The failure of the global CRM promise doesn't mean that CRM software isn't working
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Not long ago, many companies believed that customer relationship management (CRM) software was the solution to all of a company's woes. The belief was that CRM software would help companies identify profitable customers, foster loyalty, increase customer satisfaction, and eliminate customer turnover, thereby increasing revenue.
The reality is CRM is not the universal panacea we hoped it would be, and global CRM implementations have not wholly delivered on the vision. What went wrong?
The failure of the global CRM promise doesn't mean that CRM software isn't working. What it does mean is that customer relationship management as a business concept is easier said than done, and cannot be achieved by technology alone. The right business practices, along with the right CRM software, can make the vision a reality in your organization throughout the world.
Preparing for flight
Though far from insurmountable, companies face a variety of challenges when preparing to lay the foundation for selecting and executing upon a viable global CRM solution and subsequent rollout. But before the challenges can be overcome, they must be understood.
One of the most difficult challenges companies face when undertaking a global CRM implementation is how to manage the thousands of rows of customer data that are being stored in different repositories around the world. As companies begin implementing CRM solutions--sales, marketing, service, contract management--they are uncertain about how to fill in gaps in customer data, or what to do with multiple sets of data for the same customer. Companies must define, and then follow, a clear process for how to manage their existing customer data.
Another challenge, and perhaps one of the most difficult ones, involves company culture and the absolute need to get employees to embrace a more customer-centric approach to business. There's a tendency for people to think of customer-centric world as a "warm and fuzzy" world when in reality it is driven by numbers and analytics. And here's the connection back to data quality. If the data is good and available, you've got a crystal clear view into which customers you need to focus on.
For a cultural shift to be truly successful, the champions of the cause must be pushing the effort from the top to bottom. In other words, if the CEO, Managing Director or General Manager aren't engaged in driving the cultural shift, the chances of its success are truly limited. And while it may seem obvious, this support must start at the top in all geographies in which your company operates.
Up next on the list of challenges are processes. Gone are the days of the feature/function approach to CRM. To get the most out of global CRM solutions, companies must understand what business processes are most relevant to the way they do business, as well as what processes differentiate them from the competition. Then, companies must standardize on those business processes globally. There is usually no value derived from having unique local business processes. In order to be successful, local practices need to be replaced with standard business processes enterprisewide.
In terms of pure strategy, companies are best served by making a shift away from thinking of successful CRM as a wholly component/product-driven initiative. Pulling all the pieces outlined above together, a successful CRM strategy really is about and includes the software and the systems to support it, the processes, the culture, and the data.
Mapping out the road
With the short list of challenges in order, the question is where do you start? Whether it be expanding sales channels or improving customer retention, begin by identifying a set of goals and identifying the processes that support those goals. Ask yourself, are those processes working? If not, fill the gaps, measure the progress, select the next goal and keep moving.
Testing the waters
While it may seem counter-intuitive in a global implementation, a good place to start your CRM transformation is with a pilot program in the country and channel from which most of your revenue originates. Your pilot country should have enough revenue to be credible in the eyes of the executives; the pilot needs to generate a quick ROI to be validated at a more regional level; the single country, single-channel approach eliminates the risk of implementing the transformation across all channels in multiple countries simultaneously; and lessons learned in the pilot will help streamline the complete regional transformation.
Once your pilot country is selected, define a single business process for that channel and one that can be applied regardless of geography.
Building a single global instance of data
While acting locally at first, you should think globally and have a blueprint for a single global instance, or repository, of customer data. You can spend millions of dollars on applications software and still not have the information necessary to make decisions based upon recent facts if your customer data is spread across multiple systems. Incomplete customer data, or fragments of data in multiple customer databases, are often the greatest hindrances to a complete view of the customer.
For example, to make automating processes for the direct sales force as effective as possible, salespeople need to know all the interactions customers have had with the company. To manage and close opportunities successfully, sales teams often cross group and regional boundaries, territories, and channels. Because all sales efforts need to target each specific customer, all members of the sales team--including strategic partners--need to be fully armed with the information that presents their case in light of the customer's needs.
A highly cost-effective, comprehensive, and reliable approach is available with a single solution developed from the ground up to integrate every function in the sales process. The benefit of this approach is clear: the ability to swiftly deliver the right information to the right people at the right time in order to optimize sales and enhance customer relationships.
Educating the masses
After you've identified the first process to tackle and designed your global customer data model, giving the sales force the information and tools they need to succeed should be your next major consideration. Salespeople should be an integral part of the design and implementation process, as they know best how the software will be used.
Incentives and training are a key part of getting the sales force to buy into CRM technology. Managers should also be trained to ensure the technology is used successfully. This balance can obviously be different for Germany versus France, versus Hungary or Oman. As you move from one country to another, it will become clear which combination of elements create the right balance.
Working with partners
Organizations should look at their own channels and begin defining the processes that would help them better serve their customers.
For partners, this will mean giving them access to much of the same information as the direct sales teams. This may be difficult at first, but partners need many of the same tools to do the best job. This, in turn, motivates them to feed information from the customer side to your single customer database. This reciprocation must be monitored closely so all parties receive the benefits. Enterprises need to keep their sales staff and partners constantly updated on a wide range of topics ranging from customer information to product availability and from industry trends to cross-selling opportunities.
Light at the end of the tunnel
With focus, organization, the right business practices, and the right software, you absolutely can take on the large task of making the vision of a successful global CRM implementation a reality. By automating and standardizing the core CRM functions, you can free up resources, time, and money to focus on activities that differentiate your business in the marketplace.
[John Wookey is Senior Vice President, Applications Development, at Oracle Corp.]