CRM Rising: How the Midmarket Is Embracing CRM Projects

Pet Peeves Versus True Needs

Cook learned the hard way that less can be more. So when he led a redesign of the Pivotal system to give tellers a smaller menu of information, he also gave it to them in an instantly readable form and ensured that the data was useful to them.

The key to getting the system right, Cook says, was essentially to ask tellers to design the interface. "That screen went through at least four renditions," he says. "By the time it was done, we had real strong buy-in from the tellers. They saw this as their tool, not for managers, not for loan officers."

The focus on the end user surfaces repeatedly in discussions with successful CRM adopters. Jim Benson, CTO at K/P Corp., researched why CRM systems fail before he undertook CRM at the $75-million direct-mail company based in San Ramon, Calif. He and his team decided the key to success was rapid adoption by the salesforce and thus focused on streamlining the Salesforce.com interface. Training was exhaustive, and the company's vice president of sales served as the head cheerleader. The result, Benson says, was an 80% adoption rate within three weeks of the switchover.

"If you want to be successful, heavily weight [features and functions] toward salespeople in the field in your first phase," agrees Ken Morris, CIO at International Specialty Products, a $1.4-billion chemical company based in Wayne, N.J. "Management comes later."

Of course, Gartner's Prentice notes that too much user input can spiral out of control. Convinced of the need to pull end users into the project early, large enterprises have run into problems when user meetings devolve into pet-peeve sessions and the IT group is then loath to scratch off any requests. A ballooning list of requirements leads to a project scope with so many features that only big-foot applications from the largest vendors are considered.

Yet project leaders shouldn't be afraid to reality-check user requests. International Specialty Products' Morris has a team that evaluates user requests for modifications to the software on a monthly basis. "You want to see what's really a win versus what's just bugging one person," Morris says.

Southwestern/Great American's SAP system sat largely unused for nine months as sales reps refused to jump through the hoops created by a manager who claimed he understood their needs. For example, the manager hadn't thought to automate the task of sending marketing materials to prospects after a sales call. So in the first iteration of the project, this simple procedure required five steps in two separate applications.

Tabor's group got a second chance when the manager in question was replaced, and the new manager was willing to listen to IT's recommendations. This time, Tabor insisted on extensive needs gathering. "First, we held meetings to discuss processes that were new or being refined," he says. IT would then create mocked-up screens. Then it would leave those screens in the meeting room with end users and no IT staffer present. "It's one thing to stand up there and explain, and another to leave them alone to interpret the [user interface]," Tabor says. "If the way they think it's going to work is the way it's actually going to work, you've done it right." If not, it's back to the drawing board.

CIOs agree that the day you stop training and cheerleading for your CRM system (and tweaking the software itself) is the day it starts to wither -- even if it's been up and running for years. Enterprises with effective CRM issue new releases every week or so when the system is first rolled out; eventually, these releases taper off to every six weeks.

Whether they've been knocked down themselves by CRM projects or have merely read about others' problems, midmarket CIOs are demonstrating that they can internalize lessons and move forward. "CRM is a cultural tool, not a product tool," says North Shore's Cook. "Once you figure that out and proceed accordingly, everything else falls into place."

For more on CRM, see "IT Management Guide for SMBs: CRM".

Steve Ulfelder was a senior features writer at CIO Decisions. To comment on this story, email editor@ciodecisions.com.

This was first published in March 2006

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