• July 1, 2005
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Breaking Down the Silos

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What Are Silos, Anyway? One of the key elements of any CRM plan is integration, the unification of all your company's data sources to create a single, holistic view of each customer. While technology is most often used to make this happen, integration is just as dependent on behavior. Silos refer not only to isolated data structures, but also to the sort of thinking that creates and maintains them. Imagine the multiple departments of a given business working alone. Marketing collects only the information it needs to identify and successfully put products and services before the public eye. The sales department pays attention to which leads have been explored, who has been converted from lead to customer, what they bought, and for how much. Customer service tracks only those customers who call in with questions and complaints, noting the specifics of what those customers have bought from the company, the nature of their needs, and whether the issue was successfully resolved. What's wrong with that? What's wrong is that marketing doesn't know that sales is using a pitch that doesn't touch on key elements of the campaign. The sales team doesn't know where its leads are coming from and misses important links in the relationship chain. Customer service hasn't been informed of new product and service promotions, or the wave of new calls they will bring. Each time a customer interacts with the company, that department has to provide the same information over and over again, duplicating effort and wasting time. In short, all the important information is stuck in isolated towers that are inaccessible to any department but the one that built it. Unless each department has free and easy access to all of the information available on customers, both singly and as a group, they're operating in silos, and that's not efficient. Worse, it's frustrating for everybody involved--customers and employees alike. Imagine that sales is making great numbers, but service is losing the customers sales brings in or is downselling them to less expensive products and services. A look at the big picture allows a company to see that, for example, the call center is not to blame, so firing managers and instituting new policies won't fix the problem. You might be doing the right thing, or the problem might actually lie with sales selling based on the commission it wants to make and not what will best serve the customer. Service does the right thing by restructuring the deal or parting with the customer in good faith, but gets punished for it. Employees wind up with reduced productivity and limited job satisfaction; customers start to consider jumping ship to a company that knows how to take care of them. Silo demolition 101 CRM is a strategy and a mindset, as well as a technology. The reason for the old technology misconception is that while using a good CRM process is behavioral, it's most easily visible in the computer systems a company uses to manage its data. Traditionally, CRM has been about breaking down silos by integrating sales, service, and marketing. This can build a silo of its own, as CRM becomes separate from everything else, according to Gautam Parasnis, partner in the CRM practice of IBM BCS. "For true service transformation," Parasnis says, "we need to look at more than just those three factors themselves--we must consider how the departments are organized, where [supply chain management] fits in, any interaction between the enterprise and its partners and customers." According to Parasnis, the most common failures he has seen with CRM implementations are usually human in nature. "Think of integration as three easy pieces: people, processes, and technology. Tech is a tool, and SOA means that discrete elements are no longer a barrier to integration," Parasnis says. Processes are the link between technology and people. "Business processes that were driven by departmental efficiencies will evolve to serve company-wide needs instead." Therefore, the problem comes with people, their individual drives and the culture they develop. "Integration breaks down organizational boundaries," Parasnis says, "and makes everybody more accountable for the success or failure of the venture. A vice president of sales who is compensated on his department's figures isn't going to want to switch to a system where other departments affect those results."
Pleasant surprises Accountability is a topic that extends beyond the organizational structure for some businesses. International Standards Organization (ISO) 9000-certified companies, for example, need to judge their performance against customer feedback and adjust their processes in order to maintain certification. Neil Montgomery, president and CEO of Davis Controls Ltd., sums up the inherent problem: "The people who respond to our surveys or provide other feedback usually have an axe to grind." Process controls and industrial automation products distributor Davis Controls needed a way to remove that negative bias from its ISO oversight process. Fortunately, the company had been working with Exact Software on an ongoing integration project using Macola ES and e-Synergy, and Exact was able to recommend a solution. "Exact is building a questionnaire system that we can use while the customer is still on the phone. The results of the survey will roll directly into our ISO report," Montgomery says. Davis prepurchased Exact Business Analytics, a sort of 3-D Excel, for fast sharing of complex, structured information, including the report data. In addition to increasing the value of ISO reporting, the integration process has enabled the sales team to turn over more business than ever before; it's handling up to 50 percent more work per person, and turning deals around faster. The integration with its ERP system gives a complete picture of customers, not just a list of opportunities. Last year was Davis's best since the company was founded, in 1933. If integrating front- and back-end data still sounds iffy, consider the pleasant surprise Scott Kinka, director of e-business for ATX Communications, received when he started considering the prospect. Before implementing Salesnet, the superregional telecommunications provider "had used a number of different approaches to integrated CRM over a five-year plan, and all of them had pretty much failed," Kinka says. ATX was left with a Web-based spreadsheet built in-house, which was just a management tool. "It worked, though, so more modules were