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Your CRM consultant has been with you through it all: conducting an in-depth business-process analysis, setting ROI metrics, fighting through setbacks during the implementation, surviving the headaches surrounding user-adoption issues. And now that your initial CRM implementation is complete it's time for the consultancy to move on, right? Wrong.

Long after an implementation is complete a CRM project may still need adjustments and customization that can be beyond the grasp of an in-house IT team. "Eighty percent of CRM consulting is phase-two work," says Ben Holtz, CEO of CRM consulting firm Green Beacon. "Most companies these days are evolving rapidly, and their technology and business processes need to change as well."

Whether they be independent consultants or the services arm of a CRM vendor, service providers can help companies implement CRM in phases to see the quick wins industry-watchers have been touting, to avoid snafus when integrating the CRM system with other areas of the business, to educate users to maximize a CRM system's functionality, and to smooth the transition to a new version of a CRM suite. But what role a service provider plays depends on each organization's specific needs and capabilities.

The Quick-Win Scenario
More and more companies are opting for a phased CRM implementation, instead of embarking on an enterprisewide project. "A few years ago people were thinking big and buying big, and that was just too much change to take into account," says Adam Klaber, partner and global CRM leader for the Americas, IBM Business Consulting Services. "Now companies are trying to do it right."

And CRM service providers are there to see that all the little projects tie into a grand scheme.
"We try to suggest that companies implement CRM in the smallest chunks possible," Holtz says. "That way phase one is not too encompassing and you can set specific ROI objectives quickly, then fine-tune later."
Even if a business chooses to install a whole CRM suite in one go, all the functionality needn't be launched immediately, he says. Functionality can be introduced and adopted in stages, and the service provider that supported the initial implementation can return as each stage goes live, to help ensure its successful integration, adoption, and usage.

In either case companies will need to periodically fine-tune their CRM software and strategy, based on their evolving business needs. Service providers can support this in the form of scheduled "health checks," Klaber says.

Not many companies perform health checks, Klaber says, but he feels strongly that they should. Monitoring regularly can help catch small glitches and problems before they add up to a long list of tasks that can make for expensive, time-consuming adjustment periods.

Even some vendors agree that fine-tuning is necessary. As they embrace a more life-cycle approach to the sales process, they are starting to include checkups as part of their license

One example is RightNow, whose hosted customer service product includes monthly tune-up calls designed to maximize the functionality of the product. "The point is not to show a company what is causing problems, but simply how to fix it," J.D. Pahre, an e-services consultant at RightNow, says of the tune-ups.

When RightNow customer Thule, a manufacturer and marketer of car racks for skis, bikes, and other sporting equipment, saw that it wasn't getting the best results from the self-service section of its Web site, it participated in a RightNow tune-up call. Thule was seeking to reduce the number of emails and phone calls coming in from current and prospective customers, thus freeing operators from having to answer routine questions. By conducting the tune-up session Thule saw that it could improve how it presents its self-help pages to better navigate users towards using that option.

"RightNow suggested many changes to our interface that had nothing to do with our RightNow software," says Thule Marketing Manager Steve Doviak. "As we discovered after we made them, those suggestions turned out to have a powerful impact on the effectiveness of the site at meeting the needs of customers."

The results? Incoming emails dropped by almost 60 percent after making some adjustments, even as site traffic doubled. Customers use online guides more frequently, which has cut down on call volumes and has freed operators' time for issues that truly demand personal attention.

Pahre says success like this happens because the calls usually examine the customer company's use of the product in terms of its prestated goals, making sure that everything from Web-site design to navigation, and even how many items are in a self-service drop-down bar is in line with those goals.

A company's overall goals should continuously be considered during a phased implementation, according to Bruce Culbert, senior vice president and global practice leader for CRM at consulting firm BearingPoint. "You have to work in a constant cycle of delivering incrementally against the total vision of a company," he says.

The Upgrade Question
Culbert says a phased implementation must conform to a larger road map of business process optimization, and so should the upgrade patterns of a CRM system. "We try to identify what the new functionalities are in an upgrade, and see if they add to the business value of the CRM system at large," he says.

Sometimes, after conducting an analysis of a new product, the best path is not to upgrade. If anything, seeking ways to better utilize existing functions is what is really needed, according to Culbert. Working closely with a service provider, companies can make upgrade decisions that are more in line with their CRM goals.
But as Holtz put it, eventually every company's CRM software becomes obsolete, because business processes change or vendor support simply ends for that version. "New advancements in the way companies do business, like email marketing, Web portals, and using analytics, require upgrades to the CRM system," he says.

Sometimes upgrades or updates to the system may be necessary right after the initial implementation, at which time a services firm's assistance may be invaluable. This was the case with PolyCom, a voice and video communications technology firm that implemented a PeopleSoft CRM solution using PeopleSoft Global Services (PSG) as the consulting firm for the project.

"The people at PSG identified a bug during our launch that would have affected the functionality, and we would not have seen as great a return," says Chris Walsh, director of service technologies at PolyCom. "It proved for us the advantage of having the vendor as the service provider."

