Is Less Better Than More?
Small CRM implementations are often more successful than large ones.
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As the CRM industry goes through a major phase in its evolution, there are many debates emerging regarding the trends that will reinvigorate the marketplace, cause it to remain in the doldrums, or force an implosion that will cause many vendors to disappear altogether. During the past month I had the opportunity to speak at four different CRM--related conferences, and one of the more lively topics of discussion at each of these events was how large a CRM initiative should be. I heard several individuals promoting ideas like enterprise relationship management, the real-time enterprise, enterprise systems integration. The common point of view of these visionaries seems to be that CRM is merely a part of some bigger picture, and that if you want it to add any value to what your organization does, you need to commit to implementing intergalactic systems that will blot out the sun in their complexity and grandeur, and take four to five years to fully implement. I was left wondering if these people are right. So, I tapped into our knowledge base: During the second half of 2002 Barry Trailer and I interviewed more than 200 executives, analysts, educators, and other industry experts. In reviewing the details of those conversations, I quickly found another point of view: When it comes to implementing CRM, small may be better than large. Harvard Business School professor Benson Shapiro best articulated the views of the go-small opposition. He shared that what he sees Tom Siebel now promoting "is ERM, which is basically linking CRM to enterprise resource planning (ERP): back and front office all combined so that everybody has perfect knowledge. But that idea certainly hasn't proved out of date. "It has been my experience that the smaller, simpler information system projects have been more successful. Siebel has been incredibly successful, so I hate to disagree with him, but if large is not working, you do not go to humongous. Anybody who has done an SAP implementation hated [the implemenation process]. "I would argue that if I was Siebel and recognized that big has been difficult, then I would want to put in smaller, more focused projects. I would select, for example, a simpler sales reporting system than an integrated CRM-ERP system." Sheryl Kingstone, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, in Boston, also shared her perspective on the scope of CRM projects: "All I can see over the near term is companies still implementing point solutions within specific functional areas in their operations to solve specific problems. And you know what? That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm happy as long as there are improvements consistently being made along the way." As I continued checking our knowledge base I found dozens of other people supporting the concept that CRM, taken in smaller slices and focused on solving real-world business problems a few at a time, will significantly increase the chances of long-term success for a project, and ultimately reenergize the demand for these types of technologies. Who's right? The answer will emerge as the year plays out, but from my own perspective I agree with the idea that for now, small is better than large. Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a Boulder, CO, benchmarking firm that specializes in researching how companies are optimizing the way they market to, sell to, and service customers. Contact him at www.csoinsights.com.
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