• April 12, 2002
  • By Paul Greenberg, founder and managing principal, The 56 Group

Getting More Than You Bargained For

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There is one inescapable thing about CRM: It is not only customer-facing, it is intensely personal. Human interactions day-to-day and at all levels characterize it more than any other technology-enhanced system. No matter how well the software works or what value it brings, a relationship problem with the vendor means CRM doom. The vendor's outlook is the tea leaves of your CRM future. No matter how much hype a vendor can produce about the wondrous performance of its applications, there are real-world pieces to the CRM system that are intricately interwoven. Those pieces can include the customer's CRM vision and the business case for that vision; the IT infrastructure that this customer invested millions of dollars into that only partially works; the ingrained skepticism of employees who are supposed to use this CRM system and don't really understand why; or the dramatic impact CRM has on the entire business process and the culture of the customer-to-be. Mix daily interactions between vendor and customer into all this, and that customer had better know how the vendor thinks and acts, for its own safety. The fact is, it could be disastrous if the vendor sees a customer solely as a dollar. If the vendor is not focused on true customer satisfaction and is intent only on selling software, there is a problem, because once a customer buys, that vendor will be history and will not get any additional business. The vendor brushes off its hands and moves on to the next prospect. It might be difficult, for example, for that customer to get follow-up maintenance if the vendor doesn't place it high enough in its customer lifetime-value calculations. What if the vendor has financial problems, or high turnover of its personnel? If that is the case, how does the cautious customer-to-be expect to solve the problems that will inevitably come up during the implementation of the program? For example, it would be hard to complete an implementation on schedule if half of the vendor's implementation team quits, or if the vendor itself is no longer in business. How can an executive responsible for purchasing the CRM system tell if the vendor has high turnover or money problems? Just ask and do some research. If the vendor isn't forthcoming, that's a red flag. And how can a manager ensure a prospective vendor is customer focused? Ask customers--and not just those the vendor recommends. CRM business is personal. If the customer is anyone an enterprise exchanges value with, it means CRM directly impacts that company's relationships with employees, clients, partners, and suppliers. This is a heck of a long value chain. A business's preeminence won't last when what becomes eminent to its customers is the CRM vendor's contemptuous curl of a snarling lip in the guise of a system that fails to meet expectations. Remember, when you buy the applications, you buy into that vendor's outlook. It should tell you something when some CRM purveyors treat customers as nothing more than financial blips.
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