Maximizing Your CRM Investment

The failure rate of CRM projects has been well documented. What's interesting is that many of the projects have failed because the most important part of CRM--relationships--has been overlooked. Now more than ever, the need exists for proven solutions that actually improve the relationship between employees and customers. For CRM to truly be effective, solutions must be designed and customized to fit with the unique business processes of each organization. Matching the sales, marketing, and customer care solutions to the business processes that are already in place will help ensure that the solutions are used, and used most effectively, to maximize the full benefits of the implementation and realize the return that CRM promises. What follows are seven tips that CRM projects should follow to guarantee successful delivery. These rules have been developed through conversations with companies that have successfully developed, deployed, and maintained CRM solutions for four or more years. Evaluation and Maintenance--As with most things in life, a CRM solution will only be successful if the organization is committed to long-term evaluation and maintenance. Develop a CRM steering committee incorporating key users from across the organization. The committee should be responsible for evaluating ongoing business requirements, customer requirements, and productivity enhancements that will enable the system to support the ongoing needs of the business and improve customer relations. The ongoing evaluation ensures that "relationship development" becomes a core value of the organization, and empowers users to adjust the business and their tools to the changing needs of customers. Smaller Deployments
--There are many benefits to deploying a series of small projects rather than fewer larger ones. In most business environments change is difficult. It takes time for employees to adjust to new business processes and a new set of applications. Smaller deployments enable employees and customers to adjust to new business processes and tools. Smaller deployments can also reduce overall project risk and complexity, and result in an ongoing pattern of success that motivates employees to make the most of the tools. Finally, smaller deployments can help prevent recreate-the-old-system syndrome. As users become more familiar with the CRM toolset, they are more apt to let go of functionality from older systems. Over time they will begin focusing on the how the new CRM tools can be used to improve their customer relationships and overall productivity. Choose Solutions You Can Support--There is no sense in purchasing a CRM solution if the internal staff can't support it. Select a product that leverages the organization's existing technology platform. This will reduce overall maintenance, software, and hardware costs. Next, ensure that the internal IT staff can support the product's technology. Reducing the learning curve and acceptance barriers from the IT staff will strengthen the overall success of project. Know Your Users--Many companies select a CRM product based on features rather than benefits to their users. Just as important as defining business processes is knowing what features are truly required by your CRM users: employees, partners, and customers (via Web portal). For example, implementing chat functionality will only reduce the cost of support inquiries if customers use the functionality. Just as important is knowing what functionality is critical to your internal employees--from integration with email and calendaring applications like Microsoft Outlook to offline capabilities and reporting. Understand Your Business--No one builds without a blueprint, but many organizations deploy CRM without understanding the business processes in place in their organization. Discovering critical customer interactions late in the project results in expensive redesigns, time delays, and at worst could invalidate the selected CRM solution. Defining business processes, understanding departmental interactions, and identifying bottlenecks will help employees better manage customer relationships and organizations select the CRM vendor whose product best meets employees and customers needs. Get Executive Management Involved--Management involvement is critical for two key reasons. As company leaders, management sets the overall strategic direction for CRM--including budget and delivery parameters--and ensures that the culture of customer service is incorporated in the organization from the top down. Equally critical is managements' empowerment of employees to both develop positive customer relationships and the corresponding systems that support and enhance those relationships. Relationships Are Key--CRM is ultimately about relationships, not technology solutions. Improving data integrity, management level reporting, and even employee productivity, while important are secondary benefits of a well thought out CRM process. Focusing on improving relationships enables organizations to develop more prospects into repeat customers, thereby increasing revenues, return on investment, and productivity. About the Author Richard Smith is vice president of delivery for Green Beacon Solutions, a mid-market CRM consulting firm. He can be reached at
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