The Right CRM Goals for Your Company

Updated: April 30, 2009

Next to strategy, setting goals is probably the most company-specific part of the entire CRM process. Your goals can't be canned, and they can't come from a template or a checklist. Choosing the right goals for your company takes some time and thought. The good news is the process isn't difficult, and it pays off big as you move through the CRM cycle .

A goal is a specific objective you want to achieve. A good goal is discrete, quantifiable and action-based. "Discrete" means the goal is stand-alone and doesn't depend on other factors. "Quantifiable" means you can reduce it to numbers or other specifics — unlike nebulous measures like "improved customer service." "Action based" means that the goal calls for specific actions on your part that will have a major impact on the outcome. A good goal will probably also lend itself to being broken down into sub-goals that support your goal and, ultimately, your strategy.

To see what constitutes a good goal, let's take that hardy perennial of New Year's resolutions: "This year I'm going to lose weight." As it stands, that's not a very good goal. It is at least quantifiable, in that when you step on the scale next January 1, you'll know whether you've met the goal or not. But it's not discrete because there are many different ways to lose weight, and losing weight ties into so many other parts of your life. Nor is it action-based, as it doesn't set out how you're going to lose weight. At best, that resolution is an objective, something you're going to try to do. At worst — as it is for so many people — it is merely a wish.

Now, let's take that objective and build some real goals around it. If, instead of saying "I'm going to lose weight," you said "I'm going to weigh 40 pounds less next January 1," you've set a specific, quantifiable goal. The next step is to turn that into an action-oriented goal, in this case by specifying sub-goals. Such sub-goals might include "I will exercise at least 20 minutes each day, every day," or "I will eliminate bedtime snacks."

Similarly, saying "I want CRM to increase sales" is a poor goal. Saying "I want CRM to help me increase sales-dollar volume by 20 percent in the next 12 months" is quantified and discrete. The action-oriented part might be something like, "I'm going to use CRM to help me increase sales-dollar volume by 20 percent in the next 12 months by doing A, B and C." Your goals should emphasize outcomes, not process. Increasing the number of sales calls is probably good. Increasing sales volume is much better.

While goals are highly individual, the process of generating good goals isn't. In fact, it's a straightforward, four-part process: Analyzing your situation, choosing and quantifying your goals and choosing the appropriate high-level metrics to measure your progress.

Analysis

This is where is all begins. Goals don't exist in a vacuum, so in order to set good goals you have to understand your current situation. You need to know where you are strong and where you are weak.

Analyzing your company, your market and your customers is the first step in setting effective goals. Typically, your first targets for CRM will be the areas where 1) you are weakest, and 2) improvements can have a significant bottom-line effect.

Do not assume you know this already. This is one of the major areas where companies, and managers, go wrong in a CRM effort. Because they think they know it all already, managers often end up setting the wrong goals. Even if their goals are met, the effect probably won't be what they expected.

It's imperative that you take the time to look at the numbers without preconceptions to see what's actually going on. Typically, you start the analysis by looking at the data you have on hand. By examining sales volumes, which customers you're selling to in what quantity, the time to close and other information, you can build a picture of your firm's strengths and weaknesses.

Don't be surprised if you find the analytical exercise tedious. It can be time-consuming if you have to do it by hand with only a spreadsheet. In fact, you're probably not going to be able to apply the process to all your data because of the time and effort involved. Instead, you'll probably have to settle for pulling a representative sample of months, transactions or whatever and only analyzing that. (Of course, once you've got a CRM sales-analytics module implemented, this kind of drill becomes much easier, if not practically automatic.)

Choosing Your Goals

Based on your analyses, you should have some idea of your organization's strengths and weaknesses. The next step is to choose goals that will meet your needs based on that information.

What you're concerned with in this step is the big picture. You want to find the areas where CRM can help you make bottom-line improvements . For example, "concentrate our efforts on increasing sales to our best customers" or even "install a system to identify our best customers" could be some appropriate goals to start with.

Quantifying Your Goals

The next step is to fill in those big-picture goals with details. The list you have now should be discrete, but the goals probably aren't quantified or expressed in actions. That's what you will do here.

Quantifying a goal can be tricky, because how you quantify it determines how you'll measure your progress, and that in turn will determine where your organization places its efforts.

Some goals, such as sales-dollar amounts, are easy to quantify. Others, such as customer satisfaction, are much more difficult to derive. The natural tendency is to concentrate on the easy-to-measure items and let the harder ones slide. However, if you're going to be successful, you can't really do this. You need to come up with ways to quantify the fuzzy stuff. Typically, what happens with hard-to-quantify goals, such as customer satisfaction, is that we rely on a stand-in or a surrogate — something that tracks the goal closely but is easier to measure. The good news is that there is extensive literature explaining what you can use as stand-ins. The bad news is that you need to give some thought to which of the suggested stand-ins will best serve your needs.

Finally, you need to make sure all of your goals are action-oriented. The action-oriented part of a goal broadly addresses how you will go about meeting the goal.

Metrics

CRM metrics are the measurements you'll use to track your progress toward your goals. Typically, they are expressed in numbers and range from simple items like average sales to complex composite indexes that tie together a dozen or more factors. CRM vendors offer literally hundreds of metrics to choose from.

While CRM metrics are a whole subject in themselves, there are several points to keep in mind when selecting the ones you'll use to monitor your success in meeting your goals:

  • Don't use too many metrics. While a single number probably won't give you enough information, don't swamp yourself with information. One of the advantages of CRM sales-management modules is that they're designed to organize a lot of information into easy-to-understand formats.
  • Pick metrics that support your goals. If your goals are fairly high-level, the metrics that support them should be high-level as well. You could easily include "miles driven by each salesman each week" as a metric, but while that might be relevant for something like determining territory sizes, it doesn't directly support your goals.
  • Expect metric-maximizing behavior. Or, as the saying goes, be careful what you measure, because you will get it. If people know they are being held to a standard, they will act to maximize that standard. That's great if you pick the right metric, but not so great if you pick the wrong one. For example, if you're tracking the number of sales calls, you can expect your sales force to try to make as many calls as possible. If your goal is to improve sales to your best customers, increasing the overall number of sales calls isn't particularly helpful.

Like so many things in CRM, the process of setting the right goals for your company isn't rocket science. It simply takes some thought and an organized approach. However, setting goals is vastly important, and it is worth the effort it takes.

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