• December 2, 2021
  • By Danny Estrada, Vice President of Consulting, Rare Karma

Front-Office Transformation: The Key to CRM Execution

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OVER THE past 20 years I have witnessed just about every conceivable implementation and re-implementation of CRM across many different types of enterprises. One of the most common challenges that companies face when they think about CRM is trying to understand the difference between a strategy, their goals, and the platform to support the entire effort. Flying in the face of those efforts are the mandates to hit revenue and growth targets by whatever means possible. So in many respects, CRM platform implementations and the intended objectives can compete with each other.

Without oversimplifying too much, this scenario is what has been playing out in companies since the dawn of customer relationship management. Having been on the implementation side of this equation many times, I have witnessed many of the same approaches. The two most common are these: making CRM a condition of employment; and sprinkling incentives across the organization for compliance. Neither of these are wildly successful because at the heart of the issue is the need to change the way people think in order to change the way they behave.

Enter the concept of front-office transformation (FOT), which is loosely described as a method for aligning a firm’s systems and processes to the different types of engagement that lead to closer connections with customers and their expectations.

Of course, that is a broad spectrum that also means dealing with the interaction between internal teams and breaking down some of the traditional barriers that exist in most companies.


I recently spoke with Alejandra Teran, founder of 10X Cloud Value and a longtime expert in creating centers of excellence around Salesforce for some of the world’s most prominent companies. “Companies need to have a shared vision of success, centered on the customer, and a prioritized technology road map that will enable the desired customer experience and achieve key business objectives,” she says.

This concept is a much bigger lift than most firms expect when deploying a CRM platform. And in many cases, recognizing this need comes way after the decision to implement a platform like Salesforce. “Companies often encounter some common challenges after they go live with a new CRM —low adoption, business processes that are still disconnected, data all over the place, to name a few,” Teran notes. “It takes business and IT leadership alignment, combined with a strong change management strategy, to drive new behaviors in people, and a team with experience in the platform to create value for the organization with agility.” I have witnessed this play out in way too many implementations.

Transformation is the key word when it comes to understanding the challenges with anything or anyone tied directly to the customer. The impacts are far-reaching because customers are constantly changing their goals and expectations. To satisfy those demands, you must have a deep connection to the customer; at the same time, you need to ensure that team members who deal with customers have the necessary resources at their disposal.

Priya Emmanuel, Managing Director of Front Office Transformation at KPMG, puts it well: “It’s customer experience from two different lenses. Transformation is a point in time in which we are trying to change how we are working. The first level is making sure that the customer’s experience is good and making a difference for our clients. The other lens is evaluating what we do to enable our partners and employees and help them with their challenges.” She adds that “transformation must become a continuous improvement.”

Emmanuel hits on several significant concepts: first, that many CRM deployments are introspective, focused on the needs of the firm but not on those of the customer; second, that what the customer needs should influence how the organization operates to fulfill that need; and third, that improving operational flow means making the process of helping customers more streamlined and efficient.


Now put that into the context of the past 18 months, in which the entire work environment has been turned on its head with the pandemic. It is highly unlikely that you will find anyone doing business the way they were in early 2020. Yet how many companies do you know that have successfully revamped their systems to reflect the needs of today’s workplace? This is a key aspect of how FOT can deliver substantial value.

Teran provides a great analogy when discussing front-office transformation’s potential opportunities. “If we use a restaurant example: Employees who directly interact with customers—from the host to people who take orders and deliver the food—would be the front office, and then the kitchen and other staff behind the scenes without direct interactions with customers would be the back office,” she explains. “Most companies had the intention to digitally transform both the front office and back office. The pandemic clearly accelerated years of wishful thinking and it tested businesses in every industry to transform the way they operate practically overnight. For businesses that were more reliant on in-person experiences, the front office is being put to the greatest test, and this is where you see the greatest potential to drive transformation.”

Taking this back to CRM, there are many aspects to how different, and challenging, things are for businesses in today’s world. Our customers are virtual, our teammates our virtual, and collaboration has never been more taxing. The breadth of capabilities and insights that current CRM platforms provide can help make them the operational heartbeat for organizations of all types.

But Emmanuel notes that CRM can’t be a deploy-it-once-and-forget-about-it solution. “The misconception is, when people talk about CRM, they are talking about a tool. When you implement a tool, you have the idea many times that you are [done] once deployed. CRM is about knowing the customer, how to improve the relationship by servicing them, and then being able to help the customer meet challenges and problems.”

The takeaway here is that if you take a hard, clear-eyed look at the current state of your CRM, you might find that it doesn’t really reflect the voice of the customer. And, taking into account the challenges people face in a remote work environment, your platform could end up becoming more of a burden than an asset. If either of these scenarios are the case with your CRM solution, a front-office transformation effort might be what it takes to make a difference in the minds and wallets of your customers. 

Danny Estrada is Senior Director, Sales Platforms, at KPMG and has spent more than 25 years helping organizations implement and adopt CRM platforms. Throughout his career, he has been an author and thought leader on adoption, as well as a speaker for many industry leaders like Salesforce and Microsoft. His experience includes leading a CRM consulting practice and serving as a management consultant across hundreds of CRM implementations. Estrada also holds an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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