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Posts Tagged ‘customer relationship management’

Two factors often appear as critical elements of a successful CRM implementation.  We learn these lessons the hard way, whether we’re a customer or a service provider of CRM solutions.  Either way, they are important.

First, a well thought out, step-by-step implementation plan or methodology.  A typical outline of one of these would look something like this (we hit this in the prior post as well, but it bears repeating):

  • Identify the business objectives
  • Align the stakeholders (get buy-in)
  • Conduct a solution assessment (a roadmap, a pain chart, a process analysis)
  • Develop the solution (steps, processes, level of customization)
  • Plan the implementation (timetable, participants, testing)
  • Execute the implementation

As Mitchell Cannady, President of Spinnaker Network Solutions says:

“Without a well-defined and managed methodology, it is easy to understand why implementations fail.  The absence of any one of these steps leads to either the wrong system being put in place, or the right system with an undefined or misunderstood usage.”

The details of each methodology phase may move and change as part of the scope, but the principles don’t.  Each of the items above has its own unique elements to be addressed, and they are different for each company, starting with the basic objectives.  Each takes time and deliberation, from defining the vision to rolling out the solution.

The second key factor is a direct link to one of the execution principles above: training.

General system usage (h0w to launch, naviagate, etc.) can often be taught on a classroom basis, typically on-site.  But without specific, hands-on, individual (or small group) user training, projects can and do fail.  If the earlier solution assessment process engaged your users, then most of their basic needs should have been addressed as part of the solution.  When it comes time to train, it’s a matter of teaching users how to use, and where to look. 

The time spent on training can be recouped many times over if you get your users to understand their place in the system, better understand how to do their jobs, and better respond to their specific job requirements.  CRM at its best is intended to make it easer to take care of the customer.  Training empowers your team to do exactly that.  It’s not the place to skimp.

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No two CRM implementation methodologies are the same, nor need they be.  But most will encompass the basics framed by some of the following principles:

First, with a hat-tip to Stephen Covey’s success principles: Start with the end in mind.  In other words, establish the business objectives you hope to achieve by implementing CRM (or integrating CRM with your business management system).

Next, align your team.  We think it’s critical that the Top Guy/Gal in the organization be vocally and visibly on board with the initiative.  You will be asking people to change the way they do their jobs from this day forward.  Make sure it’s known that this initiative is mission-critical, key to the company’s growth, key to the staff’s future paychecks and company well-being, and that it is not optional.

Engage an outsider to do a focused assessment of your needs – a roadmap.  Look at your current processes.  Determine which are critical and which can be jettisoned.  Start with a blank piece of paper.  No sacred cows.  Or at least, very few of them – and then, only the ones in line with upholding the company’s key principles.  During this process, you look at (and for) processes and procedures, you question and analyze, and ultimately, you map those processes to the software and your future processes.  This is the essence, actually, of a term called Value Stream Mapping.

You look for specific pain points, specific opportunities for improvement.  This is the time to drag out the dusty wish lists that define how we might do things better.  You align the processes and the people with workflow and the software (and process, and people) steps required to accomplish the specified objective.  A flow chart is the ideal tool for these steps.  Start with the How We Do It Now flowchart, and evolve it into the How We’ll Do It in the Future flowchart.

Once the flowchart is set and agreed upon – and by this point, you will likely have invested several weeks and probably a hundred or more labor hours in the effort – then you can start evaluating appropriate software tools.  Ideally, if one is available, you want to work with the software that is supported by your current business management system – assuming you plan to keep that system.

Build your plan.  With software identified, you need to identify who will implement, which department goes first, what the timeline will be, and how you will ensure that while all this is going on, that people still have time to do their ‘real jobs.’  Along with this process, you need to identify who does what, what your provider will do and what you will do.  This, in turn, will drive the project cost estimate.

Execute.  It usually helps to think in smaller (or departmental) phases.  Don’t tackle phase two until you are reasonably comfortable that your designated phase one is good to go.  Keep looking backwards: did we accomplish each desired project benchmark.  How are the users feeling?  Are users conforming to the usage requirements established at the project’s outset? 

Like The Boss says: Two steps up, one step back.  To make it happen requires a lot of prior thought, good planning, and then training.  We’ll look at that next.

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Most companies we see look something like this: The company grew, many times successfully, from a small startup into a much larger and more successful one.  Along the way, they developed systems that, well… simply worked for them.  And so they built spreadsheets and accounting systems and work-in-process tracking systems or inventory spreadsheets or custom production programs or a homegrown quoting system… or all of the above, and more.

