Is Your CRM Strategy More Important Than the Product Itself?

Updated: December 17, 2009

A recent survey conducted by CRM solution provider Avidian Technologies found that 70 percent of responding SMB decision-makers not only had not implemented CRM, but did not know what "CRM" meant. And among medium-size and larger businesses that have pursued CRM, lack of success, more online interactions with customers and competitive pressures are driving those companies to seek new ways to improve customer interactions.

Success with CRM promises many potential benefits, including the following:

  • One central location for customer information, so that anyone who picks up the phone can address each customer's unique needs in a personalized way
  • Greater efficiency for sales team members
  • Improvement in close rates by allowing sales people to leverage best practices quickly and consistently
  • Management visibility into sales forecasts, sales rep activities and marketing ROI

However, every business will realize these goals and others in very unique and specific ways. In fact, most businesses fail to achieve the stated objectives of their CRM implementations. This despite exhaustive technology selection processes in which a dizzying array of features are reviewed. Even after weeks and months of implementation and training most of the seemingly most valuable bells and whistles are not utilized significantly.

This is sometimes caused by failures or inconsistencies in the strategies used to promote CRM adoption internally. For example, salespeople and other end users are not likely to appreciate the value of "management visibility" in the same way that business leaders do. While it may be obvious to all involved that this or that new capability will benefit the business, it is always more difficult than expected to change the habits of the people involved.

If the business cannot identify the benefits of CRM implementation and use in very specific and measurable ways, end users will fail to change their behaviors and user adoption will be uneven at best. Senior business, marketing and sales management, meanwhile, will waiver in maintaining focus on and motivation toward consistent adoption of the CRM solution. This will constrain or eliminate the business value of the visibility into and measurement of CRM effectiveness and sales and marketing performance promised by CRM solutions.

Thus, an ineffective or incomplete CRM strategy can make even the most powerful CRM solution all but worthless to a business. Herewith, some specific steps to developing a CRM strategy for your business that avoids such pitfalls.

  1. State the high level objectives that you hope to achieve through use of a CRM tool.
  2. Decide how you will know if you're achieving your stated objectives - What measurable results should you expect to see?
  3. Consider what changes in end user behavior will be required in order for the business to reach these objectives and to capture and measure these results
  4. Weigh the costs vs. benefits for each end user role. This is not about the cost or benefit to the business but rather, for each end user, how will their individual productivity be improved compared to the "price" they pay as an end user in terms of learning new processes and software.
  5. For end users for whom the "costs" outweigh the "benefits," either adjust your expectations accordingly, find ways to add "benefits" into the process for those users or get prepared to provide strong motivation and training and accountability for them.

The objective is to tie the high-level business objectives and strategy to detailed expectations and goals of affected and involved end users as specifically as possible.

Once these end user expectations have been documented, you have a perfect set of "requirements" which can be used in selecting CRM technology. Any technology that cannot enable the appropriate end user workflows should be immediately taken off the list. In addition, awareness of these user needs and expectations can aid initial set up, customization and training tremendously.

For businesses that have already invested in CRM technology, the process of identifying and prioritizing user needs yields first and foremost an objective accounting of whether the current technology can support the business going forward. If the "costs" in lost opportunity or productivity of staying with the current technology are significant, then it's time to start searching for a new solution.

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