The inside connection that PSG consultants have with the PeopleSoft CRM engineers made the upgrade and patching process significantly shorter, cutting what could have been a month-long process to just one week, according to Walsh.

Integration Issues
Much like a system upgrade, integrating a CRM system with back-end software or an acquired data mart may occur long after the original implementation. This is a common time for organizations to call upon consultants to help ensure a smooth integration process and to make sense of the seemingly endless amounts of coding and other IT considerations involved.

According to Culbert, as companies seek greater visibility across the sales spectrum integration projects have become a requirement. "The link between CRM and the supply chain is critical," he says. "Companies are looking to take customer interactions and easily satisfy the needs of that interaction throughout the enterprise."

Integrating transactional data with customer information can also help separate profitable customers from those that are simply too costly to serve. And according to Culbert, consultants can help put an intuitive, integrated system in place more smoothly than one created in-house.

When consultants do the integration work they are focusing on just that, integration, while the IT staff is juggling several disparate projects, according to Culbert. Thus the integration can be completed more quickly, and sometimes for less money.

Green Beacon's Holtz adds that staffing considerations have called for outsourcing integration efforts at many companies: "An IT staff is too valuable in other capacities to spend time trying to integrate systems."

Continuing Education
After all these upgrades, integrations, and phased-in features, navigating a souped-up CRM system can sometimes be fairly difficult. Add this to the fact that turnover among call center agents and other CRM users can be high, and it becomes clear why some organizations are asking their services firms to get involved in educating users on how to optimize the CRM system on an ongoing basis.

Gone are the days of simply having one lengthy training session immediately following an implementation, according to Bill Henry, vice president of market strategy at PeopleSoft Global Services. As services firms increasingly take a more life-cycle management approach to CRM systems, they try to create an involved relationship in which training is ongoing.

Call center outsourcer Affina has been using a hosted version of Oracle 11i to handle a sizable portion of its
28 million client interactions per year. Victor Burgess, vice president of alliances at Affina, says that Oracle Consulting keeps users trained on all the latest functionality, which has given Affina an edge.

"By understanding new functionality before it is even introduced, we can start developing new service offerings based on what these functions can do," Burgess says.

In addition to coaching companies on new functionality, consultants can use training to help organizations address adoption issues. BearingPoint's Culbert says that service providers can help not only to educate possibly reluctant users, but also to help devise incentive plans. "The trick is to come up with little things that make users really want to use the system," he says. Bonuses and other company perks for the most entries made into a system or the most deals closed using a newly introduced module can make the education process more interactive and attractive, he adds.

IMI Bevcore Solutions, which provides supply chain management (SCM) services to the beverage and food service industries, underwent an involved PeopleSoft implementation. The company was taking on PeopleSoft Financials, SCM, human resources management systems, and CRM solutions, and knew that educating associates and ensuring that they adopt the new systems would be no easy task.

To help ease the transition IMI Bevcore worked closely with PeopleSoft's services division to develop an appropriate training strategy. This included regular meetings between both PSG and IMI Bevcore to determine their training goals, as well as strategy meetings to tweak the training process so that it best fit with the business process inherent to the beverage industry.

"The transfer of knowledge from PeopleSoft to our staff was a high priority. Our team attended PeopleSoft Education and worked side by side with the PeopleSoft consultants," says Dave Womeldorf, CTO at IMI Bevcore. "Toward the end of the project the consultants became focused on the transition. The consultants wanted to leave the engagement with a well-prepared IMI Bevcore team. I felt secure that the IMI Bevcore team was ready."

Womeldorf adds that the company has PeopleSoft consultants come in to instruct ongoing training sessions for new hires to quickly acclimate them to the intricate system. He says PeopleSoft consultants' "inside track" with the PeopleSoft product developers ensures the most authoritative training possible.

The education process never truly ends in a life-cycle approach to CRM, according to Culbert, just as the integration projects, upgrades, and support issues will constantly need to be addressed. For these reasons service providers and customers will continue to make more and more long-term agreements.

As more service providers hop aboard the life-cycle CRM--management bandwagon, customers' expectations rise. Companies looking for a CRM service provider should consider those that offer the following:

  • Regular CRM--system health checks: These ensure the system is performing as expected.

  • Periodic ROI reassessments: As initial goals are met, companies need to set new goals and put metrics in place to see that they are continually met.

  • Systematic approaches to education: As business grows and employee turnover remains a problem, service providers can help alleviate training headaches by offering continuing education courses, as well as a structured training process that a new hire can begin at any time.

  • Proactive upgrade assessment: Services firms can use their in-depth knowledge of a vendor's latest version to more honestly gauge if a customer truly needs to upgrade to the new version, or if functionality exists in the present version to meet a customer's needs into the future.

  • Integration solutions: A company's IT staff is a precious resource. Services firms can be called on to execute major tasks like integration, while in-house IT staff can pay better attention to ensuring existing systems run at top speed. --M.S.

    Contact News Editor Martin Schneider at mschneider@destinationCRM.com

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