Getting Executive Buy-In: A Pocket Guide

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The consensus among speakers and attendees at September's destinationCRM 2006 conference and exhibition was that many organizations are now taking time to ensure that their customer-facing business processes are enhanced prior to applying CRM automation in support of these processes.

That's good news.

Not-so-good news came from the people segment of the implementation equation. Two specific issues were raised: how to increase user adoption rates and how to secure executive alignment. Following is a brief overview of potential roadblocks and their results, plus some tips for clearing the way to success:

Camp #1: "Did I Say I Was Behind the CRM Initiative?" The executive team in this camp begins by being solidly aligned behind the organization's initiative, but then seems to forget its commitment.
Typically, one executive leads the CRM charge and other executives queue up behind her.

Unfortunately, the leader soon becomes either too busy to follow through or loses interest altogether and abandons ship.

Camp #2: "I'm Behind the Initiative--I Swear It!" A second camp also starts out with the executive team solidly lining up behind the organization's CRM initiative. Typically, a group of executives agrees to lead the initiative, one of them signing up as executive sponsor. The spirit in this team remains strong during the first few months, but as the initiative hits technical issues (e.g., costly integration), or people issues (e.g., push-back from direct reports to executive team members), or process issues (e.g., "How can we possibly automate this lousy forecasting process?"), the sponsor recalibrates expectations with the executive team to realign the project. Often the realignment happens several times, but in the end the project is guided to success.

Camp #3: "Let Me Drive Executive Team Support for the CRM Initiative." This camp also starts out with the executive team solidly aligned behind the organization's CRM initiative. An executive sponsor emerges from among the team quickly, and never lets go of the initiative, scheduling time to discuss the initiative at every team meeting. The sponsor consistently gets the word out to the troops: "CRM full-steam ahead." He finds the time to work closely with other sponsors from customer-facing functions, such as sales, marketing, and customer service.

Lessons Learned: Do not take CRM alignment or buy-in for granted. While executive personalities can and do play a key role in driving initial alignment, so too does good planning.

Take the time to bring executives together at the outset of the CRM initiative. Define for them what CRM is (the goal is to get buy-in on one definition), why the organization should undertake the initiative (identify the pain points), and what the likely payback will be from investing in CRM.

Speak in business terms at this initial meeting, linking the initiative as tightly as possible to the organization's business direction. If possible, keep technology out of the meeting. Encourage lots of questions and be prepared to answer them well.

A last thought: Many organizations engage a CRM leading authority to facilitate the initial meeting. This helps drive executive alignment and improves the likelihood that your CRM initiative gets off on the right foot.

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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