Executive CRM
When you--your company's executive--are fully involved in your company's CRM initiative, it has a much better chance of success.
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Company executives have become increasingly interested in CRM over the past four years. Too often, they are led to believe that CRM goals have been achieved as
soon as CRM software is purchased and installed. But CRM is much more than software. Essentially, it is a corporate strategy designed to grow revenue and profits through increased customer value.

Most executives, when presented with this view of CRM, agree that adopting CRM business strategies for their company is the right thing to do. Few will argue with the CRM tenet that a customer-focused approach to operating a business is more effective than a product or sales-focused approach. Unfortunately, however, the likelihood of a CRM effort succeeding can be as unpredictable as the weather forecast for next week.

Why are CRM practitioners unable to devise some methodology or develop some technology that will make CRM successes speedy and predictable? And why, when all is said and done, are executives unable to adopt a more customer-focused approach to running their business?

There is no lack of CRM methodologies. An abundance of schema exist for implementing and executing CRM. Typically, they begin with evaluation of a company's current processes and organizational structure. This stage requires time and resources, precious commodities in today's tight global economy. Once the status quo is understood, it is necessary to devise a plan to help bridge the gaps that are preventing a company from implementing CRM best practices. Again, this requires time and resources. After a plan has been adopted, it is necessary to execute that plan with patience and diligence--using time and resources.

Commitment to Organizational Change

Many executives who support CRM initiatives, and even allocate the necessary time and resources, expect an unreasonably fast implementation and immediate, positive results. But expecting sudden CRM success is like having a golf pro give you a 30-minute lesson and expect that it will lower your handicap by eight strokes immediately. The pro would need 30 minutes just to identify your swing problems. And, in the final analysis, there's more to golf than a good swing.

Some executives loathe organizational scrutiny and planning and "embrace" CRM as a technology solution. But a solely technological solution for becoming a customer-focused organization does not exist and never will.

Technology is the magnificent tool that enables you to achieve CRM objectives in the same way that your phone is a tool that enables you to communicate with your customers. Having a phone on everyone's desk in your company does not make your organization customer-focused. Everyone has to know how to answer the phone, listen attentively, ask appropriate questions, provide answers and solutions that meet customers' needs, capture information and follow-up with future phone calls. The phones alone are not the solution for communicating with customers effectively.

So, if there are companies that believe CRM is the best way to grow their business by creating and working a plan before rushing out to purchase CRM technology, why are many of them unable to claim CRM success?

First and foremost, many companies have not recognized that achieving CRM success begins with organizational change--the creation of completely new processes and the transformation of employee behavior in order to execute those new processes. Here are just a few aspects of organizational change that should be considered during a CRM implementation:

• Creating an organizational structure that naturally facilitates the sharing of knowledge and information critical to managing customer relationships successfully.

• Reorganizing and redefining roles and responsibilities to make sure employees are focused on meeting customer needs and serving customers on an individual basis.

• Developing a customer-focused, profit-driven business strategy.

• Fostering teamwork, trust and cooperation among functions and within areas.

• Defining a common, company-wide customer definition and making sure it is understood.

• Coordinating employee communication and collaboration across the organization on cross-functional initiatives.

• Establishing reward systems to encourage employee behaviors that help maximize the value delivered to and received from the customer.

• staffing customer-critical functions with well-trained and motivated employees.

• Viewing all contacts as important and managing them so they are consistently superior, complete, specific and relevant to the customer.

Companies that are committed to developing a customer-focused culture quickly discover that organizational change requires enterprise-wide commitment and the willingness to alter many of the ways they have conducted business over the years. Some companies that have taken gradual steps toward organizational change have discovered that the change process itself becomes easier as they evolve into a customer-focused operation over time.

There is, however, one potential problem area that will thwart any CRM initiative, no matter how good the CRM plan is, how dedicated employees are or how much the company has spent on CRM technology. That potential problem area is you--the company executive.

Whether you are the CEO, president, owner or senior executive, without your support, your oversight, your enthusiasm, your resolve and your persistence, a CRM initiative cannot succeed. Being a strong leader who takes ownership of improving customer relationships throughout the company is the first step you must take in order to lead your employees through a CRM transformation.

There are several roles you must play in creating an environment in which CRM can succeed:

Advocate--Proclaim your commitment to CRM. Demonstrate in word and deed the importance of CRM to you and to the organization. Speak about it often and make it clear that CRM will be a part of all decision-making processes.

Communicator--Talk about CRM in terms that people can understand. Use as many communication channels as possible and make sure you have dialogs with team leaders across your organization.

Owner--Treat those working on the CRM initiative as you would a child who is learning how to ride a bike. Be supportive and remain committed, even when mistakes are made.

Facilitator--Create cross-functional teams and make sure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities in achieving CRM success. Reduce red tape and involve everyone in the initiative by connecting CRM to their daily jobs.

CRM is a journey, not a destination. Redirecting the company and helping employees improve their relationship with customers is a daily challenge. But when you truly communicate your belief that CRM strategies will increase revenue, decrease costs and provide your company with a competitive advantage, you will increase the odds of CRM success in your organization.

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