IT remedies for CRM woes

If you think everyone is chasing your customers and trying to erode your market share, your fear might be justified.

The Internet has given companies long arms to reach into your backyard. This means new competitors and new challenges in the battle to retain customers and gain new ones. Enter CRM, or Customer Relationship Management.

This new acronym comes with promises of increased market share, big ROI (another cool acronym), happier customers, richer salespeople and all-around euphoric feelings for all.

But CRM is as misunderstood as the undoing of the dinosaurs or the reason it rains the day after you wash your car.

Remember Y2K and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)? These were two acronyms that put our economy into a tailspin in the ’90s and brought multibillion dollar companies to their knees like an unidentified virus strain. Why did so many ERP efforts fail? In my opinion, some vendors did not deliver on promises and many companies implemented ERP without having sound processes in place.

We scrambled to embrace CRP (Capacity Resource Planning) and MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning) technologies in the ’70s and ’80s, and the same mad dash was made to implement ERP before 11:59 p.m., Dec. 31, 1999.

Let’s put CRM into perspective. It is supposed to be a tool for enhancing, facilitating and managing customer relations. Every client I have encountered has a unique personality and a unique way of maintaining customers. Therefore, it’s not safe to assume that a handful of CRM software products is going to fit out of the box. In fact, one-third of CRM implementations provide significant benefits, one-third provide negligible benefits and one-third generate no improvements.

With companies spending millions of dollars, one would hope the return would be rosier.

I have been in and around the IT industry for 20 years and I am convinced that software does not solve process problems. At best, it may bandage the problem; at worse, it could cause you to make mistakes faster.

If you feel a panic to rush out and buy a piece of software as the end-all, be-all of your customer relationship, here is Dr. Steele’s remedy for CRM ails:

1. Process, process, process. Get your house in order. If weaknesses are inherent in your customer interface, or you are considering the Internet as a new sales vehicle, back office changes are inevitable before implementing software.

Every organization can be evaluated based upon its ability to be receptive to and integrate CRM solutions. Some companies will be more ready than others.

2. How about a contact management tool? Consider Gold Mine, SalesLogix, TeleMagic, Pivotal and Firstwave, ACT! (recently purchased by SalesLogix). I have used all but one of these and found each to be easy to use and powerful enough.

3. Employ application service providers.

4. Use portals. Upshot.com, Interact.com, Sales.com, Salesforce.com, SalesRepsOnline.com are examples. I like them all, for different reasons. These typically charge a monthly member fee for browser access.

5. Repeat No. 1 daily until all medication is used. Tim Steele is the sales director for Idea Integration and president of ADI Consulting. A Cuyahoga Falls resident, Steele specializing in sales management, target marketing, account management and strategic planning. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]