that we were trying to focus on the soft knowledge, not go through a giant transition with our accounting and financial systems," Malark says. "We want to do this, make sure it is a success, and then move on."
The new system is the company's third try. First there was an email system (no archives), and then a Web-based input system (no values associated with the information), and finally a new system that combines the best of the two systems and ranks information. It also gives participants scores and self-teaches them how to enter good information.
The company went to painstaking lengths to include the data from the old system. "We didn't want to send the message that all the work they did over the past two years wasn't worth anything," Malark says. "Anyone can know the square footage of a hotel ballroom. That is data. We wanted a system to capture anecdotal knowledge like the air walls are too thin, or it smells like jet fuel if the wind is blowing from the west, or it's a little tired looking and needs a renovation."
The system is currently 50 percent implemented. When it is completely rolled out later this year, the company will tackle another CRM project: giving its more than 7,000 corporate customers access to the system, as well as the ability to add their own input.
Implementing in stages works for users, too, according to Jim Dickie, managing partner with Insight Technology Group and author of The Sales and Marketing Excellence Challenge. "It allows users to do specific things: get new sales reps up to speed, create proposals, just solve specific issues," Dickie says.
Gareth Herschel, a research director at Gartner, agrees. "A couple of years ago CRM was big and customers were looking for big all-in-one solutions. Now most users aren't looking at CRM in that regard."
He claims that shift has hurt industry giant Siebel Systems, but that the company has recognized the changes and is now adjusting. "It has an overarching CRM solution, but users can implement one piece at a time. Siebel can go into a client and say, 'Buy SFA today, call center next year, and marketing three years down the line.'"
That works, according to Herschel, because even if the marketing people decide they want another solution, the company has already invested and standardized on Siebel for SFA and call center. "Then it's too late to make a change," Herschel says.
In addition, underlying architecture advancements like J2EE and .NET have helped relieve some of the integration pain users felt in the past from implementing technology in smaller pieces.
"In the 1990s CRM vendors would say they were delivering a car, but then when you looked in the driveway it was just a bunch of parts," Dickie says. "It was assumed that you could put it together. And the industry got away with it. Now the framework is there and customers realize that no one vendor has the 100 percent solution."
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