Does Your CRM Initiative Require a “Mid-Course Correction”?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM), just like any other major business initiative, requires a great deal of thought, time, planning, resources, energy, and money. But it also requires momentum to ensure that it maintains its relevance as the business evolves in an ever-changing marketplace. That is why so many well-intentioned CRM initiatives tend to “fizzle out” over time, either in terms of commitment, use, or simply because they haven’t grown in functionality at the same pace as the business itself has grown. Whatever the reason, many organizations ultimately find themselves in a position where their CRM program just flat out isn’t as effective as it once was.

Many years ago, Fram oil filters utilized an advertising campaign that stated “You can either pay me now, or you can pay me later!” This referred to the fact that you could either check (and, if required, replace) your car’s oil filter on a routine basis (i.e., before a problem manifests itself), or wait until after a problem occurs, thereby costing you more money for a “fix” after-the-fact than it would have cost had you routinely changed your oil filter as part of a self-administered preventive maintenance program. The same concept also applies to CRM: fixing (or correcting) your CRM program along the way will undoubtedly save your organization much more time and money compared to the risk of having it stray off course over time.

Experience has shown that once a CRM program strays off course – whether by alot, or a little – it is extremely difficult to easily get it back on track in terms of refocusing direction, reallocating resources, rechanneling team efforts, realigning processes, and in many cases, admitting that the program had gone off track in the first place! For these reasons, it is critical to monitor the progress of any CRM initiative on an ongoing basis in order to avoid falling into a situation where you will need to make what NASA typically refers to as “a mid-course correction”.

Taking the NASA example one step further, when a rocket is aimed at the Moon, sometimes a “mid-course correction” requires nothing more than a 10- or 20-second burst of steam released from the side of the spacecraft to ensure that its recalculated trajectory will send it to the desired landing spot on the surface. In cases where the problem is identified well enough in advance, it may only take this 10- to 20-second effort to ensure that the rocket does not miss its target by thousands of miles. In relative NASA terms, this is neither a complicated nor expensive procedure to execute, and the return is enormous (i.e., avoiding a potential total failure, and ensuring that the original target will be hit).

However, in cases where a problem is not identified until much later, or other earlier attempts have been ineffectively executed along the way, the rocket may have to be entirely reprogrammed – literally, on the fly – possibly entailing a new trajectory that will require orbiting around the back side of the Moon several times, and selecting a new landing site – or worse – sending it out into space as a failed effort. While the former “correction” would save the entire effort at a relatively low cost, the latter would – at best – require a huge amount of resources (i.e., people, time, and money) for just the chanceof being able to avoid failure. We believe that the same alternatives also apply to CRM initiatives, and that planning in advance for the most likely “mid-course corrections” should also be a critical component of any CRM effort.

Hopefully, any required “mid-course corrections” will be “minor” (such as taking added steps to improve communications between internal customer support groups, improving management and process control, upgrading existing software to the latest releases, etc.). However, some corrections may be more complicated, such as changing platforms or reengineering existing business processes mid-stream, or having to deal with other major CRM program-altering situations. Regardless of the level of correction that is required, one thing remains clear – an ineffective CRM program will provide – at best – an ineffectiveCRM solution! Further, while an effective CRM program can generally always be expected to provide a measurable return-on-investment (ROI), an ineffective program typically will not – regardless of the cost!

There are essentially six (6) key reasons why CRM projects fail. They are typically:

  1. Lack of management vision and commitment – Executive involvement is critical to steer the project so that it is continually in alignment with the company’s strategic business objectives.
  2. Lack of a complete business process analysis – Before embarking on a CRM implementation program, there must first be a comprehensive analysis of the individual customer-focused business processes used by the organization – otherwise you will find yourself merely automating the existing “mess”, or still doing things incorrectly – only more quickly!
  3. Selecting the software before the analysis is completed – Selecting software before the analysis is completed is a common – and oftentimes fatal –mistake. This is why melding the organization’s workflows into the software’s functionality, in a customer-focused, streamlined (and possibly reengineered) business process is generally required before implementing a CRM solution.
  4. Implementing a system without changing the way you do business – Simply applying a new CRM software application over the organization’s existing business processes will not get the job done. Many companies that have attempted to use CRM primarily as a tool for automating their historical business processes have seen their efforts lead to nothing more than a means for preserving their status quo while the marketplace evolves in another direction.
  5. Not managing expectations – Managing expectations at all levels within the organization is critical. Cultural considerations and expectations must be continually assessed, addressed and managed.
  6. Becoming locked into a system that does not support the CRM initiative (Agile Adaptability) – Any organization’s CRM program must show quick progress and be able to adapt quickly to changing business processes. Only the built-in “agile adaptability” of the system will preclude the chances for failure.

The best way to avoid any of these eventualities is to address them head-on in your CRM program from the outset. All of your organization’s major business initiatives should already have these types of contingency plans built-in – especially those that directly impact both the customer base and the bottom line (which is certainly the case with CRM)! The key to ensuring that your CRM initiative has adequately addressed these issues is to create an ongoing process-monitoring and self-assessment mechanism that is well-defined and clearly delineated in the original plan; and to empower the appropriate internal teams to manage and monitor these functions effectively.

Some tips for ensuring that you are able to successfully avoid any of these potential CRM obstacles are:

  • Incorporate internal and external communications as integral components of your CRM design, development and implementation plans.
  • Develop “real” goals and metrics for evaluating and tracking performance over time.
  • Build effective input and feedback processes (i.e., easy to use, properly managed, and responsive) into your CRM communications model that address all internal (i.e., employee), external (i.e., customers, prospects), and channel (i.e., partners, vendors, dealers, etc.) requirements.
  • Build an ongoing monitoring, tracking, and assessment function into the plan, and designate an appropriate individual (and team) to manage it. Also, empower that team to conceptualize, articulate, and recommend appropriate corrective actions as needed.
  • Provide management with performance tracking reports on a regular basis.
  • Keep current with the CRM community in terms of what platforms, applications, or functionality may be newly available; take advantage of your existing vendor’s regular upgrades, updates, and patches; and keep up-to-date on what some of the other leading industry practitioners are doing with respect to their own CRM initiatives (e.g., by tracking them on the Internet; networking; attending trade shows, seminars, and users groups; etc.).
  • Plan ahead for tomorrow’s upgrades today by keeping a close watch on your present CRM system status; setting (and revising) your goals and targets on a dynamic (rather than static) basis; identifying alternative “what-if” scenarios for addressing changes in your customer base (e.g., growth), infrastructure (e.g., outdated hardware/software platforms), or other organizational factors (e.g., restructuring, acquisitions/mergers, etc.).

There are many ways in which an organization can forestall problems relating to their CRM initiative, or – hopefully – avoid them altogether. However, in order to accomplish this, you must always plan ahead; address the most likely “what-if” scenarios in your contingency planning; monitor, measure, and track performance all along the way; and encourage and empower both your managers and their support staffs to get their jobs done effectively.

You regularly replace the oil filters in your car – don’t you? And you can always count on NASA to use numerous “mid-course corrections” to protect any of its space launches. Therefore, it should also make sense – both philosophical and economic – to ensure that your organization’s CRM initiative is always supported by these ongoing planning processes as well.

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