• July 17, 2000
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

Selling CRM Inside Your Company

Through face-to-face support, direct mail, e-mail and the Web, the team ensured that users were kept abreast of project developments at all times.

When conducting CRM project reviews, I always ask project team members how they're going to sell the project internally. This question often elicits blank stares. Many companies get so caught up in thinking about hardware and software that they forget they are eventually going to give all this technology to the people in sales, marketing and support, who will be the ultimate users of the CRM system.

Recently, while I was presenting at a CRM forum in Columbia, S.C., I met another presenter, Temp Davis, who is relationship project manager for Southern Company's CRM initiative. I was impressed with the approach Southern Company took to getting buy-in for its CRM system and felt the strategies and tactics the company employed would be useful to other companies starting down this path. Davis agreed to discuss the insights the company gained from its efforts, and so this month's column will be devoted to sharing Southern Company's story with you.

Southern Company is made up of a number of energy-related subsidiaries. The CRM project Davis was involved in was focused on five power delivery companies in the Southeast: Georgia Power, Mississippi Power, Alabama Power, Gulf Power and Savannah Power & Light.

In the late 1990s, these operating companies embarked on a CRM initiative to provide a centralized view of the customer across the five autonomous organizations. The project had several goals: to improve the sales organization's ability to up-sell and cross-sell services, to centralize and capitalize on the intellectual capital Southern Company had on its customers, and to improve customer satisfaction by giving customer support the ability to access all customer contacts.

After a false start on this project, Southern Company's chief marketing officer (CMO), C. Alan Martin, assumed the role of executive sponsor for the initiative. He assigned Davis to run the project full-time from the business process perspective, working in tandem with Mani Subramanian from Information Resources (IR). They called the new project Relationship, after the name of the CRM product they selected from Pivotal Corporation.

One of this team's key charters was to ensure that users bought into the system. To accomplish this, Southern Company implemented a three-pronged strategy: establishing sponsorship for the initiative across the enterprise, implementing a multitiered communication program and using pilots to get user feedback prior to full deployment.

Davis and system integration partner Clarkston Potomac wanted to establish support for the project at all levels in the organization. To accomplish this, they put together two teams. The first team was an advisory panel made up of representatives from the five operating companies. The job of the team's 10 members was to help collect, review and prioritize all the functional requirements for the system. The panel provided the IR group with a continuous source of feedback so that flaws in assumptions regarding what the system should do and how it would work could be caught early.

In addition to the advisory panel, the Relationship project team also established a network of field-based champions. The team solicited one person from each of the 70 territories to agree to be the point person for the initiative with peers. Champions signed a contract agreeing to perform the following tasks: communicate to the other reps in their territories on project status, act as first-level support people for their fellow users as the system was rolled out, and collect and pass on enhancement and change requests to the advisory panel.

In compensation, champions earned points for such activities as taking support calls, collecting best practices and success stories, and developing tips or tricks on how to more effectively use the Relationship system. These points could be used to order items from a premium catalogue and could accrue up to $1,500 in purchasing power.

By forming these two groups, Southern Company established a network of users to help ensure the project's success. The end-user community--actively represented in all phases of the process--no longer viewed the initiative as just an IR or headquarters project, but rather as an enterprise-wide project.

Southern Company held a company-wide marketing meeting to kick off the Relationship project. CMO Martin did a presentation on the initiative's scope and objectives. Meeting attendees also received letters from Martin to reinforce his message and solicit their help in the coming months.

To keep the rank and file up-to-date on what was happening after kickoff, the project team implemented a direct mail dribble campaign. The initial pieces were primarily 3x5 cards, the purpose of which, according to Davis, was "to convey a short and sweet message in the time it took the user to throw it in the trash." The team sent out these cards on a weekly basis for over six months, and found them to be a good, cheap way to communicate with users.

In addition to the brief messages, the team also produced more detailed collateral pieces. One of these was a brochure highlighting Relationship's benefits to users, management and the company. Another item was a mouse pad that listed all the ways users could get help on using the system. The direct mail effort, further augmented by e-mail groups and posters in every marketing office, allowed the team to communicate directly with all users.

To complement the direct mail and e-mail campaigns, the team created a comprehensive Web site. The Web site has several components--a detailed description of the product, a link to the Pivotal Web site, a section on tips and tricks, a section covering frequently asked questions, a notes section for mobile users and the modification list showing the prioritization and scheduling of all enhancement and change requests.

In addition, the site lists the names, contact information and pictures of the advisory panel members, the champions and the 50-plus people from IR who support the Relationship project. Davis says that this is a good resource where new employees can find whom to contact for help. And, seeing that more than 100 people are involved conveys the effort's importance.

Through face-to-face support, direct mail, e-mail and the Web, the team ensured that users were kept abreast of project developments at all times and could get support from a variety of resources when they needed it.

The final part of Southern Company's strategy for ensuring user acceptance was to make sure the system ran right the first time. They asked users in Joint Application Development (JAD) sessions to come up with comprehensive functional specifications of how each new release of Relationship would work.

Once the coding was complete, the system went to pilot teams who ran it through its paces. In addition to ensuring that the system functioned as planned, the teams also documented how the pilot users were able to improve the way they did their jobs using Relationship. These stories then helped sell the new release to the rest of the user community.

Selling Your CRM Project
In our recent survey of over 200 CRM initiatives, we asked the project teams to highlight the top three challenges they faced during their project. Managing resistance to change came in as number one. This would appear to validate the need to go the extra mile--as Southern Company did.

If there is executive management support, if the users are represented in all phases of the project, if communications are frequent and easy to access and if help is easily obtainable, you will find the task of gaining user support a lot easier. Hopefully Southern Company's experiences will trigger some ideas you can use for your project.

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