Getting and Keeping Top Management Support
When support wavers, the project is dead.
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One of the success factors in a CRM project is gaining top management support. It sounds simple enough, but getting and keeping that support isn't always as straightforward as it seems. The fact of the matter is, CRM is not the first thought on an executive's mind. Priorities are constantly shifting, and executives tend to be impatient. If they don't see results reasonably soon, they look for something else that might bring value to the company.

CRM takes time, and I can tell you from experience, there's nothing clean about the process. Whether it's egos, money or the crisis du jour, projects can easily get off track. When it hits the fan, as it inevitably will, top management needs to step in at a critical moment. That takes commitment. The moment it wavers, the project is dead.

True support is not about getting a signature on the check. That's one key point, but it's not enough. Sponsors need to round up the troops, get the word out that the project is important to the company and protect people when difficulty happens.

Even when efforts are made to keep management involved, support can falter at each stage of the project. I've seen it happen time and time again. We may think top management is committed, but often we find out they're not absolutely committed.

Here's a classic example: I was working with a privately held manufacturing company on the East Coast. We brought executives and representatives from sales, marketing and customer service together as we always do and started with a kickoff and brain-storming session.

As the project got underway, I met with the president and CEO of the company. "Bill" was one of the toughest executives I've ever met. This is a guy who understands numbers. He began the meeting by telling me, "There are very few consultants I've ever met who are anything more than bullshitters. I just want to tell you my bias."

By the end of the meeting, I had won him over on CRM. He said "I think you might be one of those consultants I could actually work with." That's when I asked him if he was committed to the project. He said he'd take it to the next step. I asked again, "Bill, are you committed? Because if you're not committed to the process, I don't want to do the project." He begrudgingly said "fine." I made him put it in writing, which irritated him tremendously, but I knew that his support would be needed to keep the project going.

He blessed the spending of some money to move forward. I worked with the vice presidents of the departments involved in the project to prioritize business functions. After gaining input from people in the field and the office, they decided sales functionality would be implemented first, followed by customer service.

When we got to the point where we were ready to choose some software, "Bruce," the vice president of customer service, complained that his needs weren't being met. The company had recently centralized its customer service locations into one toll-free number call center. Many long-time service representatives weren't willing to make the move, making it necessary to hire and train new people. As a result, there were a lot of customer complaints.

Bruce saw CRM as a quick fix to his current problems and demanded that the entire system be biased toward customer service. We went back to the CEO, who, being very concerned about the customer service complaints he had been receiving during the last two weeks, decided the project should focus on customer service.

After the meeting, I spoke with Bill and told him CRM was not about customer service, sales, marketing or e-business, but the integration across those functions. "Yeah, but Bruce is really important, he's mad, and I've got to let him run with his thinking," he said. From the start, the concept of CRM had been defined and presented to him, but apparently he had not completely understood it. Even though he had given his commitment to the project, with sales functionality implemented first followed by service functionality, it was obvious that he was really committed to whichever way the wind was blowing.

Trying to get back on track, we invited him and his top vice presidents to one of the DCI shows for a personal tour of what CRM can do. He spent the day visiting with vendors, and came back with new enthusiasm. In fact, he called to tell me he wanted to move much faster on the project, regardless of the cost. I asked again if I had his support. "Hell yes. Now you do have it," he said.

We put out a request for proposal and had vendors demo their software based on the key business and technical priorities. Two vendors floated to the top, and we put the company on a due diligence track to check them out. I kept Bill involved in the process by having him personally talk to the CEOs of the two software companies who made
the short list.

After completing the due diligence, we thought we had nipped it in the bud, but as it turned out, something seemed to have gone wrong. Bill called the vice president of sales and told him he needed a business case before he would approve anything further.

A business case should have been done initially, and I had told him all along he should get one, but he seemed not to make a big deal of it at the time. Now, all of a sudden, he needed one.

I don't know exactly what happened behind the scenes, but the business case may have been used as an excuse to redirect the project. My guess is that Bruce was unhappy that he didn't get his way and suggested killing the overall project on a financial basis, thereby allowing him to use his own budget to finance the customer service piece.

We helped them draw up the business case and it was presented by the vice presidents. It was probably a pretty tough meeting, but they got it passed to the tune of $900,000, and that was just for the software. The CEO signed a check committing half the money to the vendor to get customer service and the overall database going. Sales functionality would be added in three months time.

Finally, he was truly committed to the project.

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