5 Tips for Deploying On-Demand CRM

Vendors can offer all kinds of suggestions on how to plan your deployment. Consultants can help with time lines and schedules. But if you’re looking for some serious advice on how to kick-start your project–and see it through–who better to ask than those who’ve done it before?

Baseline turned to five managers who have deployed on-demand CRM, asking them, “What advice would you give to someone who hasn’t started using a hosted solution?” Here’s what they had to say.

Starting: Explore your options

On-demand and on-premise offerings have stark differences, particularly when it comes to deployment. Hosted software has relatively low startup costs and can be rolled out in two to three months, while in-house systems can take years to deploy–with costs in the high six figures.

Still can’t decide? Nicholas Kontopoulos, director of sales management for London consulting firm Capita Group, says going with an on-demand system at first is an easy way for businesses to familiarize themselves with the capabilities of customer relationship management (CRM).

An on-demand system, Kontopoulos says, “allows you to put your toes in the water and see what it can do for you and can’t do for you, and shape what your solution should look like.”

In January 2006, Capita planned to buy on-premise software from SAP, but switched gears when the German vendor pushed its new hosted offering. Kontopoulos says Capita will likely go with an in-house system in the next year or so, but that the on-demand solution gave his team a better idea of what they could expect during the interim.

Consulting: Expect a trade-off

Technology managers may be hands-off when it comes to maintaining an on-demand system, but if they’re involved in shopping for one, they should expect some pushback from would-be users.

“There’s a risk that an I.T. person is too far removed from the sales and marketing organization to understand the intricacies and intimacies involved in their operation,” says Gary Brown, director of marketing with USC Consulting Group, a Tampa, Fla.-based management consultancy. In late 2004, USC replaced database software it had licensed to get contact information for potential customers with Siebel’s (now Oracle) hosted software.

The I.T. department leadership might look for an easy implementation and reliable uptime, but sales and marketing managers typically focus on reporting features and the ability to customize the system. Technology managers should start a dialogue early and work to help users find the best tool without compromising quality.

Planning: Keep it simple

A big temptation when bringing in a CRM system is, in a sense, to reinvent the wheel. Companies often believe that they need to reconstruct their sales or service operations–and thus revise their business processes–before deploying a tool.

But sometimes it’s better to go with what you know, says O. John Groebl, information-technology operation and administration manager with American Express Incentive Services. “The more you complicate your business rules and structure, the more it becomes a headache to maintain,” he says.

Before Groebl and his team deployed hosted CRM software from RightNow Technologies, they found themselves trying to “dissect” their sales force, grouping representatives into new teams. With that came the need to work in new processes to the software. To avoid the headache, Groebl says his company should have stuck with the structure they had and evolved it as they went along.

Evaluating: Trust, but Verify

Vendors can show off their products and position themselves above and beyond the competition, but you never really get a feel for the software unless you try it yourself. So, Helga Orviss, integrated processes manager for financial services firm Sun Life Financial Canada, recommends kicking the tires before driving off the lot.

And Orviss is happy she did. In 2004, the firm was evaluating on-demand suites to help it track customer relationships. The goal, according to Orviss, was to see which corporate customers were buying Sun Life’s life and health insurance benefits, and which were buying pension and retirement products, to identify cross-selling possibilities.

At the time, a lot of Sun Life’s customer tracking was done using numbers to identify customers. Orviss says the software trial showed that both Salesforce.com and Siebel, the eventual winner, used names–not numbers–to distinguish between accounts, customers and products.

“It wasn’t something we noticed as part of the presentation,” Orviss says. “It identified for us right up front that we had a different process in place [that would need to be reconciled].”

Deploying: Start Small

CRM projects can become long, companywide deployments, requiring not only heavy financial investment but considerable time commitment across the organization.

Instead of launching an ambitious, all-encompassing release, Wanda Dembeck, vice president of global initiatives with automotive research firm R.L. Polk & Co., urges prospective project planners to be cautious. “Make it a series of small projects–not one huge project with too extensive of a scope,” she says.

That’s exactly what Polk did in its deployment of Salesforce.com. Originally rolled out in 2000 to shake up customer service and sales-lead generation, Dembeck helped pilot the hosted software across different departments, including quality control and billings and collections. Doing it piece by piece, she says, helps an organization meet each team’s needs while ensuring that the tool becomes a functioning part of their daily operation.

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