Outsourced CRM administration…

by Richard Boardman on July 29, 2008

Ever since InsideCRM rightly observed that my blog postings were somewhat erratic, I’ve attempted to maintain a certain level of regularity, even if the posts are hardly prolific. However I’ve be on holiday in a rather remote part of France where internet access proved taxing to say the least, so despite my best intentions, blogging was put on hold for a few weeks, so forgive me, but I’m back now!

One of the last conversations I had before I left was around the question of administrative resources for a project due to go live in December. I always ask prospective vendors how much time they recommend a client should allow for administering a system. I rarely get a sensible answer. This perhaps reflects that vendors lack the experience/interest in the real world application of their technologies, and that since most CRM systems are largely unstructured the administrative requirements appear light.

The administrative requirement for CRM systems that ‘do’ things for clients by contrast can be significant. Supporting users so that they are able to follow defined processes in a structured and consistent manner can be both time-consuming and challenging (please note I’m talking about user rather than system administration here, so this point is applicable regardless as to whether it’s a hosted or on premise solution). It is also a critical role; get the wrong person doing it and it can be ‘game over’ in terms of a productive and high pay-back system.

One critical decision that companies need to make when implementing CRM systems, ideally early on in the process – hence my conversation six months ahead of live – is whether this role can and should be performed in-house or outsourced. I think there are four basic considerations in deciding whether to keep administration in house:

Do we have/can we get the right person to do the job? – as I mentioned this is a pivotal role and is often the weakest link in many system deployments. The skills required to be effective are invariably underestimated as the person has to be both comfortable working with the technology, but perhaps more importantly has to be able to win friends and influence people in the battle for effective user adoption.

Do they have the time to perform the role? – as I suggested earlier, ask many vendors and you’d figure this was a minor chore. In practice high pay-back systems are generally demanding on administrative resource, particularly in the early days. Consequently many systems founder because the administrator isn’t allocated sufficient time to perform the role effectively.

Are they motivated to perform the role? – this is a particular issue where administrative responsibilities are shared with other duties. I see many talented administrators who see the non-administration parts of their job as more interesting/rewarding and consequently this is their area of focus to the detriment of the CRM system.

Can we retain them? – as Warren Buffett observed – and I’m paraphrasing here – I like companies that can be run profitably by an idiot, because one day they may be. As I’ve touched on before weak administration is the point of failure for many otherwise successful systems. If you have a constantly revolving door because it’s impossible to maintain interest in the administration role for any duration, so the odds of recruiting a rogue administrator increase.

As a general rule the administrative requirements of effective systems are considerably higher than people realise. In light of this, organisations tend to assign the role in-house because it’s seen as a minor inconsequential chore. A better appreciation of the administration function might lead many organisations to conclude this function was better outsourced. As organisations start to make better use of CRM technology it will be interesting to see if outsourced administration becomes a significant growth market.

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