And then one day they realize that all the company’s information is spread across, no lie, about ten different patchwork systems. 

And for the most part, nothing talks to anything.

Sales uses a sales force automation system, and maybe a quote generator and a sales pipeline tool.  Operations runs via any number of proprietary tools (spreadsheets, homegrown, etc.)  The company may rely on some version of Outlook for email.  They may have a website, but it probably has nothing to do with, say, inventory tracking or customer knowledge or selling product or… making some money.

Not surprisingly, CRM over the years has become a tool not so much for tying all these disparate elements together, but for at least, having a window into them.  At least everyone can have relatively the same access into client communications, proposals, letters and the like. 

What’s usually missing here, though, is a coherent strategy. 

CRM is a strong first step towards establishing some common protocols by which to gain common organizational insight into the working relationships with the firm’s customers.  And if that CRM system is one that is integrated under the umbrella of some suite of software that embraces the firms other activities – accounting, inventory, payroll, manufacturing, distribution, and so on – then for the first time, the company has a real shot at building the foundations for a truly integrated workflow solution for the company as a whole.

And that is about as good a definition for a 21st century enterprise system as you will probably ever need to find.

So next up, let’s take a look at a few elements of a well-defined CRM implementation methodology.

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In my prior post, I noted four areas of most businesses that could benefit quickly and significantly from a CRM investment. 

Well, one of our vendors (give credit to Sage Software for this one), came up with a simple but good list of how companies benefit from implementing CRM in those sales and marketing areas noted earlier.  As a marketing piece from SageCRM notes…

The true customer visibility of CRM (and that is what CRM is all about, isn’t it) enables:

1. Sales teams to maximize their revenue potential through the identification of latent cross-sell and up-sell opportunities within their customer base.

2. Sales representatives to book orders correctly, first time, every time, by providing them with access to the account, pricing, and stock information they need to do their jobs effectively.

3. Customer service representatives to address customer queries with confidence by providing them with the shipping, invoicing, and returns information that they need to do their jobs effectively.

4. Customer service managers to ensure that their customers are current on maintenance and service contracts, and that their service level agreements are delivered on a profitable basis.

5. Marketing executives to carry out detailed financial segmentation on their customer base to support highly targeted and effective go-to-market programs.

6. Marketing managers to calculate “real-world” return-on-investment from their marketing programs.

In short, visibility over customer purchase history, invoice history and shipping history are a window into improved customer knowledge, better customer service, and improved upsell opportunities – all shared by your team across one, company-wide, mission critical tool: CRM.

This front-to-back office integration of CRM to the business management tool you employ is not quick and simple.  It all requires a strategy, a plan, and training.  We’ll start to cover some of those in our next post.

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As noted in our prior post, CRM means different things to different people.  Even within a company, it can take on several distinct functions.  A broad-brushstroke view of four key areas we see clients benefiting from CRM include the following…

Sales:

Equal to or more than anything, companies use CRM to establish and monitor sales-based activities.  This includes new account penetration; sales pipeline analysis; current customer interaction tracking; and other sales automation tasks.  The idea is to improve sales performance and close ratios through better monitoring of all customer interactions.  That is, better profits through better customer knowledge.  CRM can provide instant information on the entire sales cycle, from first contact to final sale.  You can store emails sent and received, proposals, letters, templates, recordings of conversations… essentially, any contact or interaction with that client over which you want to have visibility.  Just as importantly, it makes that information (with proper access authorization) available to everyone in the company who should have that information.

Marketing:

Companies use CRM to manage all aspects of their marketing campaigns.  You can view activities, programs, objectives, leads generated, expenses and follow-up activities.  You can plumb the database for only those clients with certain common characteristics and then target a direct mail, or email, or phone campaign specifically towards those clients who have a common need that might be well served by your solution.  It gives you a tool by which to cost effectively manage your marketing dollars with more of a rifle (vs. a shotgun) approach.  And again, it lets you track everything.

Customer Care:

You can use CRM to manage repair tickets, warranty claims tracking, in-house or external support programs.  Your customer service team will have enterprise-wide, instant access to the body of knowledge stored in your CRM, thus enabling them to provide better, more accurate advice, knowledge or service, all from a common view of understanding that client.  Track calls and their escalation, emails, other communications, actions taken, dates of response, and so on.  You end up providing faster, more accurate and less costly support responses to your customers.

