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Fruit Logic and the 80 Percent Success Factor
The apples in a barrel of mixed fruit are good, therefore the whole barrel is good. Say what?
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Huh? You'd have to be half brain-dead to buy that logic. Maybe two-thirds. Unless, of course, the shiny red apples are on top of the barrel, obscuring lots of "past its prime" other stuff--and you wind up perceiving that the whole barrel is full of apples. In which case the whole barrel would be good. Perception is reality, eh?

And what's this got to do with CRM? Simple. It's how some folks appear to be counting CRM success rates--rates that, if overstated, could give comfort to companies determined to take disastrous shortcuts to CRM, influencing them to follow a long line of their CRM-implementing brethren to the bottom of the barrel. Hey, CRM success looks easy if you count only the "good apples" atop the barrel--leaving out the brown and fuzzy oranges, leaking grapefruit and oozing bananas. Anyone wanting or needing to believe that CRM is easy can look on the surface and say, "See, the fruit's all good."

For example, I recently heard a very popular CRM conference speaker deride data showing that less than a third of CRM implementations are outright successful--and about the same number are outright unsuccessful. He appeared to be taking direct aim at a gentleman named Jim Dickie, who annually surveys CRM implementers to assess their outcomes (and happens to write a column for this magazine). Dickie's been doing this for eight years--back to the days of SFA--averaging close to 200 interviews per survey. His most recent effort indicates that about a third of CRM implementers report "great results." About a third "minor improvements." And about a third "no improvement at all." And outcomes have been stuck there for a couple of years.

So what's with the disparity between this speaker's much more optimistic vision and Dickie's data? I'd say it has more to do with how we define CRM than with comparing apples to apples. In fact, I'd say it's about comparing apples to oranges. This speaker was presenting what I consider "CRM-lite." Heavy emphasis on re-engineering work processes and selecting the right software. Relatively little emphasis on little details like CEOs creating new customer-centric strategic visions for their companies; or CXOs redesigning roles and responsibilities at the departmental and even managerial level in order to carry out these new visions; or senior management collectively doing the change management dirty work required before most companies can change purpose and organize themselves around that new purpose.

Sure makes CRM simpler, if you want to limit it to work processes and technology. But you're pretty much limiting the outcomes to automating workflow and customer information management. And that, my friends, ain't CRM--at least not in my book. To me, that's achieving success by limiting scope. Makes for "light" apples that bob to the top to look like shiny successes. So why not saw off the top half of Everest, then say, "Hey, we can scale it. No problemo."

To cite another example of "counting apples," a technology research and consulting firm recently issued a press release claiming that initial findings of a research study they're conducting show nearly 80 percent of organizations reporting success with their CRM programs and projects. Whaazzzaaat? Wait a minute. The percentage of companies trying to adopt CRM is still in single digits. But even if we exclude all companies not yet adopting CRM, how can 80 percent be successful when we have whole orchards of data--from reputable sources ranging from GartnerGroup to CRM Guru--indicating the contrary?

This claim seemed so outrageous that I had to investigate. So I tried to get the supporting data. And I tried. And I tried. But after leaving a slew of voice and e-mail messages, what little information I gathered was contradictory--so I surrendered. However, because I know from their conference presentations and press releases that this here outfit works the high-end B2C side of the "CRM" market--where CRM is relatively easy to implement, due to much lower cultural and organizational barriers than on the B2B side--I had an intuition about their findings. I'd say the gap between 80 percent and generally accepted numbers has more to do with how we define CRM than with comparing apples to apples. In this case, too, I'd say it's comparing apples to oranges.

Rather than practicing "CRM-lite," these folks appear to be practicing what I'd call "almost CRM." Meaning dealing with customer data, vats of it, but pouring it into data warehouses to fuel analytically based database marketing--not real relationship-building. And no matter how you try to dress it up in CRM clothes, database marketing is old paradigm, shove both hands into customer pockets stuff--not real CRM where organizations reshape their strategies and organizations to find more common ground with customers. Plus, because of their client base, I surmise that this firm surveyed companies that look like their customers. Data warehouse intensive B2C marketers. Which would add up to "skewed survey sample." And I also surmise that they're talking primarily to technology types--who tend to call anything successful if the software works (and the hard part of CRM is not getting the software working). But hey, I can only guess. Because after releasing some very controversial and counterintuitive data, they're not talking.

So, more rosy red apples. Without being encumbered by details like fundamental culture change, rather than just process and technology change, or the need to make business outcomes work, not just technology outcomes--apples do tend to rise to the top of the barrel. And if we only count the shiny apples, CRM looks pretty doggone good--and pretty doggone easy.

But it's not easy--and that's the point of all this. All statistical data I've seen--and all the anecdotal evidence I've heard--and everything I've experienced as a mentor to organizations implementing CRM contradicts this optimism. Jim Dickie's data is real and accurate, folks. CRM implementers continue to struggle, just as TQM implementers had to struggle long and hard until we got TQM right--at least sort of right. Beneath the top row of rosy red ones are layer after layer of bad fruit. Bad implementations, many of which had to be abandoned for a fresh start. Which often meets the same fate as the previous start. And claiming that CRM is anything but damned hard only perpetuates the problem.

Bottom line, CRM implementers are still trying to find shortcuts around basic realities--realities such as CRM requiring passionate CEO support; CRM forcing changes in organizational structure; CRM shuffling management org charts; and implementing CRM requiring an adult dose of change management skill. And you know what? Every time we wave overly optimistic data in front of CRM implementers, we encourage those looking for easy ways to implement CRM to look harder.

Think I'm overstating the case? Well, try this on for size. Soon after the "nearly 80 percent" number appeared in the body copy of a press release, someone associated with CRM's Web site, www.destinationCRM.com, picked it up, converted it into a headline--then wrote how it "blows away" Dickie's findings and corroborating data from others. Next, the misperception that nearly 80 percent of all CRM implementations are succeeding slid under the radar screen of this magazine into the editorial content. And now we're breathing new life into the concept that CRM isn't so hard after all--just as we started making headway persuading the market that implementing CRM requires much more internal commitment and effort than organizations have been giving.

But try saying, "it's not so hard" to that poor banana at the bottom of the barrel. Or the fuzzy peach squished up against it.

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