A report entitled "Multi-Function CRM Software: How Good Is It?" seems to have shaken up the marketplace. The findings from the survey of nearly 1,300 individuals with firsthand exposure to CRM systems discuss a significant issue. Participants gave the CRM software industry as a whole a Customer Satisfaction Index score of 63.13 out of 100. Based on the curve of my third grade teacher, Ms. Barlett, that is a D. This has sparked a huge debate as to whether CRM is really the answer to all the customer relationship challenges we face, or is it an overhyped, underachieving technology fad? I would like to shed some light on this critical debate.
First, I would like to commend Dick Lee, David Mangen and Bob Thompson for investing the effort to explore the issue of user satisfaction with CRM solutions. I am sure there are some members of the CRM community who are not thrilled with their surfacing potential problems within this marketplace. But where there are real issues, we should be raising them, so they can be dealt with, versus pretending they don't exist.
My opinion, based on the more than 2,500 CRM project reviews we have done over the past nine years, is that the low satisfaction ratings are no surprise. In our own review of 226 CRM initiatives conducted in early 2001, less than 25 percent of the firms surveyed stated that they were achieving significant, measurable results via their CRM investments. But the real issue we need to understand is why these problems with user satisfaction exist.
If you had explored the topic of CRM project failure four or five years ago, you would have blamed a lot of the problems on the technology itself. The tools back then were not very robust, had code stability and scalability problems, and were difficult to integrate with other front- and back-office systems.
But to the vendor community's credit, by and large the systems today are much more solid and offer a good technology platform to help optimize the way we market, sell to and support our customers. So if the technology itself is not the main issue determining the success or failure of a project, then what is?
Let me share with you the answer to that question that I got from the CEO of a travel agency a while back. I first heard of Dave Barry (no relation to the comedic author) from a friend who had audited Barry's company's CRM efforts. Barry's firm had rolled out a CRM system to its sales force, and the project bombed from day one.
After a month of nothing but headaches in trying to get the sales teams to use the application, Barry had the CRM team pull the system and regroup. The project team licked their wounds, analyzed why the project had failed and then redesigned and reintroduced a system four months later. This time it was a significant success.
When I talked with Barry I asked him to share his thoughts on why the project was a failure in one case and a success in the next. Barry smiled and in his best Texas drawl said to me, "Well, Jim, the first time I went hunting with the wrong dog."
To be honest, I was confused by his answer, and told him I didn't get it. He asked me if I was a hunter, and when I said no, he laughed and said, "Well, let me tell you about hunting dogs."
As Barry explained it, dogs are bred for specific hunts. Basset hounds have powerful jaws and short little legs that are perfect for going deep into a den, so they are great for hunting badgers. But if you take that basset out fox hunting, it will fail. It can't run fast enough, and that's why hunters use hounds. But take that hound out duck hunting and it may very well drown. It doesn't have webbed feet like retrievers do. The key in hunting is to take the right dog for the right hunt.
"Initially when our project failed, we just figured our dog didn't hunt," Barry said. But after analyzing the issues, it became obvious that the application did what it was meant to do. It was just that what it did was not what Barry's company needed. "In effect, the first time we went out lion hunting with a toy poodle," Barry joked. "We should have known that the only way a little dog was going to kill that lion was if the lion choked while he tried to swallow it."
At the time, I laughed at the story; later I realized that Barry was sharing a critical observation about CRM. Too often we think of CRM as being a single concept. But it is not. It encompasses a variety of concepts: marketing automation, call center management, field sales support, product management, order processing and customer support, to name a few. And within any of those concepts there are dozens of issues that impact the efficiency and effectiveness of our personnel.
In thinking back to numerous failed projects that we benchmarked, Barry's words came back to me. In many cases it was not an issue of the dog not being a hunter, but rather that often CRM teams went hunting with the wrong dog.
A year from now we could significantly increase the customer satisfaction ratings CRM projects generate if we would just start looking at the wide variety of solutions currently available today as being a set of highly skilled hunting dogs. Even when you look at multifunction CRM systems such as Oracle, Pivotal, SAP and Siebel, you need to see them as not a single dog, but in some cases more than 100 different dogs; each designed for a different purpose--contact management, opportunity management, market encyclopedia, trouble-ticket tracking, lead processing and forecasting, for example.
A fundamental change we need to make in CRM project management is to start each phase of an initiative with a clear understanding of what problem we want to address and then work with the vendor community to find the specific tool, or the specific part of a product suite, that is designed for that challenge.
If you have an order error problem, use a configurator. If your reps are having problems making effective sales calls, consider an interactive selling system. If sales teams are ineffective at coordinating the efforts of everyone involved in the sales process, look at opportunity management systems.
For the most part, CRM hunts just fine. We just need to make sure going forward that when we go hunting, we take the right dog. If we do, the rest of this will be a lot easier.