One consultant's secrets to successful CRM

With the high rate of implementation failures, consultants aren't the most popular people in the CRM arena these days. But they can still play a vital role in developing strategy and pulling together disparate IT systems.

Do consultants bear some of the blame for the perceived shortcomings of CRM?

If you look at the total cost of a typical CRM outlay, the cost of an external service provider is almost always more than the software. You'd be amazed at the disparity in time that most organizations spend selecting software as opposed to looking at their service provider options. The right help can be the difference between success and failure. If you choose the wrong consultant, this can become a big challenge in driving the kind of success you want from CRM. [But] I don't think the failures in CRM implementation can be exclusively laid at the feet of consultants. What are the key stumbling blocks?

It's almost the opposite. People [who fail] don't integrate CRM into the other parts of their business or implement CRM as a stand-alone and don't have it communicate with core systems. A bigger and more frequent stumbling block is forgetting to address the people issues around a CRM implementation. In almost all of the cases we described earlier, save maybe the personalization scenario, CRM is a behavior modification tool. Organizations ignore the people in the equation all too often. Unless you understand what those people are doing, how they are motivated, and how CRM may change these issues, you're not going to be successful. What are the cornerstones to success with CRM from the consultant's point of view?

The things that make projects successful are people that realize that implementing CRM isn't putting in a piece of technology or a package. These are the ones that know that you don't improve your relationships with customers by simply gathering data on them or even by managing them. You have to have an integrated approach.

CRM means different things to different organizations. In one case, you may be talking about a personal interface for an e-commerce site. In another case, it might be a call center customer service tool. Somewhere else it may be sales force automation. People talk in terms of the CRM market but in reality it is a fairly broad subject. For people to be successful they need to have a very clear understanding of what CRM means to them as well as their customers. So from beginning to end is the only way to go from your perspective?

I think there are a lot of different levels of consulting support. I don't believe that the technology of CRM is complex. People go to outside sources that have knowledge of those software packages and to help them do implementation. That knowledge is helpful but not because the software is complex itself. For our organization, if people just want help implementing software we can do it, but it's not the strongest value add that a consultancy can offer. Our value is being able to deal with the complex situations involving legacy systems and long-term organizational change. What is the role that you see consultants playing in the market right now?

We work with people from strategy through implementation. The best case is to get involved early, before they've made their software selection. We want to drive it from the beginning. We talk about the difference between implementation and realization. Implementing is putting in the software, then you look ahead to when you will actually realize the benefits, and we want to be involved in that part of the deal as well as the software installation. There are a lot of people implementing software, but if you believe the statistics 80% never reach realization. To get involved when they [businesses] are designing their programs is key. We want to imbed the aspects of integration, people, and change, and address the organizational issues. So a big part of the equation for success is having good people skills?

To get back to the nature of CRM, if you're truly focused on improving the experience of your customers, you're usually touching large parts of the organization. This brings in a whole political dimension in an organization of almost any size. And one of the valuable things that a consultant can do in that environment is help to bridge. Anyone internally is seen as coming from one side or another. We represent independence and experience and can provide examples that help drive change along cross-functional issues, organizationally speaking.

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