It takes time for business partners to feel comfortable with the luxury of being asked to think from a new perspective.
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An integral part of Atique Shah's CRM belief system is to watch for what he calls The Seven Deadly Bells. Each bell represents a pitfall, which unless it is avoided, can slow or stop an implementation in its tracks. Last month Shah, Churchill Downs' vice president of CRM and technology, acted quickly to silence an alarm that might have thrown a less-seasoned CRM pro from his horse.
It was the bell of communication.
"Getting new people with different perspectives from different parts of the country to understand each other in a new environment is not easy," says Shah, who spent the past 30 days explaining what had been concepts in his mind--for example, how the data mart will be designed, will function, and will integrate with external data sources--to his 15-person CRM team. "When I say, 'I think I'm moving ahead with a monthly dimensional database, rather than a relational database structure,' it didn't mean much to the marketing person. But to the data warehouse person it meant that the warehouse comes before the data mart. To the data mart person it meant that the data mart comes before the warehouse. That leads to questions."
And frustration. Shah heeded the communication bell by briefly placing the final selection of a Web-server outsourcing partner on hold, and immediately addressing the communication gap. "We held a solid meeting and dealt with it," Shah says.
The team then increased its meeting frequency from weekly to three times a week. Each session is divided into seven discussion areas: architecture, customer strategy, database, ETL, integration, project planning, and project scope.
"It sounds daunting--'Oh my god, all those meetings!'"--Shah says, "but when you hear the bell you have to adjust in ways that make you more effective. We will have these meetings until the day comes when we do not need to meet so frequently."
Discussions with Churchill Downs' other tracks also chimed the communication bell. The CRM team has been explaining the capabilities of the new strategy and system to its business units to learn what they want and need from the implementation of E.piphany and related technologies. "It may sound easy, but going to your business users and simply asking them what they want in a blue-sky world rarely results in a business plan that reveals everything they need up front," Shah says. "We're asking the business community to start thinking from a new perspective. We are here to help them accomplish what they want."
It takes time for business partners to feel comfortable with that luxury. If that process consumes too much time, the CRM project could lag. "When you hear a bell ring, you hold your horse back a little bit to make sure that its legs remain strong when it comes time to sprint for the finish line," Shah says.
He also listens for other warnings, such as the data-access bell. "That one is a killer," he emphasizes. "Without data, there is no CRM."
To ensure the new system has unfettered access to the requisite data, Shah and his team have already held discussions with the owners of the data sources inside and outside the company. For example, Shah met with the COO of Equibase, which operates an industry-owned database of racing information and statistics, to explore how both companies might benefit by improving the flow of past-performance racing information from Equibase's database to Churchill Downs' customers.
The CRM team also initiated the selection process for Web redesign, content management, and analytics technology. "We're looking for partners that can help us serve our customers more effectively and efficiently," Shah says. And while he does, he'll keep an ear to the ground, listening for the remaining five bells.
Freelance writer Eric Krell hears a constant ringing in his head.
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