CRM Is a Journey, Not a Destination
Shepherding a CRM project from inception to the first pilot and the eventual training and enterprisewide rollout is no small task. Yet the first day, week, or month of a CRM implementation that has reached its deployment milestone is actually still its infancy. The quick-hit positives or early frustrations of the first day, week, or hundred days are not the pinnacle, but merely a taste of what is to come.
Coordinating important customer-centric changes in sales, marketing, and service takes time, far more time than it takes to flip a switch on a database or distribute an on-demand sales-automation Web site. Learn from the example of several companies that have looked at CRM not as a quick-fix, but as an evolving business improvement.
Shifting Gears, Consistent CRM
Aventail, a provider of network encryption and virtual private network (VPN) products, began its CRM implementation in 1997, not a moment too soon for the fast-growing company. "We had no metrics on our sales pipeline, no metrics on the support process, and no way to determine how many quality leads we needed to put into the system to get the sales numbers we wanted," says Deb Weller, IT manager. The company chose Onyx to provide a single sales-and-service platform, but a funny thing happened on the way to 2005--Aventail's primary sales model changed not once, but twice.
Initially Aventail focused on software sales, but joined the early adopters of the on-demand model for hosted service delivery soon thereafter, meaning a fundamental shift from license sales to subscription sales. The company has since refocused on a network appliance product--back into the world of packaged products, this time with a hardware support component. "Our sales-and-support process has changed considerably, and we have morphed Onyx to accommodate the growth and the changes in the business process," Weller says.
The company has had to concentrate on the same basic principles of effective sales communication and support even as the target customers fluctuated wildly. Large enterprises tended to prefer the hosted service, while the VPN appliance often appeals to very small businesses. "Our sales pipeline looks a lot different, so we have ramped up our channel program," Weller says. In fact, Aventail has recently shifted to an entirely indirect model, but even though the end-user sales staff operates independently, sales managers are still charged with ensuring that the company message remains as consistent now as it was in 1997.
As a long-time user of a single CRM solution, Aventail had not been shy about keeping the lines of communication open to ensure that its shifting needs would be met. "Onyx is right across the lake, so we have made sure to keep in touch with them over the years," Weller says. Aventail's lesson is that CRM success is not the kind of victory that earns trophies, but is an accomplishment that sets the stage for continuing to win as the game changes. "We got to our goals--several times, in fact."
Slow and Steady
Investment bank Adams Harkness began its CRM project in 2001 as part of a push to create a common working platform for the business and its important customers and prospects. "I championed the CRM initiative, having come on board and realizing pretty quickly that we had an opportunity to aggregate all of our assets," says Bridget O'Brien, managing director. Having selected Interface Software, the bank decided to proceed cautiously with the introduction of new sales and marketing techniques. "There were other priorities that took precedence over CRM initiatives."
Since then, Adams Harkness has brought the members of its investment banking group online with the new processes. "They've been enabled to very easily leverage multiple communications programs, to increase the number of touch points they can bring to life for their clients, and it allows them to stay in front of their clients and prospects in a very effective way," O'Brien says.
So far, however, the CRM system has not been adopted in other areas of the business, such as equity research and sales. "The spread [to other business units] has not happened, quite frankly...how an investment banker operates is different from how an [equity] salesperson would act, and we are looking at how to further deploy InterAction as it relates to an overall road map."
Given the kind of money the bank asks from its clients, the firm is in no hurry to make waves before everyone in the organization is sure they are working toward the right goals. "So many CRM [strategies] are geared for a large sales organization selling a widget, but our business is a little different. We're consultants selling high-priced services," she says. "I think once we have full adoption and everybody is using it the way it should be used, we will start to see an ROI not just around the cost savings, but[also by] being able to identify a particular prospect faster or in a more relevant way. But these things take time."
Stepping on the Gas
When CRM magazine last spoke with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) in May 2004 (destinationcrm.com, "CRM Superstars"), the company was just moving into its fifth year of a five-year plan to improve business operations with a faster, more integrated method of handling sales and prospecting processes for internal representatives and insurance brokers. Since then CRM team leader and marketing consultant Andrea Cooling has continued to drive the company to compound its successes. "We had six different offices throughout the state, and it was a major undertaking going from a complete disconnect [to full integration]...but we accomplished that," Cooling says.
