e-Business: How do You Make it Work?
These six critical success factors are the key to using e-business to reinvent customer relationships.
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I had the opportunity to take part in a conference that 3M's Corporate Marketing Organization put on, entitled Using e-Business to Reinvent Customer Relationships. By virtue of the fact that over 700 3M employees came to the live event, and an estimated 300 more attended via 3M TV, the high level of interest in this topic was quite evident.

Today, no customer relationship management topic generates more attention, and at the same time more confusion, than e-business. Many companies believe the Internet has the potential to transform how they market, sell to and service customers. But how that potential will be turned into reality is often a mystery.

During my session I covered a variety of case study examples of companies across a number of industries that are turning their e-business initiatives into a key competitive advantage. I also outlined six critical success factors (CSFs) that we have found to be common to these successful programs, and I want to use this month's column to share those items.

CSF No. 1 Understand the Role of e-Business in CRM
For the most part, e-business projects yield the best results when they are integrated into an overall CRM strategy. In the early 90s many companies started down the path of creating great customer relationships by empowering their own people. They implemented sales force automation, call centers, help desk and field service systems designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their people when working with clients and business partners.

Today, the ultimate focus of most e-business initiatives is to expand our CRM strategies beyond our own walls, empowering people outside of our companies, our customers, channel partners, even our suppliers to optimize the way we work together.

In this regard, e-business should be viewed as an extension of what we are doing. We need to ensure that the systems and processes we provide our own people are in sync with, and support of, the systems we give those on the outside, and vice versa. To ensure this happens, companies need to first develop an overall CRM vision, and then ensure that all the various automation components support, versus compete, with each other.

CSF No. 2 Obtain Executive Commitment
Even the most high-level look at e-business quickly shows the need for active executive sponsorship. As you start to move away from web-based brochureware to true e-marketing, e-sales and e-service, you realize that the entire enterprise sales, marketing, manufacturing, support, distribution, finance and so on may all have to make significant changes in how they operate to support your e-business plans. Because of this, the champion for your e-business efforts needs to be a key corporate executive, someone with enough clout to slice through any internal barriers that get in the way of progress.

This executive needs to ensure an e-business vision is set for the entire enterprise. Without this you can easily end up in point-solution hell. One manufacturing firm we recently reviewed pointed out the problems this can cause. Each of their 15 product divisions was working on their own separate e-business strategy. The end result was that customers rebelled at having to visit 15 unique Web sites to order multiple products from this company. You need to ensure up front that you are creating one voice to your marketplace in your e-business plans.

"Cyberspace brings new meaning to the saying, `You only get one chance to make a great first impression.'"

CSF No. 3 Base e-Business on Solid Processes
I recently served as the host of a taping of an e-business roundtable meeting in Boston. Michael Hammer was one of the session participants, and as always he had some memorable comments. When the topic of conversation turned to the importance of having solid business processes in play before you jump into e-business feet first, Michael noted that if you have lousy processes, and you throw a Web site up in front of them, you are just advertising to the world that you have lousy processes.

Cyberspace brings new meaning to the saying, "You only get one chance to make a great first impression." On the Net, your competition is just a mouse-click away. If you build your e-business plans around faulty processes you will ensure that your customers go someplace else, and never come back.

CSF No. 4 Make Solid Technology Choices
The e-business boom has fostered the introduction of many new CRM firms. The huge number of technology options may in fact be overwhelming. Let me offer a few key suggestions for making the right choices:

  • First ensure that the tools you choose support your processes, versus trying to modify the way you do business to support your tools.
  • Pick a system with an extensible architecture. While you may likely start with only one aspect of e-Business (sales, marketing or support), eventually you will want to enhance your system to support all of these areas. Make sure your system can grow with you.
  • Make sure your vendor will be around. Two or three years from now we will likely see a shake-up in this marketplace as true industry leaders emerge, and other firms fall by the wayside. Make sure you check out the company behind the technology when you make your vendor choices.

CSF No. 5 Have the Right, Dedicated Team
You need three different skill sets well represented on your e-business team. The first is reengineering talent. You need to have creative people who can challenge the status quo and bring new ideas to the table. Second is system customization skills. E-business systems are based on the latest technology innovations and the people on your team need to have experience in those types of environments. Third is system integration expertise. Nothing is worse than introducing your e-business solutions only to watch your system crash because it cannot scale with user demand.

Look at the resources you have within your company and be honest about whether you have the skill sets in-house or not. If you need outside help, companies like Deloitte Consulting, Extraprise, Andersen Consulting and Scient have a lot of experience in these areas.

One last word of caution. Make sure the key people you do assign to this initiative are full-time. We are seeing too many projects fail because the teams working on these projects do so on a part-time basis. E-business is too critical to your future success to understaff.

CSF No. 6 Understand the Human Side of e-Business
As we focus on e-business, we often get tied up in technology and process, and forget about the third key component of the success equation people. As we implement these new ways of conducting business, we are going to ask people to change the way they work. Unless they support this change the project will fail.

Internally, many companies we have surveyed are seeing various groups within their firm feel threatened by e-business plans. Salespeople feel they will lose account control. Service representatives feel their jobs may be lost. Finance people feel that too much private information will be made available to outsiders. You need to consider the cultural change impacts your plans will have, and deal with these issues up front.

It is equally important that you consider the reaction your customers, business partners and suppliers may have when you ask them to change how they work. You need to ensure these groups are represented in your planning, or you may find them fighting your plans.

I entitled my presentation at the 3M conference "E-Business: It's Not Easy, It's Not Fast and It's Definitely Not an Option!" I believe that e-business will have to play a key role in the marketing, sales and service strategies for every company somewhere down the road. To make e-business work for you: Get Nervous - Don't be satisfied with how you have been doing business. Get Insights-XGo see what others are doing in this area. Get Focused - Decide what component of e-business has the best ROI potential for you. Get Committed -Devote the right level of resources to make meaningful change happen. GET GOING - If you don't move aggressively in this area, count on the fact that your competition will.

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