Mobile Solutions:

Real-time access to your CRM solution can provide invaluable benefits.  Salespeople can have web-browser access from the road.  Execs can get real time insights about customer activity while away.  It may take some time to develop and customize, but mobile access is a reality that provides a competitive advantage.

If they’re not already obvious we’ll spell out a few of the key benefits of these initiatives in my next post.

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[Slight Change: New blog posts will now be published twice weekly, generally on Tuesdays and Thursdays.]

CRM.  It means many different things to many different people.  What is it, why is that important to me, and what would I use it for?

Since CRM today is much like, say accounting software or spreadsheets were to the 1980s and 90s, we thought we’d explore why Customer Relationship Management is becoming the backbone of so many companies today.  To stretch the anatomical metaphor: if accounting was the lifeblood, CRM is becoming the spine, the nerve structure from which so much else flows.

CRM is a catch-all phrase for software that tracks interactions.  Lots of types, and lots of interactions.  In our experience, clients use it in about as many ways as there are clients, including the tracking of all interactions with their customers… tracking the progress and success of a new marketing campaign… using it in call-center or support tracking activities… tracking new prospects through the pipeline for sales forecasting and reporting… creating email campaigns… creating mail-merges… tracking warranty claims… generating service tickets or tracking service contracts… managing a knowledge base… the list goes on an on.

In our firm, we use it more than anything to track customer interactions over an extended period of time, probably upwards of ten years now.  With our internal CRM, anyone in the company can see the latest interactions with any client at any time.  Emails, proposals, call summaries, questions, issues, problems – all are logged and tracked within each client or prospect’s history, along with contact names and all the particulars. 

That’s particularly useful in tracking the progress of, say, a project proposal, when you want to see the back-and-forths that have occurred over several months (or years), and who said what to whom.

Likewise, it’s useful for marketing purposes.  We specialize in manufacturing and distribution, so we can segment by customer type, size, geography, etc., and target a mail or email campaign.  When we want to reach out to our prospect and client base (we can of course distinguish between the two and segment accordingly), we can do so effectively in minutes. 

Interestingly, no two clients seem to use CRM the same way, though there are some common threads, like tracking customer interactions generally, or segmenting a base for marketing purposes.  The companies who embrace CRM do it almost without a second thought.  It’s part of the DNA of the culture.  How else could we run our business, they seem to say, if we don’t have a deep understanding of our clients and our interactions with them?

But there’s a catch: it’s hard, at least in the beginning.  It’s not a software thing, not a tech thing – it’s a cultural thing.  It has to start at the top, with the CEO, who above all should understand the gold that lies in a well managed customer relationship.  It has to come from the top down, not from the bottom up, or it’s doomed to fail. 

More on that in our next few posts.  Stay tuned.

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In a recent article in the February issue of CRM Magazine by the above title, author Lior Arussy makes a great point via a story, that I’ll briefly paraphrase below.

Guy has a ticket for a flight but at the airport ahead of time, he asks to change it to an earlier flight, so he can catch his daughter’s basketball game back home that night as he’d promised her he would.

He’s filled with trepidation, fear of The Big No, problem attitudes and all the rest of the anxiety you might fear in the same situation.  He really wanted to be at that game to put that smile on his daughter’s face.

A few clicks and calls later, the agent was able to swap his ticket and secure him the last available seat on that flight.  He made his daughter’s game.  Mission accomplished.

It’s a true story, Arussy points out.  But his greater point is this: “It’s the story of why companies too often fail to grasp the whole concept of the customer experience.”

When employees simply operate the process, or fulfill the customer transaction and the company is “merely the sum total of the transactions it completes,” the view of the customer gets lost.  Thus, what you sell is not what they buy.  In our story above, selling the ticket wasn’t the issue.  The customer experience was one of gratitude and appreciation, no doubt.  Think he’ll fly that airline again?

We all need to become more customer-centric, and appreciate how our product or service influences, or even changes, our customers’ lives.  Where do we fit?  What dreams do we fulfill?  What are the consequences of failing to satisfy the customer?  What impact will an exceptional experience have on the customer?

In our field, it’s a tough business.  Expectations are oh-so-high, while capability to deliver is oh-so-complex, and often low.  Still, it’s pretty hard to position “We Rarely Let Our Customers Down” as your competitive advantage. 

It comes down to this.  You have to really be able to look at your customers, look at their expectations, and open yourself to creating interpretations of what it means to satisfy that customer.  It’s an individualized experience. 

And in my experience, it has to come as much from the hearts of your company’s people as it does their heads.

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