Six years ago, I was doing a presentation on SFA at a trade show for the business technology industry. "Should we hire an outside consultant to help with our project?" asked someone in the audience. "Oh, absolutely," I jested. "That way corporate can fire them, instead of you, when the project goes south."
While everyone laughed, there was an undertone of truth to what I said. The majority of projects were failing at that time, and those in charge sometimes did find themselves unemployed.
These days, experts still claim that most SFA and CRM implementations end in defeat, though I'd argue that success stories are on the rise. Beyond the projects, however, what happens to the people when implementations flourish or fail-are their careers helped or hindered? Do they go forward, get fired or simply stay where they are?
I recently spoke with several people in some very different situations. Each came from unique circumstances, but they all shared one common denominator: Their careers were directly impacted, for better or worse, by their brush with SFA.
Failure Forces a Small step Back
If you want a classic example of how SFA can fail, talk to Carol Duning. In the mid-1990s, her company-a $1-billion manufacturer of outdoor power equipment-attempted to implement an enterprise SFA solution that extended out to distributors, and she was one of the key people heading up the project.
"Our departments and distributors were all on different systems," she recounts. "Corporate wanted to unify everyone on one solution, to improve the quality of customer data and to provide a common interface for all who would be accessing the system." To that end, a new mini-division called Customer Service Systems (CSS) was created and was given responsibility for selecting and implementing an SFA solution. Given that the solution was to extend to distributors and that Duning was working in distributor development, she was a logical choice for the four-person CSS group.
The newly appointed team soon selected a product and began building a prototype. They did a show-and-tell during the prototype stage-as a means of generating excitement among employees-and that's when the problems began. The CSS group succeeded in generating enthusiasm-so much so, in fact, that internal divisions began competing for ownership of the SFA system.
"Many mistakenly believed that the new system was really corporate's way of removing key responsibilities from them."
"Suddenly, we were up against politics from all sides," recalls Duning. "Even though CSS had representation from different divisions and had top management buy-in, no one at the top actually championed the project. No one took accountability and said, This is what we're going to do and here are the implications." Lacking an executive sponsor who could set the record straight, employees soon came to their own conclusions. Many mistakenly believed that the new system was really corporate's way of removing key responsibilities from them. Marketing employees in particular worried that their territory was being invaded, possibly diminishing their jobs.
At the same time, distributors voiced concern on a different front. While they'd factored in software costs at the project's onset, many felt the hardware-specifically, supplying laptops to their sales forces-was too expensive. As they gained a clearer picture of the total outlay involved, a number of them balked and pulled back on their commitment to implement.
Then came the final blow. As internal excitement burgeoned, employees started pushing for what they wanted at the expense of what distributors needed. Disagreement arose as to whether CSS was building an infrastructure for the company or a "product for profit" that distributors and divisions weren't buying. The system became less and less of a tool for distributors, and, attests Duning, "that's what really killed the whole thing."
Corporate called a meeting and passed the project to another division, one that put the automation effort far down on its priority list, and by 1997, the project was dead. As things stand today, Duning's company remains plagued by islands of customer information, and, she adds, "our customer knowledge is probably worse than before. Since many people thought CSS would accumulate this information as part of our efforts, some gave up responsibility for collecting it."
Not long after the fateful meeting with corporate, CSS was itself disbanded. What happened to Duning? "Early on," she says, "I was one of the people who held up my hands and said, This isn't going to work. It was destined to fail. I knew that if I didn't find another way to stay with the company, I'd lose my job, so I asked to go back to my former position." As for the rest of the team, one person left to become a contractor, another now heads up a distributorship, and Duning and the fourth CSS member today run the distributor development division.
"I guess it's a good news/bad news story," she laughs. "I enjoyed being part of CSS because it was on the cutting edge, and now I'm essentially back where I started. I like where I am, but after being involved with something that didn't work, I'm not seeing a lot of great projects come across my desk. On the whole, I still believe our group had many good ideas because a number of them are being used on a smaller scale by different groups within the company. But I'm back where I began, minus the cutting-edge projects."
Lessons Learned Lead to Later Success
Len Camara got something that many never get: A second chance at success after participating in his company's first failed attempt at sales force automation. As the IT applications manager for an Internet services provider-BBN-Camara and his group were tasked with selecting an SFA system in 1992.
"Ours was another classic case of how to fail at SFA," laughs Camara. "Corporate mandated that IT select an SFA system and have it up and running within six weeks. We did what we were told and paid a heavy price for it in the long run." Lacking executive sponsorship, Camara's group implemented a system with a fatal flaw: The technology was not in sync with BBN's business processes. Additionally, the implementation was plagued by security problems, synchronization shortfalls, data integrity issues and a host of other challenges.
"Looking back," says Camara, "I learned a serious lesson in how not to do an IT project." By 1993, only a handful of field salespeople were using the system, and, eventually, even they refused to use it.
With one failure now behind him, Camara took steps to ensure that it was never repeated. He and others in IT hashed out a protocol for future projects, one that addressed the many pitfalls he'd just encountered. "I never wanted to see a disaster like that again," says Camara, "so we created a methodology that was driven by all the lessons we'd just learned."
In the meantime, BBN hired a vice president of sales who understood the potential of automation and who was determined to see an SFA implementation succeed. The new VP assembled a project team-one that included IT but wasn't driven by it-and gave the team much-needed sponsorship. Once again, Camara found himself researching SFA options, and it was during this selection phase that his company was acquired by GTE. As the fates would have it, GTE was also seeking an SFA solution and was so impressed by BBN's selection efforts that it tasked the BBN project team with choosing a corporate-wide solution.
