Business Processes Must Precede Technology

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Milano Marittima is a small town on the Adriatic I visited recently on vacation. I had the pleasure of watching Italy win the World Cup there, and was impressed by how well Italy and France had played. The two teams were like well-oiled machines, and it was obvious that the Italians and French had created many different plays and had practiced them time and again, until they had become second nature to the players. If only organizations implemented CRM in a similar manner. The right way to implement a CRM initiative is to first determine what business functions (e.g., sales, marketing, customer service, e-customer, business analytics, or some combination of these) must be addressed. Second, a company must prioritize these functions (remembering to bite off only what it can chew, since successful CRM initiatives get rolled out in iterations). Determine how well the current business processes support or enhancethen apply technology to optimize these enhance business as appropriate, and then apply technology to optimize these processes. Unfortunately, too many organizations depend on CRM software vendors to supply needed business processes. This logic makes no sense. Some CRM software vendors do build valuable process capabilities into their software (e.g., Onyx Software builds Miller-Heiman Blue Sheets directly into its software). But many software vendors are not sufficiently business-process savvy to know which specific processes to include. They default by building in generic processes along with a business process/workflow engine that helps, to varying degrees, customize their generic processes--which may or may not fit an organization's way of doing business. Alternately, some vendors offer vertical, industry-specific software that builds in, again to varying degrees, relevant, industry-specific business processes that may or may not fit well with the way an organization conducts its business. There is, fortunately, a third option now being practiced by best-in-class organizations worldwide. First, document the key as-is business processes (e.g., using swim-lane techniques) and make sure to note where they fall short. Second, review best-practice business processes--increasingly, these can be purchased from external sources--that help address these shortfalls and then agree to move as-is business processes to to-be business processes that feel right for the organization. With the to-be business processes in place, then and only then go to CRM software vendors to determine how well their built-in business processes or business process/workflow engine matches the organization's specific business process needs. If this match is reasonably good (say an 80-plus percent fit), compromise a bit and move forward with purchasing the CRM software. If this match is not good, critically examine whether the software vendor's business process/workflow tool capability--or more powerful third-party vendor-compatible business process/workflow tools--can be used to customize the software to meet specific to-be process needs. Continuous business process improvement will soon become a part of the enterprise's DNA, which brings me back to Italy's recent World Cup victory: Knowing the plays was a part of the team's DNA. The players then executed these plays with excellence. Think of business processes as plays and CRM software as players. Get your plays right, then choose and train your best players. Barton Goldenberg is president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM real-time enterprise consulting firm in Bethesda, MD. He is the author of CRM Automation and the publisher of
The Guide to CRM Automation. Contact him at bgoldenberg@ismguide.com
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