Ten steps to CRM success

The CRM approach involves capturing, managing and making use of all the information you have about your customers. This guide covers the steps required to achieve CRM success.
Written by Tom Mochal, Contributor

Review: Microsoft 3.0 vs. RightNow
Both vendors provided a hosted version of their applications for testing purposes. The modules were run through simulated real-world usage.

We looked at how easy it was to create and edit contacts and organisations, as well as find a particular record within a contact list. We also looked at the suitability of the product for use in the sales cycle, including entering and tracing opportunities, as well as reporting on sales pipelines and providing forecasts.

On the marketing side, we considered the ease in which a marketing campaign could be created and managed, including the ability to market to customers via e-mail and other methods, as well as track the results of the campaign.

Finally on the service side, we looked at how easy it was to create and manage support incidents, including managing the flow and volume of incidents from a customer service point of view, as well as the tools provided to both customers and customer service representatives to manage support incidents. Read the review »

Review: Sugar Suite 4.0.1
Sugar Suite can "communicate" directly with mail servers, so invitations can be sent directly from the system. Create a project and you can assign it to a particular team, and then schedule group meetings which appear on everyone's calendar, group tasks, assign customer contacts for this project (for example, a customer's PR manager if your project is a marketing seminar), and view the history of completed tasks. Once a project or two has been completed, you can go back to a specific contact (or company) and view all the tasks, meetings and projects that person has been involved with.

A very nice touch is that the portal is quite customisable. The My Portal tab allows you to link to external Web sites. These are rendered within an iframe and are given their own pages within the tab menu. This lets users access external information they need without having to exit the portal. You can also subscribe to RSS feeds -- either external or internal. Internal feeds are a great way of keeping users up to date.

Another great (and very cool) feature is the plugin for Microsoft Outlook. This allows the Calendar tab within Sugar Suite to synchronise directly with a user's Outlook client -- not via the Exchange server, but directly with the local client application. It can also be used to push e-mails from Outlook straight into Sugar Suite -- very useful for documenting correspondence with clients.

Read the review »
Sugar CRM

Industry dept outlines MS CRM plans
The federal Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources (DITR) has detailed plans to implement at least three new customer relationship management systems based on Microsoft software. Read the full report »

Hosted CRM fails university test
Hosted customer relationship management hype has failed to convert Open Universities Australia; with the distance education provider's in-house PeopleSoft rollout sure to be closely watched by the tertiary sector. Read the full report»

Paging made easy with CRM
How many prospective customers are you managing? CommtechWireless has 30,000. How does this fast-growing company keep up? Read the full report»

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has been a buzzword in the business world for years now. Companies have recognised the importance of maintaining and developing working relationships with their clients and understand the benefits of expanding on the information that a CRM solution can provide.

The only problem with this approach is the lack of easy to use, expandable and most importantly, cost effective CRM solutions on the market that allow businesses to implement a CRM system that actually works for their business, without overloading staff with too many functions. As a consequence of this, many companies "develop" their own systems using databases, spreadsheets and other tools that are not designed for this purpose and are very hard to maintain.

In this report, we look at 10 pointers to guide you towards CRM success and see how Microsoft Dynamics and RightNow CRM fare (see sidebar).

1) CRM implementations focus on gaining and using a keen understanding of the customer
The CRM approach involves capturing, managing and making use of all the information you have about your customers. With a stronger understanding of your customers, you should be able to better manage your relationship with them, keeping them happier, more loyal and more likely to buy products and services from you.

2) CRM is a mindset and a philosophy
CRM is not a tool, although many aspects of the customer relationship can be automated using packaged or customised software solutions. In fact, CRM software is only a small part of an equation that includes changing business practices to focus more on customer needs and reorienting databases so customer data is more easily found.

3) The implementation of CRM in your organisation needs to be viewed as a culture change initiative
You're changing the way people do their jobs. To be truly successful will require a multifaceted, long-term focus. It is going to require new processes, training, templates, reporting relationships, metrics, templates, tools and so on.

The cultural impact of a CRM initiative can be tremendous, and organisations that underestimate the fallout often fail in their implementations. Imagine a department of long-time employees who have their routine down to a science. All of sudden, they have to learn an entirely new system, give up some of their "territory" to other departments, develop different skills sets, and share information that used to be their sole province. Now multiply those dynamics across the organisation.

4) CRM implementations don't happen overnight
Many organisations want to implement CRM in a short period of time. Usually what they mean is that they want to implement a CRM software solution in a short period of time. Although it is possible to estimate how long a software implementation may take, it is much harder to know how long the culture change will require to take hold. In other words, the length of time required for people to develop a CRM mindset will take much longer.

5) A good CRM implementation provides a 360Ã,° view of the customer
The 360 degree view is sometimes called end-to-end customer management. Every place in your organisation that touches your customer should be integrated. Many people think only of sales-force automation. Although the sales function is certainly up front in the customer view, a 360Ã,° approach also takes into account areas such as:

* Executive management contact with key accounts
* Customer support functions, such as help-desk customers may call for technical support
* Customer service functions, such as billing and accounts receivable
* Trade shows, marketing, advertising, press releases and so on

6) CRM requires customer analysis
In addition to the customer-touching functions, CRM includes the analytical aspects of understanding your customers, their buying habits, and the reasons they make the decisions they do. For instance, you may be able to identify certain types of customer that are more likely to buy add-on products. In the future, when you gain new customers with these same characteristics, you can try to up-sell these add-on products to them. A lot of your company marketing research takes place in this aspect of CRM.

7) CRM solutions can be finely tuned to optimise the timing of sales
In some of the more sophisticated approaches to CRM, the sales cycle can be customised for each individual customer so that you have the best chance of making the sale. The customised sales cycle is flexible to meet the needs and motivations of the individual customer and is based on tracking the results of similar customers in the past.

8) Functions across your entire organisation may be candidates for CRM
If you think about CRM from a broad viewpoint, you might consider much of the company to fall under the overall CRM umbrella. After all, many businesses are providing services to customers, selling products to customers, manufacturing products for customers, billing the customers, collecting money from customers, and so on. This is not to say that every aspect of the company falls under traditional CRM. However, if you wanted to take this high-level view, perhaps many of the functions in your company could be placed under CRM.

9) Resistance to CRM culture change can mean failure
Most CRM initiatives are not totally successful, and many fail. This observation is not just about CRM. In fact, most culture change initiatives achieve only a fraction of the benefits that were originally proposed. If you don't take a long-term view and if you don't have strong executive sponsor support, you will probably not be successful.

Many sponsors think that when the CRM software is installed, they have successfully implemented CRM. What they don't understand is that the hard part of CRM is the culture change. It's getting people to change how they do their jobs and to adopt a CRM culture. This can take 10 times as long as the software implementation (if it happens at all).

10) You need to tread carefully when collecting customer data
Many people are wary of the data collection required to support sophisticated CRM solutions and feel that it's an invasion of privacy. These concerns should be taken into account when implementing a sophisticated CRM system. For example, you may want to tell customers that you are collecting certain data about their purchase and allow them to opt out of the program.

TechRepublic is the online community and information resource for all IT professionals, from support staff to executives. We offer in-depth technical articles written for IT professionals by IT professionals. In addition to articles on everything from Windows to e-mail to firewalls, we offer IT industry analysis, downloads, management tips, discussion forums, and e-newsletters.
©2006 TechRepublic, Inc.

Editorial standards