Getting Started, Part II

Arthur O'Connor

Updated · Jun 13, 2001

Photo Arthur O'ConnorIn my last column, I discussed the first of three principles that are common to launching a successful CRM initiative.

In this, the second installment in the two-part series on Getting Started, I'll discuss the two remaining principles.

Step Two: Select the possibilities that best meet your investment return, risk appetite, technical architecture (ease of implementation), organizational readiness, and management talent, passion and commitment.

Of the three steps, this is perhaps the most politically difficult for an organization. While it's relatively easy to generate ideas (in step one), it is much more difficult to decide which offer the greatest benefit (expected financial return, relative to ease of implementation).

This step requires making tough decisions and trade-offs, for there are many constraints and conflicts to be resolved: channel conflicts, training and staff resource issues, financial performance goals, and budget allocations. As such, this exercise can perhaps most effectively and efficiently be accomplished through an executive workshop, facilitated by a third party (outside consultant) or a mutually trusted and respected insider/advisor (perhaps a current or former board member).

Also, to the point of “management talent, passion and commitment.” This sounds drippy, but in fact it is perhaps the single most critical deciding factor to a successful implementation. If your management team doesn't love CRM and isn't good at it, all the software and consulting services in the world won't make it work for you.

At the end of this step, you should have a very clean vision of what strategies and tactics will enable you to achieve a competitive advantage in your customer-facing systems and processes, and what their financial return will be if properly implemented and executed.

Step Three: Design and actively manage your CRM implementation strategy and plan.

While step two is politically the most tricky, step three is functionally the most difficult.

By implementation strategy I mean just that: you need a vision, goals and critical performance indicators. There are two basic strategies:

  1. The “go-big-and-fast” strategy in order to reap the greatest potential economic benefit (often advocated by the suppliers of enterprise CRM frameworks).
  2. The “go-small-and-slow” approach (which is the safer, and, in most cases, clearly the better way to go).

The go-big-and-fast strategy requires organizational readiness, architectural compatibility and business process flexibility that few businesses – much less mid-sized or large organizations – have. But some do. Also, the go-big-and-fast strategy works best in small organizations, or larger ones with a very strong, centralized commend structure – typically there's a CEO who serves as the single, authoritative leader and calls all the shots.

In organizations with a more collaborative and/or decentralized command structure, the changes of success are much lower and require special measures. These include organizational, process design and technical architectural assessments and studies. In helping the organization evaluate the impact of the CRM implementation, these impact analyses help prepare the organization and build consensus among the key constituents within the groups affected by the change including: sales, marketing, customer service, finance, technology, operations, legal, etc.

The go-slow-and-small approach – hopefully the most prevalent methodology – takes its cue for the lessons learned in previous enterprise solution implementation disasters. Remember ERP (enterprise relationship planning)?

This approach begins with the belief that you can't possibly know and anticipate all the technical, organizational, process and cultural problems inherent in any major change in doing business. So it's best to pilot and test first, learn along the way, and pilot and test again. Until you get it right.

Lastly, in terms of managing the implementation, the best advice I have is to use proven program management methodology (project plans, timelines, schedule of deliverables) and ensure that the Program Management Office has the right resources and talent to do the job. Some organizations are creating a new position – Chief Customer Officer – to fulfill this role. Given the sad state of most CRM implementations, that seems like a pretty good idea.

If you'd like to respond to some of these points, or want to share information in regard to getting started on a CRM initiative, please write me at [email protected].

Arthur O'Connor is one of the nation's leading experts on customer relationship management (CRM) and customer-facing IT systems and strategies. He's currently the national columnist for and this year serves as the chairperson of the Institute for International Research's CRM Conference. Arthur has over 20 years leadership and management experience in the area of customer management, strategy and new business development, including 15 years as a senior corporate officer of two NYSE-listed inter national corporations, and over five years experience as an independent management consultant and Big 5 firm practice manager selling and managing large-scale IT engagements.

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