Why Do the Wings Keep Falling Off?

Figuring out what's up (or down) with CRM has proven to be an exercise in peeling the proverbial onion. We find an apparent solution to CRM's well-chronicled problems, only to find a deeper problem that undercuts our "solution." And we do it again...and again...and again. Until now we're ready to hurl the onion against a brick wall and hope it sticks--or falls unceremoniously to the ground and oozes to death, mimicking more than a few CRM projects we've witnessed.

Pretty frustrating. But then again, consider what we've been through. Going back to the beginning of this futile exercise, first we thought that CRM implementations kept crashing and burning because we were pretending CRM was software. And we actually pretended that for a good while, and lots of CRM flights went down because of it.

But then it finally dawned on us that CRM wasn't software--which frustrated more than a few software companies, but that's another story. What was it then? "New work processes supported by CRM software," we divined. How could we have blown that? Obviously we shouldn't be automating old and broken work processes. We'd just wind up doing the wrong stuff faster. We had to re-engineer work processes first, before we messed with supporting software. So we started re-engineering our brains out. But, alas, to little or no avail. The casualties continued to mount. "Hey, wait a minute," we said, "How can this be? Something else has to be wrong." But what?

After figuring out that process re-engineering wasn't the answer, or at least not much of an answer, we peeled down deeper and discovered that re-engineering work processes without first developing new strategies and workflow to take better care of customers inevitably took us where? Right back to the same old customer-unfriendly work processes. Remember Freud's definition of insanity? "Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome?" Yup. That's what we were doing...and the reason why we kept right on losing CRM flights. Or so we thought, believing for the moment that working strategically was the key to the puzzle.

So we shifted into deep thinking mode and started churning out customer-centric strategies, which translated into radically new workflows, which reportedly doubled the number of CRM flights that made it through. But twice a small number is still a small number. And the majority of CRM projects were still falling out of the sky. Not good when you consider that the results of CRM implementations crashing bear at least symbolic resemblance to the toll taken by literal plane crashes. "Hey, we've gotta figure this stuff out before it kills us...'us' as in you and me."

The teeth really started gnashing now. Minting new customer-centric strategies and translating them into new workflows was a step in the right direction, but it left us a long way from achieving an acceptable CRM safety record. Okay, time to get really resourceful. So we all grabbed our thinking rods and fished deeper for better answers. But know what? You drop your line in the same old pond and you catch the same old fish. Keep looking for problems in the same old place and you wind up with the same old solutions. And that's precisely what we were doing. Looking at every facet within CRM, hoping to find the fatal flaw. We still weren't 100 percent discouraged. By figuring out the importance of letting strategies drive CRM, we'd managed at least to upgrade some otherwise full bore "accidents" into forced landings and even get a bunch more flights through relatively unscathed. But we were 90 percent of the way to despair and ready to cut loose with those onions. Splat! Splat! Splat!

But we didn't, at least most of us didn't. Most of us weren't ready to give up on CRM yet. Yah sure, some were. And they borrowed an old political tactic by simply declaring victory in the battle to make CRM successful. They started popping up at conferences and on the Net with bold pronouncements and suspect data "proving" that we had overcome. But you can't paper over reality-especially with the kind of paper they're using. A quick look below the surface reveals that their positive outcomes are outcomes of automating work processes to sell faster or installing data warehouses to market harder, scarcely qualifying as CRM successes. After all, we have learned that CRM is about building "win-win" relationships with customers-not stuffing both hands in customers' pockets-haven't we?

That sideshow notwithstanding, we finally accepted the need to start looking for the answers outside of CRM. Maybe CRM wasn't so broken after all. Maybe the four essential CRM components we'd identified along the way-customer-centric planning, redesigning roles and responsibilities, re-engineering work processes and supporting with new technologies, maybe they were working reasonably well, especially after all the repair work we'd done since "CRM = software" days. So off we went like little Isaac Newtons looking in new places for new answers. Hey if that guy could answer centuries of unanswered questions by discovering gravity, maybe, just maybe, we could figure out what was pulling CRM down.

The first obvious solution was to say, "Hey, maybe that's it. Maybe gravity is behind all these CRM nose-dives and belly flops."

"Nah, that's a cop out."

