Sometimes the location of a meeting sets the climate for the discussions that take place. I recently made a presentation at an eCRM summit in Quebec City for a small group of Compaq Computer's customers at the Le Chateau Frontenac. History buffs may recall that this was where the Allied leaders met
at the Quebec Conference during World War II to plan the D-Day invasion. And here we were 57 years later discussing the E-Day (eCRM) invasions attendees were considering.
The summit blended theoretical and technological perspectives. But, while the presentations were valuable, one of the best parts of the conference was the scheduled free time that allowed me to discuss ideas with other attendees informally.
During these breakouts, I asked several of the summit particpants what the main focus of their eCRM initiatives was. This question got a variety of responses. Some companies were just getting started with sales automation, others were totally focused on e-business, others centered their efforts around reinventing their call center, while other firms were dealing with the challenge of implementing CRM systems to support their channel partners.
It is not uncommon for companies to take a piecemeal approach to eCRM, starting with one part of their customer relationship management process, optimizing it, then moving on to another area. But there is a potential flaw in this type of approach, which can significantly impact the success of the overall initiative. When I started to consider these E-Day plans from a D-Day perspective, it became very clear to me what could go wrong.
The Quebec Conference in 1943 was held because the leaders of the Allied countries realized they had a formidable task in front of them. In order to successfully invade Europe, they needed to coordinate the efforts of the armies, navies and air forces of all the Allied nations involved in the D-Day invasion tightly. Multiple bombing efforts, shore landings and parachute landings all up and down the Normandy coast had to be timed to the minute for the mission to succeed.
The forces had to work together to do their jobs and communicate constantly with the other invasion teams on the progress they were making or problems they were encountering. Failure to do so could have resulted in a failure of the landing, which would have significantly delayed the end of the war, if not changed the outcome altogether.
Fast-forward to 2000
What does this have to do with eCRM in 2000? Too many of the projects I review today are uncoordinated or under-coordinated efforts. Multiple teams- -call center, field sales, channel sales, e-commerce and field service- -all work on solving their own problems without the input or cooperation of other parts of the enterprise. Taking this approach can end up causing more problems than it solves, as we saw in one eCRM project we reviewed last year.
A major computer hardware manufacturer had 21 different product groups, each with its own P&L responsibility for a portion of the overall product line. Each of these groups was left to decide how to plan its E-Day invasion. This initially resulted in 21 separate Web sites and lots of problems.
First, there were no standards for look and feel, so customers with multiple products from the company faced a learning challenge in figuring out how to navigate multiple sites. There were also no consistent policies for what could be done at the sites- -at some sites customers could purchase products directly, at others they could not. On the sites where customers could purchase, sometimes it was at list price, and other times at street price. From a customer service point of view there was also a challenge. Customers who wanted the latest hardware drivers for the equipment they had installed potentially had to visit 21 different sites to get them.
As complaints from resellers, customers and other departments began to roll in, it became clear to the hardware vendor that it needed to get the process under control ASAP. The company assigned a dedicated team to come up with a group-wide strategy and redesign all the sites. While this was completed in several months, it involved a great deal of time, effort and resources that could have been channeled to other projects if the planning had been done up-front.
Avoiding "Point-Solution Hell"
This is not an isolated incident. Far too many companies find that by taking an uncoordinated approach to eCRM they end up in "point-solution hell."
How do you avoid this potentially fatal pitfall? First you need to appoint a supreme commander for your E-Day invasion. Among the generals running the various departments of sales, marketing and support within your company, someone has to be recognized officially as having the ultimate say on what gets done and how.
Next, you need to hold your own Quebec Conference. Bring together representatives from all the parts of the company that eCRM can impact, and get their views, plans and concepts out on the table for discussion. You may find that there are already a number of points of agreement and projects that can leverage work going on in other parts of the firm. You will also bring to the surface points of disagreement so that you can deal with turf-wars and political issues before they have a chance to impact your project negatively.
Finally, once these channels of communication have been opened, you need to keep them open. In 1944, the Allies again met in Quebec City to review the progress that had been made and make plans for how to win the war in Europe. You should follow their lead and have regular eCRM summits to ensure your overall efforts are still on track.
Realistically, I know that very few firms have the opportunity to reinvent all of their sales, marketing and support operations at once. Yours will probably not be a single, massive E-Day invasion. You will likely have to carrry out an ongoing series of smaller attacks. But the basic premise of battle remains the same. You still need to coordinate the efforts of all the sales, marketing and service forces to ensure that, as they make progress with their own eCRM efforts, they create an environment that the rest of the company can build on going forward.