The following is a copy of an article I wrote for Winning Edge Magazine published by the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management (ISMM) under the title ‘Can we fix it, yes we can’ where I attempted in 700 words to explain how to revive a failing CRM system:

Can we fix it, yes we can

There’s been a lot of bad press about customer relationship management (CRM) technology over the years. While a lot has been made about CRM failures, the reality is that only a very small proportion of implementations actually fail in the sense that the system doesn’t go live. Where CRM has commonly failed is in its ability to positively impact the bottom line.

As a thirteen year veteran of the CRM industry I’d estimate that 80% of CRM systems seriously under-perform their potential, with the majority generating very marginal, and in many cases negative value for their owners. Most systems are limited in scope, and usage tends to be occasional and unstructured. So how did we get into this state? Two reasons I suspect:

Firstly, CRM vendors are, in general, first and foremost motivated and equipped to sell software, as opposed to deliver benefits. They may truly believe their software delivers value, but there is a big gap between raw technology and an implemented system that generates operational benefit. In particular vendors have failed to appreciate the importance of analysing and encompassing their clients’ business processes, and have struggled with user adoption.

Secondly, for those systems that do bridge the gap, many have failed to remain relevent over time. This is often because there has been insufficient maintenance of the system, or the business and changed and the system hasn’t adapted.

While businesses may be able to overlook the fact that their CRM technology isn’t delivering on its promise in the good times, the tougher economic environment means that these systems are letting them down just when they need them most. The need to attract and retain customers has never been more pressing. The good news is that it’s often relatively easy to turn a CRM system round, and with the investment already made, this can often be achieved without significant additional expenditure.

Incidentally, if you aren’t sure whether your CRM system is performing or not, one quick check is to review the reports generated by the software. If you can’t find any useful, comprehensive, or accurate data about the running of your business you can safely assume your system isn’t doing a lot for you.

So how do you get your system back on track? The following are the key steps:

· Define what you want your CRM system to do. This might be to improve the management of leads of enquiries, better control the sales process, enhance the customer experience, or reduce the cost of handling sales orders, either way it’s critical to understand what the end objective is.

· Map the business processes required to deliver the defined objectives. This may be a case of re-engineering what you already do or developing new processes from scratch.

· Document how your processes will work within your CRM system. There are a number of ways you can do this, but we tend to create process diagrams in Microsoft Visio, and annotate how the system is being updated at each step in the process. It’s also worth creating mock ups of any screen customisations that might be required.

· Make the changes to the system. Since many CRM technologies are highly user configurable, this may well be something you can do yourself. If you do need the help of your vendor, then the tight specification generated through the previous steps will allow you to minimise costs.

· Clean up your data and ensure the information in your system is complete and up to date.

· Train, train, and train some more. Comprehensive user adoption takes work.

· Ensure that you have reports in place to track the performance of your processes.

· Monitor usage carefully.

· Continue to finesse, improve, and enhance your system over time.

There are massive benefits to using CRM technology to control your key customer facing processes. Not only does it facilitate a host of operational efficiencies, but utilising the notion that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, one of the key benefits is being able to continue to improve over time. Your CRM system may not be doing much to help you today, but getting things back on track might prove the difference between prospering and failing in difficult times.

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