Who better to ask about customer relationship management than users who have been through a CRM rollout? Executives share their advice for a thriving CRM rollout.
To share some real-world experiences, we talked to three IT executives who have successfully implemented CRM software: Craig Berkson, CIO of Thomson Financial’s Portfolio Solutions Group; Ned Liddell, vice president of business applications at Monster.com; and Christopher Akin, manager of e-commerce at University of South Florida (USF).
Here is their advice for breeding CRM success:
1. Buy the best package you can afford. Choosing a high-end system that allows for growth is key, Monster.com’s Liddell says. Monster.com has rolled out Siebel Systems’ salesforce automation software to 800 users since implementing the software back in November 1998.
Where low-end packages break down is in their ability to handle complex definitions of customers, he says. Monster.com established formal guidelines for defining customers across divisions and applications so salespeople can access clean, consistent data.
2. Choose wisely. Figure out who you need to reach and then find the software that will help you accomplish that. Before settling on RightNow, USF scrapped a previous CRM project a month into the implementation after concluding the software didn’t work the way the university wanted. Too often companies choose software before they have defined the problem, Akin says.
"I’ve seen it lots of times – ‘Hey, this is a neat application. Let’s buy it and then figure out how we can use it here.’"
USF tapped RightNow Technologies’ e-mail management software to help the IT department, financial aid office and other administrative groups that were bogged down with customer service inquiries from 40,000 students and staff.
3. Build and maintain a relationship with quality consultants. Consultants are important not only in an initial deployment, but also as project parameters change – which they will, Liddell says. Monster.com works with CRM consultant Akibia, which lets the company quickly expand its CRM resources when necessary. Each time Monster.com acquires a new company, Liddell’s priority is to quickly get those new team members up and running with Siebel sales tools – a process that sometimes requires extra hands.
4. Rely on internal resources. Consultants are helpful, but it’s important to maintain ownership of a CRM project. "Nobody’s more interested in our success than the team at Monster.com," Liddell says. Plus, somebody has to run the software once the consultants are gone.
5. Make sure everyone is onboard. It’s important to have buy-in throughout the organization, Akin says. Financial support is necessary, he says, "but more important is an agreement to use the product universally." It’s frustrating for end users if they expect to find a single source of customer service information online and it turns out a key department is missing from the site.
6. Align your project goals and implementation schedule. Berkson and his team at Thomson Financial try to stick to eight to 12-week projects, rather than rolling out everything to everyone at once. Plus, no department is going to need every function in every application; users would be overwhelmed, Berkson says.
7. Start with a low-risk pilot. One project up and running quickly can validate your CRM concepts, Berkson says. Choosing a relatively simple, straightforward project – such as outfitting a department that doesn’t require integration with other back-end systems – is important. If you start with a complex trial, it can really drain momentum, he says.
8. Aim for customization. Take advantage of today’s CRM on-demand tool sets like customforce by Salesforce.com, Berkson says. Start out with the basics and then work your way up. Vendors have built more robust configuration flexibility into hosted CRM rather than on-premise applications.
9. Don’t underestimate data requirements. The time and resources needed for data conversion and cleanup will always be more than you think, Berkson says.
10. Provide adequate training. "If you have the time and the resources, train in advance of rollout," Akin says. The university departments that are least enthusiastic about the RightNow products are the ones that weren’t ready for it, he says.
11. Set communications standards. In hindsight, Akin wishes his group had set content standards among departments before going live with the project instead of trying to do it later. At USF, e-mail inquiries are routed to as many as 30 different departments. Setting standards for formatting responses can help maintain consistency of service.
12. Watch the details. CRM requires a team that is willing to take ownership of even the most minute details. Monster.com has team members who maintain the software, team members who constantly handle requests for changes and team members who police data quality.