Avoiding CRM Failure

Customer relationship management (CRM) has consistently been perceived as a high-risk, high-reward application area within e-business, thanks to the myriad benefits on the one hand and the specter of CRM failure on the other.

If you’re evaluating a CRM suite in particular, you may have heard a lot of horror stories about CRM investments going to waste. Rest assured, it’s not the technology; cases of outright technology failure are rare in e-business, and their heyday was years ago, when a lot of applications were in their early generations.

Much more often, CRM failure has to do with the old saying, much beloved of coaches, that goes, Fail to plan, plan to fail. This is the point emphasized by Mike Murphy, executive director of Siebel Global Services. Addressing his company’s CRM audience some months ago, Murphy remarked, “If you focus on technology as the only aspect of a customer-facing solution, you’re going to have a fairly high-risk project.”

This truism of CRM has been out there for years, but it seems not all adopters have paid attention. “People frequently do not take into account the lessons of those that have gone before them,” Murphy tells Line56. “They will ignore some of the warnings.”

It’s part of a larger pattern in which CRM adopters haven’t conducted due diligence about the state of their own company, or of customers. Take the case of Cisco, which bought hosted CRM from Salesforce.com but subsequently came to realize that user behavior rejected the tool in favor of existing applications. That’s something that the company should have known from the CRM get-go, either causing it to pass up Salesforce.com altogether or else paying increased attention to the change management needed to embed Salesforce.com.

That’s a case of not knowing how CRM users behave, but Murphy knows of plenty of other cases in which a customer strategy has been missing. “When we do a post-mortem on these projects, we see that a customer strategy is lacking, or isn’t linked to a corporate strategy.”

For example, a manufacturer might be tasked to use CRM to do order management in order to improve cross-sell numbers, but might not have segmented the customer base properly. The customers might be craving cross-divisional solutions, not the discrete products currently offered by the manufacturer. But you’d never learn this by implementing order management.

Murphy offers a simple, three-step guide to avoiding CRM failure: 1. Align IT and business about what CRM-addressable problems are, and what to do about them; 2. Articulate a customer strategy, and how it links to corporate goals as well as to the proposed CRM system; and 3. Define goals in a measurable way so you can track your progress.

That’s what you should have on your mind when you think about a CRM suite, or even a component tool. Otherwise, as Murphy says, you might end up with “the technology piece working, but no results.”