built onto it. In the end we had a proposal system that worked fairly well, but the rest of our CRM system was too spotty and needed too much work to be worth keeping," Kinka says. "Some of our salespeople were assigned to look around for the best answer to our problems, so they were already knowledgeable and certified [about Salesnet] before we started the integration," Kinka says. "I worked with those sales reps, and we figured that Salesnet could lick the majority of our needs in ninety days." A three-month implementation period is fairly quick for a big service-oriented organization like ATX. One of the things that made it a smooth process was that "Salesnet's workflow management engine fit our business model better than our homegrown system did," Kinka says. In the old sales process, salespeople aimed for milestones to move the process forward. The problem was that ATX relied entirely on the salespeople's judgment as to whether they'd reached a milestone. Salesnet enforces better sales behavior by showing them where they are in the sales process and what more needs to be done--no more subjective judgments. Apparently, it's what the sales team wants, Kinka says. "We've gone from fifty percent usage of our old system to one hundred percent adoption with Salesnet." In addition, using Salesnet frees up resources. "We had twenty developers maintaining our internal system; when we implemented Salesnet, all those specialists were able to turn their attention elsewhere." Like Davis Controls, ATX has regulatory issues to contend with because of the nature of its business. "The rules for local phone service have changed a lot over the years, so we have to be much more strategic about whom we pitch," Kinka says. Salesnet was able to tie customer data into a locality-mapping tool, which shows the precise location of a client site in relation to the ATX central office. "This way, we can see if they'll even be profitable as customers and if our service will be worth it to them," he says. It also shows salespeople where the competition is strong. The field sales force got another handy tool out of it: an appointment manager. For instance, if a rep has an appointment somewhere, it will show a map of all the other unsold leads in a five-mile radius, so sales agents can maximize their time while offsite. They can also see existing customers to visit in that area or name-drop them for testimonials. Tying it all together The advantages of integration are clear. Information silos are more than just inefficient, they hinder a company's ability to serve customers and succeed with its strategy. Without a unified view of the customer, marketing, sales, and service/support departments will all be working in the dark, chasing goals that don't fulfill the organization's broader ones. Integrating the way workers share information across business functions ensures that everybody is looking at the same numbers and has a consistent view of the customer. As the examples show, however, the potential benefits are far greater. Better communication leads to improved morale and a sense of contributing to the entire business effort. Workflow becomes more efficient when nobody has to enter the same data over and over again. And, whether it's new tools for the field sales force, better regulatory oversight, or a real-time view of company performance and up-to-date forecasts, many may be surprised by the hidden benefits. SUCCESS STORY: Stratus Technologies Implements Salesforce.com CRM Services An conversation with Greg Enriquez, senior vice president of field operations; Joe Graves, CIO, IT director; Larry Humphreys, sales operations consultant. CRM: What was your old system like? Joe Graves: We had a mostly manual sales process. We had no information on customers or prospects until they placed an order. We used Excel for 'SFA lite'--it was our forecasting backbone, which was plugged into a Web page and sent to the executives. We had pockets of information that didn't tie to anything. There was no sharing, and lead management was problematic. When an account manager would leave, the leads left, too. Greg Enriquez: The homegrown forecasting tool was about it. One of the first questions that executives asked was, 'When will we get a CRM tool?' Salesforce.com has become the lifeblood of our internal organizations, which were very much siloed. CRM: What drove the choice? Larry Humphreys: We looked at several vendors and eventually chose Salesforce.com because one price gets us several modules. There's sales, of course. Marketing gives us much better Web-to-lead capture. Legal has a central database for contracts now, so we can track terms, when they expire, and the related purchase order. We signed up with them in July, and went live 52 days later. CRM: So how has it worked out? LH: Before implementing Salesforce.com we had about 90 people using this system, mostly salespeople. Now it's closer to 190, including marketing and finance, worldwide. GE: The weekly forecast meeting for VPs has seen some interesting changes because of the integration. On the one hand, Salesforce.com was able to take all the data, and even the style, of our old forecasting tool and make it part of the new system. But it's real time now, so we've had to learn to decide when to pull our numbers for the meeting. People always want information instantly, but ironically we can get the information too quickly if we're not careful. JG: In any given week more than 60 percent of our users log in to the system at least once, but we didn't have to force our people to use the system: Once we went live, they started using it on their own to manage the tasks they were already doing. Now we're all looking at the same numbers, so we don't ever have to argue over mismatched data. We react faster when a prospect comes to our site requesting a white paper or a call. GE: It's a closed-loop process now instead of a lot of start-stop. We can determine strategy, launch the marketing campaign, gather leads and follow them to closure, then repeat. And we watch the progress as it happens. LH: We maintain a consistent picture of the customer, including whether they met us at an event, sent us an email, or came to our Web site. We have activities and to-do lists visible to all users. There are more than 4,000 items in the queue at the moment, so anybody who's involved can see the status of an account and knows what to do next. It's made the difference between salespeople and a sales team. --M.L. Contact Senior Writer Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com
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