CRM’s Unexpected Science

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Back in my high school days in Texas, I had an incredible physics teacher. (Most of us knew him as the tennis coach, but he had plenty of skill as an educator.) On the first day of class, he conveyed a lot of excitement about the coming year. His stance on physics: It was the one class that would have implications in our everyday lives. Fast-forward 30-plus years later, and it’s become clear he was right—at least when it comes to CRM and how organizations can benefit.

Often when we consult with an organization, we go through the paces of analyzing all the operational aspects of CRM and how different teams are attempting to use it. The less-than-optimal approaches often boil down to these:

  • Sales teams are inefficiently managing pipeline.
  • Sales and marketing teams have challenges working together.
  • Service queues are imbalanced, or resolution times are less than optimal.
  • Leads are being cherry picked or worked inefficiently.

These challenges, however, are often a clue to a bigger problem: Leadership often does not really get the big picture when it comes to CRM concepts, so the day-to-day execution is much more technical than strategic.

Looking at the big picture is often a good first step to understanding how the best-run organizations are using a platform to energize and empower their employees. Face it, we all have to get up and go to work. But how the work gets done and how we leverage each other can make a true difference in how we feel and how it comes through when dealing with customers.

Software vendors have finally realized the importance of having a robust platform, but many of them are not very good at explaining it to customers. On the consulting front, the implications of platforms are much more obvious. In fact, a principle of physics can really help firms picture how to use CRM systems the right way.

Back in high school physics, we were introduced to the concept of elastic and inelastic collisions. I won’t bother with a deep technical explanation, but there are several factors relevant to CRM use.

The major difference between elastic and inelastic collisions is that in elastic collisions kinetic energy is conserved, and in inelastic collisions it is not. But in both types momentum is conserved. So what are the implications for CRM?

First, we can all agree that no matter how good any workplace is, the operational setting is less than perfect. There is no way for us to expect that teams will have all information and do all necessary actions at the moment an “interaction opportunity” is created based on some action by a team member. The collision, in other words, won’t be elastic.

The inelastic collision, however, is a perfect scenario to describe what can happen when people in an organization are leveraging each other synergistically using a CRM platform. Remember, we don’t capture kinetic energy, but we do capture momentum. And momentum is the leverage we need to make each team member better than they were before they had a CRM platform.

Think of the CRM platform as a big ball and its users as smaller balls that are colliding with the big ball frequently. The kinetic energy is not captured in the big ball, but it does go somewhere. And many of the small balls will collide with some of the other balls—also known as day-to-day interactions between team members.

When the workflows, configurations, user interfaces, mobile environments, and collaboration capabilities in a CRM are configured correctly, there is a better chance of doing two things: directing the collisions (interactions) so that the smaller balls collide more frequently, and having the big ball (CRM) pushing more momentum into the little balls (users) as the level of activity increases.

But if there are problems with the platform, then some of the smaller balls are cut off from having interactions or colliding with the big ball easily—some would describe this as “friction.” And when people use the CRM sparingly, then there is just too little momentum being exchanged for everyone to gain a substantial benefit.

No scientific equation will ever fully deal with how people interact with each other, but the way platforms are designed can empower our employees to make each other more productive, and the impact usually equates to happier customers and more business. It’s elementary.

Danny Estrada is the founder of E Squared, a management consulting firm focused on sales team performance, and has been a CRM practitioner for the past 20 years. As a practice leader, he has guided teams through the implementation and development cycles of more than 500 CRM projects. He is author of the Practical CRM blog ?(http://blog.practicalcrm.net) and has served as a keynote speaker for companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, and Sage, discussing real-world application of CRM concepts. Estrada also holds an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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