"Ironically," says Camara, "after doing substantial research and due diligence, we ended up going back to the same product we'd had before. We upgraded to the new version, however, and essentially started from scratch. This time around, we were very conscious that while we'd received a second chance, we weren't likely to get a third."
GTE began implementing the new system throughout its organization, and while the effort was a big success, Camara felt it was time to move on. "I wanted to be with a smaller company where I could play a big role in its success moving forward," he explains. And to that end, he accepted a job in August of 1999 as the director of applications for an Internet applications company. "I'll be doing eCRM work in my new role," says Camara, "and I'll absolutely be utilizing the lessons learned not only from failure, but from turning that failure into a success."
Making the Leap to the Vendor World
Mark Wilson also left his company after a successful SFA implementation, but his journey culminated on a different note. Hired out of college as a salesman for The Michelin Tire Corporation, Wilson was promoted in 1994 and was transferred to the company's corporate headquarters. There, he took on the role of product research analyst for the commercial division and he literally began looking over his boss' shoulder.
"My boss was in charge of a pilot SFA implementation for this division," he explains. "I became interested in the project and followed it closely. About a year later, I was given the SFA leadership role in another division and was tasked with starting the SFA effort."
Wilson was promoted to manager of sales force automation, and in his new role, he soon discovered his fascination with the technology business. "Michelin was in an old and mature industry, and I realized I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in that industry," he says. "Also, I'd been working at the headquarters of a huge corporation, and I really wanted to try working from home and for a smaller company."
"There are two different types of business personalities-builders and maintainers."
Wilson approached MFJ International (now Relavis Corporation), the vendor he'd selected for Michelin's implementation. He'd been impressed with their product and liked the MFJ employees involved with his project, and he also liked that most of the company's employees worked from home. He joined MFJ in 1997 as a project manager and was promoted last year to the role of customer relationship manager. "Today, I maintain project responsibility," he explains, "but I have project managers working for me and I'm also in charge of practice development where I manage methodologies for the consulting team. I am responsible for business partner relationships for the services group as well, and I really like what I do."
If Michelin hadn't gone down the sales automation path, where would Wilson be today? "Probably still working in the tire business," he speculates. "But what I loved in my Michelin life was helping people and businesses better use technology, and now I get to do that full time. I'm very happy that I fell into this career."
Hanging Her Own Shingle
"There are two different types of business personalities-builders and maintainers," asserts Karen Williams of Arterial Solutions, a CRM consulting firm. As she eventually came to realize, she falls into the "builders" category. Initially hired by BBN (where Camara also worked) to head up direct marketing, Williams soon became responsible for launching an inside sales organization. She worked with an outsource firm to hire and launch telesales and telemarketing teams and then sought to arm the teams with some type of automation tool.
At the time, BBN's first attempt at sales automation had already failed, but the product itself, recalls Williams, was still "sitting on a shelf." She dusted off the box and tweaked the system sufficiently to meet the needs of her 18-person team, and they were up and running with it when the new VP of sales came on board.
"I reported to the new VP," she states, "following some organizational changes, and when I first met with him, he tasked me with solving the SFA problem once and for all. He empowered me to make the necessary decisions and I worked with Len Camara and his IT group to weed through our options. We knew we'd done our homework well when several vendors told us they'd never seen anyone as prepared for success. I really believe that was true. In addition to Len's recent experience, I'd worked with SFA tools in a former job, so we knew exactly what we wanted."
Following her company's acquisition by GTE, Williams headed up the entire corporate-wide SFA selection effort. She and other members of the project team saw the project through to implementation, and it was at that point that she started pondering her role down the road. "I didn't want to be responsible for maintaining an existing system," she says. "The day-to-day grind required for that just didn't appeal to me, and that's when I realized that I liked to build things."
Williams decided to become an independent consultant but felt she first needed more experience on the delivery side. To that end, she pursued a job with the SFA vendor she'd selected for GTE. "I came on as a principal consultant," she recalls, "and GTE had no hard feelings. They understood that I was going to leave regardless. As it turned out, the whole situation worked out nicely because I was assigned to the GTE project in my new role with the vendor."
Williams worked on several other projects as well and soon gained the experience she'd sought. Just under a year after coming on board, her company was acquired by a larger one and she decided it was the perfect time to go it alone. "I wanted more control over who my customers were and I felt it was the right time for me to leave," she says. She parted ways with the automation vendor in late 1998 and immediately started her own consulting firm, Arterial Solutions. "I've stayed busy ever since," says Williams, "and it has been very rewarding. One thing I'm currently involved with is an Internet configuration project that's totally Web- based, and it's really exciting. While no one knows for certain what the future holds, I've had plenty of business to date and I'm really enjoying the life I now lead."
Whether fired or hired, promoted or passed by, many people find that their careers take on a different flavor after direct involvement with SFA or CRM implementations. Fortunately, the stories are at least somewhat more likely to end on a positive note these days, as Matt Turner of Bottomline Technologies will tell you. After implementing Pivotal at his company, Turner was promoted from his job in support to Bottomline's Director of Corporate Information.
"I'm with the same company," he notes, "but I'm in a brand-new position and I love it. From a career perspective, this is a great time to be involved on the SFA/CRM front. There are a lot of exciting things going on in this arena, and it gets more interesting all the time."