Partner Pen, Not Poison Pen
True facts of life are few. Friendship, love, family, and death seem to be the ones we deal with every day. The world of corporate enterprise adds one: antagonism between vendors (and integrators) and customers the moment they sign a deal. Before the ink can dry, it turns into poison. The customer, vendor, and integrator begin execution of their blaming postures. I hear incredibly varied--though not very original--stories when executives suddenly feel the need to coat their posteriors in Teflon and company politics kicks into high gear.
The more-or-less provable stories include the "they're overbudget, behind schedule" and the "they sold us something they couldn't do" tales of woe from the customers about the vendors and integrators. That group counters with "they want much more than they committed to" or "they cut the budget after they guaranteed us the funds" diatribes about the customers.
The less-provable stories include "I can't work with so-and-so, he's sabotaging my work" and "Senior management doesn't care about this project" and "Team member X is incompetent and should be replaced." This last tale is told even though the blamer had five interviews with the slacker before taking that person on the team, and even though the change will put the project behind schedule.
Then there is the ridiculous: "Remember when I told you this would never work?"
Silly excuses for a fundamental problem that doesn't need to exist.
The only inviolable fact of life in a CRM project is that problems will exist. Human beings with a personal stake in something act in their own self-interest, not in yours. You do the same. That will create problems. If you plan for the problems you can make the vendor/customer partnership work, issues notwithstanding.
The secret of a successful partnership? These four simple strategies:
1. First and foremost, create strong vendor/customer and integrator/customer cultural alignments. As a customer you should be comfortable with the culture of the vendor or integrator. It won't be identical to yours, but the feeling needs to be one of trust and comfort. Do your definitions of success, failure, and timeliness jive with the vendor's? You're going to be the one responsible, so you must diligently ensure that they do.
2. Remember the unyielding fact that there will be issues. Problem-resolution procedures should be in place prior to the execution of the contract. The general problem sets for CRM are fairly consistent (and are in line with bigger-scope enterprise projects), so you can anticipate a lot of the problems that may occur. Examples of things you can expect: scope creep, politics, personality clashes, technical glitches, integration difficulties, and project-team attrition. Be prepared.
3. Remind yourself that you are dealing with other human beings. They have people they report to, other concerns that extend beyond their workday, interests that aren't yours, and a thought process that doesn't map to the way the your does, nor to anyone else's involved. But it is in everyone's self-interest that the project succeeds.
4. Remember that there are going to be major cultural changes. To maximize the productivity changes, make sure that a change-management process exists at the beginning of the CRM effort and in conjunction with the vendor or integrator.
If you follow these simple dicta, you'll have a partner, not an enemy. And that's a fact.
About the Author
Paul Greenberg is president of The 56 Group LLC, an enterprise applications consultancy specializing in CRM, and author of CRM at the Speed of Light: Capturing and Keeping Customers in Internet Real Time.