But whatever we were looking for was (and is) a powerful force of at least near-gravitational proportion. And a nearly universal force that affects all but a small minority of CRM implementations. Sleuths that we were, we belatedly got smart and started looking at successful implementations rather than just picking through the crashes looking for the black boxes. And when we started looking at how successful implementers differed from the rest, we finally saw that blinding flash of the obvious. The sky parted and revealed what was really wrong with CRM. And it wasn't CRM. At least not CRM, per se.

What did we see? Violent weather caused by the collision of two powerful business systems--the old rooted in the traditional "command and control" view of customers with the accompanying focus on internal operations; the new recognizing that customers were now in charge, with the accompanying external focus. A struggle for control of the skies between a stationary front that's been with us for 40 years, maybe 50, and a powerful new front blasting in on us with all the force of the "Alberta clippers" that leave Minnesotans with their teeth frozen together for entire winters.

And don't think we're talking about some ethereal collision between disparate philosophies. If you're ready for an adult dose of conflict in the making, look over the "Functional Change" chart describing what it means to go from the old system to the new. These are the conditions that blow companies apart.

Who could fly through that? Beyond trying to make CRM airworthy under normal flight conditions, we've been flying through weather bad enough to bring down nearby planets. No wonder we keep having so many unhappy landings. And what were we thinking of, taking off over and over again in these conditions? Well, we weren't thinking. Or, to put a kinder face on it, we were so absorbed in mechanics of CRM that we couldn't see the moon for the mosquitoes, as we'd say up here in the north country.

And how did the flights that got through get through? Simple. Different weather. The new front--the front carrying the new customer-centric values, with all the resulting implications for organizational structure and workflow--had already dislodged the old--the holdover "command and control" view of customers with its organizational implications and serious impediments to CRM. But these new corporate atmospheres are the exceptions. Most companies still sit under the old stationary front.

So now we know why the wings keep falling off. But problem solved? Not even close. Although we know what's wrong, we still have to figure out what to do about it. Hey, we can all strap on our leather pilot's helmets and pretend we're World War II pilots blithely flying off to brave the odds. But before we take off we'll need an appendage to our headgear. A plastic propeller, a la Rootie Kazootie, signifying how silly we're being, trying to white-knuckle our way to success. Or should we say "outright dumb?" Of course the software guys and many of their consultant friends have fancy parachutes that allow them to escape before the plane goes down to live to do it again to another company. But knowing why the plane's going down doesn't stop it from going down.

So let's pretend for a moment we all want to be responsible. Should we introduce CRM to an "old front" corporate environment and risk starting World War III? Should we stick to automating work processes and installing data warehouses so no one gets hurt and not much changes? Or leave "old front" companies and let them go their merry way until a "new front" competitor swoops down and takes away their prime customers by offering them what they want, the way they want it? Not good choices.

If we factor in all considerations--the risks of implementing CRM, the risks of not implementing CRM, and the inevitability of the "new front" pushing out the old except for a few recalcitrants--we'll find that we're left with one option and one option only. That's to help organizations face up to the realities of the new, incoming market environment before they start implementing CRM.

Tall order? You betcha. Open season for software sellers and process re-engineering types? No way. Chance for technology consulting companies to bill big bucks? Au contraire. Big opportunity for the CRM industry? Not unless we suddenly morph into change management experts.

But the right thing to do? Absolutely.


Functional Changes Often Driven By a CRM Implementation





Selecting technology

Advising on selection


Controling data

Coordinating data


Acting unilaterially



Technology drives business

Business drives technology


Focusing o new sales

Focusing on relationships


Responsible for dollars

Responsible for data, too


Do "whatever works"

Observe process and procedures


Free to roam

Discipline wins


Conceptual skill set

Analytical skill set


Independent of (and over) sales

Supporting sales


Work not measurable

Work highly measurable


Creativity reigns

Process reigns





Pass along problems

Solve problems





Tied to back office

Part of front office


Control transactions

Process transactions


Direct access to customers

Workthrough relationship manager


Preserving order

Preserving relationships


Scornful of front office

Respectful of front office


Drives product development

Responds to customer needs


"Least cost" manufacturing

"No stock-out" manufacturing


Controlling costs

Maximizing throughput


Disdainful of front office

Dependent on front office


"Leave it to departments"

Leading change


Short-term focus

Long-term focus


Avoid risk

Manage risk




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