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A Mini Crash Course in CRM Best Practices
Ideas you can apply to improve your project's success.
For the rest of the July 1999 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Last month I shared some of the results we obtained during our recent review of over 200 customer relationship management (CRM) projects. I would like to continue sharing best practices ideas again this month, since we have found the advice, coaching and counsel of those who have already attempted a CRM project to be invaluable to companies just starting down that path.

But this time I would like to dive a bit deeper into the specific tactics CRM teams have shared with us. While we have obtained hundreds of great suggestions over the years, the following five will benefit any firm taking on the challenge of sales or service reengineering.

Search For Excellence
I speak at several of the major CRM conferences every year. These events are a great opportunity for exposure to the features and functions of the various CRM systems available, but that is only half of the equation. As the head of one sales reengineering initiative put it, "Going to one of those shows is like going to a Home Depot Super store. You can walk down the aisle and see all the advances in building materials: fireproof dry wall, energy-efficient insulation material, glare-reduction lighting and windows, etc. All of this is helpful, but not nearly as useful as touring a completed house built with those materials and talking to the general contractor about what he learned during the job."

We encourage our clients to go on a "tour of homes" before they start their projects. A great place to start is to look at the firms your company buys from and see how they are using CRM. For example, if you buy from Compaq, ask to see its call center. Compaq regularly runs tours through its facility, showing how all the pieces of CRM operate together to do a world-class job of handling customer inquiries.

Or if you are buying communications systems from Cisco, find out how CRM helped the company do $8 billion a year over the intranet. Using Federal Express to move your packages? Ask to see how it is leveraging CRM to better service customers. Your suppliers have a vested interest in helping your company continue to succeed. Ask them to let you tour their "CRM house," and you will get a wealth of insights into how to build your own.

Put a stake in the Ground
David Thomas from Pitney Bowes recently offered a great suggestion at a conference where we copresented. In reviewing his company's recent successful CRM project (another home to tour if you have order error problems), he pointed out that one of the first things Pitney Bowes did was write a mission statement. The statement was as follows:

Deliver a world-class price quote and configure solution and related supporting processes that can be implemented to a cross-section of the sales force to increase our systems business and overall sales productivity.

The value of a simple statement like this is enormous. Forcing your organization to agree up front on the expectations of the initiative will eliminate any misconceptions people have about the project's goal. It also becomes the roadmap for the project so that at any time in the future you can pull it out and see if you are still on course. As one of America's great philosophers, Yogi Berra, is credited with saying, "If you don't know where you are going, you'll probably end up somewhere else."

"Frequently we have seen the goal of a project shift over time from getting a system out that solves problems, to getting a system out-period."

Benchmark Your Current status
We often get called in after a CRM system has been implemented to spend a day assessing the success of the project. This is often a challenging task because in all too many cases no one invested the time to document how things were before the project started.

storageTek has been focusing on leveraging technology to improve the way it sells to and services customers for nearly a decade now. The company has long been an advocate of taking the time to create a performance benchmark of how things are today, in order to recognize progress made in the future.

Since somewhere down the road you may well be asked to justify your firm's CRM investment-build your benchmark metrics now, especially if you will be requesting additional funding to support the next phase of the project. How long does it take to get a new rep up to speed? What is your current customer-satisfaction rating? What is your order error rate? Taking a little time to determine these numbers now will make life much easier in the future.

stop the Bleeding Now
Many firms realize the benefits of analyzing sales and service processes to identify flaws. But all too often, once the problem is recognized, they wait to develop a technology system to deal with the issue.

When Dick Knudsten was sales productivity manager for Hewlett-Packard's CRM project, he discovered that the company's sales reps were spending an inordinate amount of time trying to configure and quote the proper system to meet the customer's needs. Once the pain was identified, he didn't sit back and wait for technology to arrive.

As Knudsten related, "It was clear that we needed a configurator as part of our sales automation system, but we didn't want to wait a year or more to solve the problem. So we immediately put in place configuration support teams whose sole mission in life was to know all the ordering and configuration rules required to quickly and accurately get a quote done. This approach allowed the rep to make a phone call giving the configuration team an understanding of the customer's needs. In most cases, they were able to turn around a completely configured system in a few hours-a huge time savings for our salespeople."

If a problem is worth solving, it is worth solving now. Immediately creating and implementing a stop-gap solution that will be replaced when the CRM tools are ready may be a very wise investment.

Prove Project Objectives
All too often people make an incorrect assumption about the purpose of the CRM system pilot. They believe that the pilot's objective is to prove the system works. Actually, that is what the alpha and beta testing phases in a project are for. The main purpose of the pilot is to determine if the system solves a real business problem.

When Tim Titus was vice president of business development for F. D. Titus and Son, a medical products distribution firm, he championed the company's CRM initiative. According to Titus, "The goal of our system was to maximize the time our sales reps spend with customers. We wanted them to be able to take orders faster, better manage inventory, more effectively cross-sell new products and services and capture the voice of the customer to share with our manufacturers. The objective of the pilot was to prove we could do those things. It didn't matter how stable the code was; if the business benefits weren't there, we would not have rolled the system into production."

This may sound obvious, but frequently we have seen the goal of a project shift over time from getting a system out that solves problems, to getting a system out-period. Too many companies are running into huge problems when they achieve the objective of getting a system (opportunity manager, configurator, marketing encyclopedia, etc.) out on time, only to then find it doesn't truly address the business objective. The pilot should be viewed as a "Go/No Go" step. If the business benefits are not demonstrable, rolling a system out just to meet a project date can be disastrous.

These are just a few of the hundreds of tips and techniques we have received just from asking other organizations about their experiences. As you continue on your CRM project, don't feel that you have to go it alone. We have found that the vast majority of companies we contacted were more than willing to share their insights. Search for some coaching, and you will find the task in front of you much easier.

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