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CRM, a blessing or a curse?

Sell more and sell better. That is essentially the sales pitch of most CRM vendors and since the term was first coined in the early nineties they have done a lot of effort to create systems that prove that claim. Yet, 15 years later and independent whether companies are high or low tech, less than one in ten customer facing employees uses CRM and still over half of the first time CRM implementations fail to meet customer expectations. This makes you wonder, “Am I now blessed or cursed when I have or don’t have a CRM system?”

At 18 BioUS$, the CRM market is still a relatively small market, but has seen double digit growths over the last few years and is likely to continue at that pace until 2015, despite the economic down turn. Especially Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM vendors make it a lot simpler and more affordable to implement it. The question is “Should you?”

The blessing: what it potentially can do

Sales Force Automation (SFA) are systems that help sales professionals to manage and automate their sales related activities. It supports the management of targets, contacts, leads, accounts and the opportunities and aims to ease recurring tasks like forecasting and pipeline reporting.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) are systems that help the front line to manage and automate customer-facing processes across sales, marketing and customer support departments. It has the elements of SFA, but adds to that marketing and campaign management, tele-, e-mail and social marketing as well as case and incident management and other customer service related processes with an aim to provide a single view on all customer related engagements.

Optionally, CRM systems can be expanded to include document repository, quote, contract, order, delivery and invoice management and interfaces with other company systems like ERP. 

No doubt, these systems are a blessing and do make life easier for the front line, provide more and better insight in the business for managers and help to generate more business more efficiently for the company… In theory that is.

The curse: negative user experience

Whilst the above is impressive, the company wide implementing of a CRM is for many companies an unimpressive experience with users finding that:
  • "It is too complex." Moving from Excel spread sheets, local file systems, e-mails and address book to a CRM, users are often overwhelmed by the perceived complexity. New or different terminology, data dependency and structure of the system covering other departments, may feel completely alien.
  • "It is difficult to use." A CRM system essentially manages bits of pieces of information and the relationships between them. To ensure integrity of the data, many systems will enforce users a certain way of working e.g. an Account needs to exist before a contact or opportunity. Things that were not needed or easy to accomplish in Excel may suddenly be complicated or impossible.
  • "It is overhead." Bad integration or connection with other systems like Outlook, Gmail or even ERP, may force users to duplicate and maintain data in multiple systems. Requests to provide “old” reports using office applications for forecasting or reporting purposes, further add to the frustration.
  • "It just does not do what I want or need." Everyone tweaks and tunes his way of work to what feels most productive. An extra column in a spread sheet, a directory structure to file important customer agreements or a tagging e-mails. Companywide systems cannot accommodate these tweaks and hence feel less productive.
All of the above undermine the usability of the system for the employees, their managers and the company. In worst case, it may negatively affect morale and revenues.

Avoiding the curse

An incomplete list, but to highlight a few items to prevent issues at the start or correct it afterwards:
  • First, get the discipline and then implement a system. Some may implement CRM in search for control over, get insight in, and get help with managing an immature organization. In that situation, do not implement a CRM. First, get the structure and the discipline in place.
  • Start small and involve sufficient actual users early on. Most CRM systems are easily tailored to fit the terminology and processes used in the company. Involving actual users early on will help to make the system “recognizable” for the organization. It also helps to groom supporters and go-to persons in the organization. 
  • Start small also means removing or hiding functionality and fields that are nice-to-have, but are not business critical. Add them later, when the system is in full use.
  • Provide good connectivity, import and export functions from day one. Simple address book synchronization, or complete information exchange with ERP systems. A good connectivity helps to ensure users will work with the system and continue to do so. 
  • Deploy top-down. Prevent managers asking for "old" reports or continue to review the business in the "old" way, a top-down commitment to use and manage by the system will accelerate adoption. Moreover, it will bring (system) issues, organization complexities, the need for training and support under the attention of management.
  • Assign an internal project leader and sponsor who continue to be responsible for the project for the years to come.

To use or not, a blessing or not?

In our view, it is just a matter of time before CRM systems in one form or another become part of the basic IT infrastructure of any company like ERP. Therefore, the question is not “if” but “when” and with at least 20 sizeable suppliers that could provide a solution being it Oracle, SalesForce.Com, SAP, Microsoft or other, more affordable SaaS alternatives like Zoho and SugarCRM you may want to start early.

Time is needed to find answers on the most important questions: what needs to be done to ensure a real improvement of the sales and marketing function? What needs to be done to ensure that customers are better served using such a system and ultimately can a bottom line improvement be realized? 

If done properly, the project is a blessing and not a curse.

Jack van Mook
© 2012 EnFeat Pte. Ltd.