Why a successful CRM needs strategy

I have previously explained my view that the true value of any CRM implementation lies in its ability to provide data to processes across other systems, both internal and external, making it a solution rather than a tool.  As suppliers and customers communicate with your company across more services, it’s vital to be able to access this information, but integrating so many diverse touchpoints can be time-consuming and complex.

As a result, rather than the traditional feature-based approach to choosing a CRM vendor, you might have better results by choosing a CRM based on its ability to integrate with your business processes.

What is CRM for?

The question is, “what is a CRM for?” This is more complex that it first appears, as the CRM is a tool which can be used in different ways by different people.  That’s the trap many first-time (and indeed many others) CRM customers fall into: looking at the CRM implementation from the perspective of one type of business user, or only superficially considering how it affects others.  For example:

CRM systems’ dashboards provide an excellent way for management to get asense of what is happening in sales.  Management can track opportunities, run forecasts, and even see differences in the way salespeople work.  The problem is that this information may not be helpful, and can easily lead to a data-focused micromanagement view.  One company I did consultancy for used its management dashboard to track how frequently salespeople logged into the system, in order to encourage adoption.  That’s not very useful if you’re trying to force sales to use a tool they either don’t understand or doesn’t add value.  Also, this is only a small part of the bigger picture, and ideally management should be able to see the big picture which often requires data to be pulled from multiple systems.
The attitude, “if it’s not in the CRM, it doesn’t exist” is certainly important, but to get the most out of your CRM it must be easy to get information in.  This is why mobile CRM apps like Salesforce1 make it easy for salespeople to log calls on the go.  Ideally, you also want a record of all conversations between the customer and your company; this could include marketing people or customer support on social media pages.  So the customisation you need today goes far beyond the ability to add custom fields, instead it’s about the ability to truly capture your business processes.
From a sales perspective, CRM is often treated as a repository of customer data and interactions.  While that’s very interesting for reporting and dashboards, don’t forget that in order for salespeople to sell, they have to be able to activate business processes and feed the correct information into them.  As automating many of these processes makes them more efficient, it also means that the entire back-end process needs to be integrated, so that your process can access data from multiple systems.

This means that a CRM is many things to many people, and looking at your own company you can probably add several more to my list.  However there is one thing that it is not, and that is a tool which can exist in isolation from the business.

A customer of mine carried out their first CRM implementation a few years ago and they consider that it failed because integration was not at the core of the project.  In this case, “failed” means that although the CRM works perfectly well, they are unable to provide real-time relevant management analytics, and sales see it as a management hoop to jump through rather than delivering value.

They believed that all the capabilities they needed would be available “out of the box” but in reality this is seldom the case.  Although most CRM systems do indeed come with the most typical functionality customers need, this doesn’t mean you can just use an “out of the box” implementation and gain the full value from it.  By doing this you get access to the CRM tool, but it’s only a repository for information with the ability to run reports, whereas what you need is for it to be customised to the way you do businesswhether this involves implementing or integrating a process.

For example, another company I did consultancy for had a problem with their price book, a standard feature allowing them to upload pricing and have it accessible to sales, but prevent them from changing the pricing (such as by offering unapproved discounts).  This is a useful feature, but unfortunately the “out of the box” implementation allowed sales to perform a workaround: the system was not restricted to integers for licence numbers, so de facto discounts could be applied by selling half a license!

My customer is currently undertaking a second attempt at a CRM implementation, this time with integration front and centre, and they are more confident that it will be a success.  In particular, they are integrating the CRM and other systems into business processes, allowing data to be seamlessly accessed, handled and presented or updated as needed.  The integration also means that users will be able to use the CRM as a central portal from which they can start automated processes.

What do you need?

The other reason that “out of the box” CRM implementations often fail to deliver the full benefits is that your unique business requirements may require the CRM to connect to unusual processes. As such, the standardised, built-in functionality and available integrations (typically to other systems from the vendor’s ecosystem) may not be suitable.

A good example of this is a commercial art gallery which needs to acquire and sell artworks.  The gallery acquires artworks through suppliers, and due to how the art world works this requires keeping careful track through asset management, finance and the systems of their import agent (art logistics is a key background process ensuring compliance with tax regulations among others).  Therefore, while the CRM is still the central system to work in, it has to be able to talk to multiple other systems and ensure that data can be easily shared, presented and updated.

The importance of this process flow to the business shows that the most important part of the CRM strategy is the back-end integration.  As this example involves a unique process which may require connection to some uncommon systems (and if the gallery works with multiple suppliers, the same integrations need to be quickly established to each), this could be very difficult to achieve “out of the box” but this can be easily and rapidly accomplished with a smart process-based integration platform.  The company I work for has produced a whitepaper on this subject.

Strategise your CRM

Ultimately, taking a strategic view of your CRM means extracting true value from data and processes and reusing it throughout the business, thus making the CRM a solution rather than a tool.  It’s rarely true that you can really use a CRM “out of the box” but equally it’s possible to get bogged down in endless customisations without adding much value.

Once you know what you want it to do for the company, work out how different people will use it and what they need to achieve.  This will help you work out what integrations are needed.  With this idea in mind, it becomes far easier to manage a successful implementation and integration project, but don’t forget that putting systems in place can be the easy part: user adoption can be a whole other story.

This post first appeared on David Akka Blog.


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