Its your salesman's worst nightmare: unwittingly walking into a sales call with an angry customer that has spent several torturous days trying to rectify a problem with your product. Almost everyone knew about the problem, including the salesman's customer support department. But the salesman did not. The customer relationship management (CRM) solution used by his company's support staff was not synched up with a solution used by sales, so the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing.
Your salesman might just as well have walked blindfolded into traffic. Ironically, these are the kinds of real business problems CRM is supposed to fix!
The scary truth is, these ugly problems can and do arise when companies purchase CRM solutions "out of the box" or as spot solutions. Let the buyer beware: It's like the Wild West today in the land of CRM solutions. Many CRM sales pitches are sugarcoated with promises of software so comprehensive, so simple to implement, so modular, that all you really need to do is turn it on and watch customer satisfaction soar.
Unfortunately, that isn't even close to reality. While they are indeed much easier to implement than comprehensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, CRM solutions do need to be tailored to the unique needs of your business.
Experience has shown that the most effective and productive CRM solutionsthose that deliver a measurable return on investment while greatly boosting customer satisfactionresult from a mix of out of the box functionality combined with customized features that fulfill your unique business requirements, all integrated into your back-office infrastructure.
It is a matter of logic and reason that customization and integration go hand-in-hand with CRM today, because the truth is, CRM is not a simple thing. Ultimately, companies deploying CRM want to have exactly the right person knowing the right thing at precisely the right time in order to carpet the customer's doorstep with added value. Our blindsided salesman in the example above needed to walk into his call with an updated service guarantee, not a clutch of order forms.
Also, companies want to implement a style of CRM that is different from that of their competitors, rather than one resembling the same tired solutions everybody else is using.
Consider the example of an auto insurance company doing business in multiple states, which is the norm today. Call center sales and support staff must serve customers and prospects from all these states, but they're usually based in some central location for maximum efficiency. Of course, each state has different insurance regulations and rates. While some regional offices denote the insured as a "customer," others use "household." Some states allow insurers to up-sell and cross-sell other products, like mutual funds and other investments, while others do not. But when a call comes in, there can be no confusion in the phone agent's mind or on the screen about exactly who the customer is, what can and should be sold or how the customer should be serviced. Does this sound like a solution that can come mostly out of a box?
A recent report on CRM from investment banking firm Deutsche Banc Alex.Brown confirms the need for tailored CRM solutions that can address the complexity of managing customers online as well as offline. The report notes that business models are becoming increasingly complex and, as a result, CRM platforms and applications will be required to sell items and services as well as to provide information through a host of sources. These include commerce sites, partners' sites, multiple online exchanges, online auctions, and system-to-system connections directly between companies. Again one must ask: Does this sound like a solution that can come largely out of a box?
Solutions That Grow When You Do
The reality is that customer demands in today's e-business world cannot be met by anything less than a CRM solution that can integrate all the many and varied customer touchpoints into a unified information system. It is also true that it is possible at times to integrate various point solutions into a reasonably cohesive total solution. But doing so is extremely labor-intensive to set up as well as maintain. And as one part of the solution is upgraded or changed, integrating those changes across the entire system can prove nothing short of chaotic.
Another shortcoming of spot solutions and some smaller CRM packages is their inability to ramp up to meet growing user requirements. This was the hard lesson learned by another of our clients, an international market research firm, which had installed a spot CRM solution known for its salesforce automation capabilities. Nine months after the installation, hypergrowth spiked an increase in the size of the sales force from 25 to 90 employees. Not only could the spot solution not scale to meet this growth, but the company also found that remote users in newly opened offices couldn't access several key functions of the system. The firm waved the white flag when the CRM software proved totally ineffective in supporting international users as the firm continued to grow. Working with Akibia, the research firm embarked on a cross-departmental, fully integrated CRM solution based upon Siebel Systems platform.
Executives who have wrestled with the intricacies of deploying effective CRM systems know all too well that there's a lot more to the job than just installing software. "By the nature of what it needs to do, CRM can't be an out of the box solution," notes Chris Paladino, vice president of business development at Inlumen, a leading Web content provider.
Just weeks prior to rolling out a huge marketing campaign, Inlumen discovered the CRM software it had installed would not handle the anticipated onslaught of leads the campaign would generate. Inlumen partnered with Akibia, which customized the software to fit Inlumen's unique needs, and provided training for Inlumen's end users as well. Only then was Inlumen's CRM solution ready to meet expectations following the marketing roll-out. With further customization, Inlumen's CRM solution will be extended to its European clients as well. None of this would be possible with an out of the box solution.
Questions to Ask
So when it is time to consider deploying or expanding upon an existing CRM-based solution, there are several key questions you should ask, particularly when someone is trying to sell you "CRM-in-a-box" or some kind of CRM point solution.
- Will the solution scale to meet growth? If the online customer self-service system you install is a winner, you will not only get more business from existing customers, but you'll likely develop new customers as well. You will retain these customers only if the CRM solution doesn't slow down to a crawl when demand rises.
- How well will the CRM solution integrate with back-office solutions? If the customer self-service system above results in a twofold increase in orders, what good is it if you don't have inventory or production capacity to fulfill the orders? Back-office integration is critical to a comprehensive CRM solution, and this integration should not be a major, resource-intensive undertaking.
- Will the CRM solution you are installing today have the functionality you need for anticipated growth? Mergers, new lines of business, and new products all can place demands on the CRM solution. You want to be able to add new functionality to meet these demands, rather than rebuilding the system into a patchwork mess trying to accommodate them.
- Finally, is the CRM system itself built atop of a firm foundation? For example, if you believe your CRM system will extend across multiple departments, as most inevitably will, the underlying CRM technology must be optimized for cross-departmental integration, as the market research firm did with the solution it purchased from Siebel Systems. Other solutions may look very attractive as point solutions for, say, sales automation. But when you try to integrate them with customer support solutions, they quickly lose their charm.
Akibia, Inc. provides CRM consulting and mission-critical IT support services for companies worldwide.