For a channel-dependent organization like BCBST, the task of making internal believers in CRM was relatively minor compared with the challenge of ensuring adoption from the feet on the street, the brokers who can sometimes be reluctant to change. In fact, Cooling says that getting the brokers on the SalesLogix system BCBST adopted was initially nothing more than "a dream. We started out with a very basic tool, just to get the bare necessities--then we started pushing out a little more," always focusing on improving the brokers' workflow. "Now, we are able to push the majority of our renewals out to brokers electronically, and don't have to mail, fax, or hand-deliver anymore."
Meanwhile, Cooling and her colleagues have moved ahead, converting a separate sales and marketing group that handles personal insurance accounts to switch to the new CRM system, and pushing for tighter integration with the company's back end policy-management application to eliminate any vestiges of double-entry. BCBST stayed the course with the same major revision of SalesLogix it started with, and Cooling says it was the right decision. "It's not that the newer versions aren't good, but we didn't feel we had reached the potential [of the current system] and hadn't stopped pushing SalesLogix to its limits."
That confidence and the reward of staying the course has played out in BCBST's bottom line. "In 2004 we had a record sales year, the best year we've had in the history of the company, and the majority of those accounts we sold were quoted through SalesLogix. We hope to exceed that this year," Cooling says.
Adapting to Terrain Changes
ADC, a telecommunications equipment and network services provider, looked to bolster its knowledge base and self-service capabilities in the late 1990s after the telecom boom increased the demand on its contact center. "We were trying to find out more information about our customers, more about their issues, so we could go back and look historically at the trends and form an analysis of what customers really want," says Candyce Anderson, ADC project manager. The company adopted Servicesoft (now owned by KANA), and not a moment too soon. "We were having an issue with [agents] having to remember things or look them up on a piece of paper--there was no centralized database to keep relevant information."
At first ADC carefully watched the changes in its contact center volume and attributed much of the variance to the success of the knowledge base--call volumes initially dropped considerably. Having learned from experience the company views its service trends holistically, regardless of channel. ADC also came to realize that the swings in fortune for its clients had a significant impact on the scope and frequency of customer contact. "In the telecom downturn our company reshaped, and the businesses we touch changed," says Ross Ruschmeyer, technical services manager. "We were growing really fast [before the downturn]. Now we're starting to grow again."
That is not to say that ADC has given up on the expansion of digital service channels. "In 1999 we never would have thought that email would be 50 percent of our customer contact," Anderson says. "But as we've had more calls and emails the hits on the knowledge base go up, and as we have less emails and calls the hits go down, and our goal has never been to have everybody go through the knowledge base."
The future of ADC's maturing knowledge-base program includes finding a way to gracefully deal with the embarrassment of riches the company now has in that department. "We really expected everybody to use the knowledge bases, but we have a challenge--over 40 [of them], so it's difficult for people to figure out where they should be searching," Anderson says.
Most important, ADC continues to look for ways to make its support options best reflect the needs of its customers, regardless of channel. "Back [in 1999] we thought we knew what the customers wanted, and I think one of the things we've found is that we don't always know--but we are trying to find out."
Over the past decade many financial services firms have seized on CRM strategies in an attempt to market more products to more people. Farm Credit Services of America (FCSA), a bank specializing in agricultural clients in the Plains states, has chosen to focus its long-term CRM goals on identifying its strongest offerings and aggressively bringing them to market.
"Our company throughout the 1990s was pretty stagnant with regards to growth, so we took a look at ourselves and the way we delivered products to customers, and asked our customers what they liked and disliked about us--and we frankly learned quite a bit about ourselves," says Jim Greufe, FCSA vice president. The company took concerns over the depth and accessibility of its services and people to heart, and embarked on a plan to narrow the product range while bringing banking directly to where its clients worked--closing a number of branches in favor of a mobile-banking sales force.
"We needed to change the old banking model of the last eighty years, where you put up a lot of brick and mortar and people come to you. We needed to go see them if we were to land their business," Greufe says. To support that goal FCSA began a Pivotal implementation in 2001, to improve data integration and the productivity of agents in the field. "It is the front door to our suite of other applications and the information about the customer, and we continually build more functionality off our CRM system so that our employees have all the information they need to take care of their customers."
By realigning its sales focus and becoming easier to do business with, FCSA has roughly doubled its asset base (with only about a one-third increase in employees), while improving its satisfaction rating and overall business worth. "We have a ways to go with our image, to build it to be as successful as we want--but one of the mistakes I have seen with CRM is that people go out and buy some software thinking that it's going to save them," Greufe says.
"CRM is a long-term strategy. It's your company's future, and anybody who thinks they've 'arrived' is only fooling themselves. We are three-and-a-half years into this, and we are still at the beginning."
Jason Compton is a freelance technology journalist based in Wisconsin