From the CRM Trenches: A 30-Year Perspective

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I will never forgot when one of my clients insisted that because a particular CRM vendor's software was working brilliantly for its main competitor in terms of engaging with customers, the software would work equally well for it. After the client spent hundreds of thousands of dollars unsuccessfully trying to force-fit the software into its unique business processes and organizational culture, which of course differed considerably from its competitor's, executive support dried up and the plug was pulled.

Process (30 percent of success): As the CRM industry matures, vertical software offerings have become the norm (e.g., CRM for the financial industry, the automotive industry, the real estate industry, etc.). Vendors have done a reasonable job either building relevant business processes into their vertical offerings or integrating business process engines into their software, thereby allowing users to bake their unique business processes into the software. Vendors are also offering better processes and tools for omnichannel execution, analytics and predictive modeling, segmentation, and social media integration. Again, all positive developments. The issue on the process front: Too few organizations have thought through how customer engagement strategy needs to evolve over time, including the changes they'll need to implement internally and externally to ensure success.

One of my global B2B clients that sells its products through multiple channels was very clever and acknowledged up front that unless it offered a consistently great customer experience in each channel, it risked turning off customers, damaging its brand image, and ultimately losing sales. It set up a global business process team to enhance its omnichannel process and insisted that CRM vendors demonstrate how they would address this requirement. Only then did the organization move forward with implementing its CRM initiative. Today this organization is considered by many to be a leader in the area of omnichannel customer engagement.

People (50 percent of success): People still make or break the success of every CRM initiative. To ensure high user adoption, CRM users must buy in to the need early on for an enhanced CRM capability that supports an improved customer engagement model. I have stood in front of dozens of executive teams doing my best to hammer home the importance of making sure the what's-in-it-for-me component for each CRM user group is in place (the "3X factor"), that they've committed time and resources for strong governance, effective communication, comprehensive training, and meaningful incentives or rewards. But carrying out change within an organization can be challenging, and often too little attention is paid to these critical people areas.

The new technologies noted above—including the Internet and social media—have forever altered customer expectation and the customer engagement model. Now is the time for a similar mind-shift to happen within most organizations. Until it does, securing adoption of the new CRM tools and techniques that support the evolving customer engagement model will remain elusive.

Early in my career, the president of one of my global B2C clients reminded me that "what interests my boss fascinates me." This president spearheaded his company's CRM initiative because he was convinced that building outstanding customer experiences was paramount to his company's long-term success. This effort included creating the CRM Executive Steering Committee, which he then attended monthly for the next 10 years. You would be correct to conclude that CRM user adoption tops 98 percent in this company, and that under his continued tutelage it is leading the way in terms of implementing a world-class customer engagement strategy.

We'll continue the dialogue in part two, coming next month.

Barton Goldenberg (bgoldenberg@ismguide.com) is president and founder of ISM, Inc., a strategic consulting firm that applies CRM and social CRM, big data analytics and insight, knowledge communities, customer experience management, and channel optimization to build successful customer-centric business initiatives. He is a frequent speaker and is an author of four books. His latest, The Definitive Guide to Social CRM, is available at Amazon.com.

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