Executive Support: The Most Important CRM Success Factor

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Over the past 21 years ISM has had the pleasure of providing strategic CRM advice to dozens of best- in-class organizations in the private, not-for-profit, and government sectors. For organizations that have succeeded in their CRM initiative, executive support stands out as the single most important ingredient for success. Let's examine why by looking at examples of three levels of executive support. Weak Executive Support An international pharmaceutical company's exec team failed to understand that the successful CRM mix comprises 50 percent people, 30 percent process, and 20 percent technology. Instead, this exec team pushed the technology component onto their personnel, without having taken into account important process and employee issues. The CRM initiative failed. Management at a global agricultural firm believed that CRM was a simple extension of the company's back-office ERP system. Company leaders were convinced that the ERP technology would be well accepted by their customer-facing personnel and online customers. Middle management kicked up a storm, as it knew that ERP systems are fine for back-office personnel, but almost always inappropriate for front-office personnel and customers. The executive team pulled the plug on the CRM initiative. Moderate Executive Support
Talking the talk is good, but not enough. Decision-makers at a global financial services organization learned this the hard way, as they failed to clearly demonstrate their commitment to the CRM initiative. For example, when they should have encouraged their direct reports to make the time to actively participate in the CRM initiative, the execs always seemed to have more pressing matters to attend to. This CRM initiative stumbles along. Executives at a large government agency were looking to drive a revised strategic direction, which included delivering effective customer self-service initiatives. CRM technology was properly positioned to help, but as the agency's strategic direction became difficult to implement, executive support for the CRM initiative diminished. CRM still has a significant impact at the customer self-support level, but the initiative is no longer seen as strategic and has moved off the executives' radar screen. Strong Executive Support A biotech company president introduced the CRM concept to her executive management team by bringing ISM in to present a CRM executive briefing. In addition to clearly defining what CRM is, the briefing highlighted CRM's value proposition as it applied specifically to the biotech industry. Moreover, the president organized a "learning journey" that became a mandatory two-day field trip for the executive team. One by one, team members began to see the CRM light; over time they became the chief proponents of the CRM initiative. Their CRM initiative came in on budget and on time. At a well-known appliance manufacturer, market conditions (e.g., competitive products, Chinese imports, and major shifts within the traditional distribution channel) began to erode its impressive market share. The executive team, led by the president and his executive vice president of sales and marketing, created a strategy to counter these market conditions. It includes reinforcing the company's brand image, creating the most innovative products, and--most important--it involves the customer/consumer at each step of the way. The execs personally met with dozens of customers to better understand their needs. Several of these customers were invited to join the manufacturer's CRM business requirements team. When it came time to roll out the new CRM initiative, internal and external support for it was strong. The initiative has been a tremendous success, and the company has gained back market share. Apply these ideas to secure executive support and to strengthen it over time. 5 Lessons:
  • Once you have executive support, nurture it well.
  • To gain executive support, link your CRM initiative to the strategic direction of the organization. Be sure to have a solid CRM business case, complete with metrics measured quarterly over the life of the CRM initiative.
  • Help execs to get the CRM mix right (50 percent people, 30 percent process, 20 percent technology).
  • Help execs to properly fit CRM into the organization, paying particular attention to people issues that inevitably drive a CRM initiative's success.
  • Executives can initiate the CRM vision, but their direct reports must take on the CRM charge. 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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