Build Customer Relationships--Just Don't Call It CRM

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At Consolidated Container the acronym CRM used to mean money pit. The problem was mostly one of perception, after a vendor's reps implied that the only CRM system worth having would require a seven-figure investment. Consolidated Container was using business intelligence software that "basically delivered the information [executives] asked for," says Andrew Ziegele, director of IT for the $740 million manufacturer of plastic containers. "CRM was supposed to follow on its heels [last year, to] start focusing on how to improve relationships and get that information out to sales guys. But that really didn't happen. "As we [moved] forward with the project the sales guys from J.D. Edwards came in, stepped around IT a bit, and went straight to the executives and proposed CRM," Ziegele says. Unfortunately, the price that was quoted--in the seven-figure range--left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. "That [figure] got associated with CRM," he says, along with the sense that any CRM project "would cost us a million bucks." So, much to his dismay, the effort was shelved. "When you look at a million-dollar price tag for a CRM solution, it's easy to shy away," Ziegele says. The unexpected pause gave Ziegele an opportunity to reevaluate his options--and to find a way to assuage management's fears. "I've looked at Microsoft CRM...and it's just so cheap," he says. "From what I'm hearing so far it's extremely similar to Siebel in its basic use and the features it has." In fact it was so tempting, according to Ziegele, that Consolidated ordered it in early April. "We're [getting] going with five people, for like five grand," he says, adding that a small pilot was probably the only approach for which he could have gotten approval. He thinks of the pilot as a way to try before you buy. Ziegele finds the features appealing, as well: "It has a Web interface, but also runs through Outlook." Most important, he says, "lead management will be in there." Assuming the pilot goes well, Ziegele has as many as 100 users who could eventually be brought on board, and about "half that if we just go after the big guys," he says, referring to sales reps who handle large accounts. The other 50 potential users deal with customers, but most make cold calls. Still, he says, "the executive team is worried that we'll put in a CRM solution and [either] no one will use it, [or] that one guy--our 'gadget guy'--will use it, and no one else will." But Ziegele is prepared to create buy-in. He knows that "not everybody's going to use the tool like [a power user] would--but if it's tied in and has some business reminders that are integrated with Outlook, and it updates and sends alerts when appropriate, it might be valuable." Ziegele also knows that ultimately getting buy-in from both management and users will take a successful pilot. "We'll see over the next month or so what we can do with it," he says. "We'll know in a few weeks if we're going to get some value out of it." Either way, one thing's for certain: "I'm not calling it CRM anymore," he says.
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