Outside-in CRM

Let’s start with the basics. What is CRM from a purely definition-based standpoint?

  • Customer: Someone who buys from you. This can include those who may buy, i.e. prospective customers.
  • Relationship: The totality of interactions that shape what customers do and think about you. This can include interactions where you are not present, e.g. chatting with mates at the pub and other forms of social media / communications.
  • Management: An orchestrated and continually improving series of processes and organisational culture designed to deliver sustained profitable growth.

Now, consider what CRM is not.  It is not:

  • Just a software system
  • Process definitions
  • Sales reporting
  • Activity recording
  • Marketing automation
  • A bit of the relationship
  • Something left to chance
  • A one-off programme

That is not to say that these things are not elements of managing customer relationships, but they are certainly not the primary focus or the way to start implementing CRM.

You might think that this is a statement of the obvious, but take a look at how many companies implement their CRM. The vast majority are system driven, focus on only part of the customer relationship, or lack sustained commitment. Even many of the so-called experts focus on process definitions, software configuration, and project methodologies.

One CRM company proudly states that one of its attributes (actually, the first in its list) of successful implementations is:  “An approach that focuses on providing value to your sales team as the first step in the implementation process.” And, one of the world’s biggest software companies and a provider of CRM software says: “By asking the right questions we can assist our customers in documenting their existing processes, improving upon those processes, and creating new processes to streamline and increase their productivity.” Even salesforce.com, the poster child of the SaaS CRM revolution omits the customer in its guidance, instead suggesting that “It’s also critical that you understand the needs of your managers and users before getting started.” Wikipedia fares little better, quickly falling into the abyss of system speak.

If you think I am being melodramatic or biased, then do a quick Web search on “CRM implementation methodology” (note that I did not say CRM system or software). I challenge you to find anything that mentions the customer (as defined above) in any article you find on the first five pages.

So, where should you start?
The clue is in the acronym and it begins with a C. It is the only logical starting point for implementing successful customer relationship management. Forget process design and focus instead on customer journey.

Effective customer journey maps set out the interactions, needs, and concerns of customers from initial interest through to on-going use and repeat purchase.  They form the basis of three essential elements of any customer-focused organisation:

  • A purposeful design of how the organisation delivers a customer experience that is better than the competition in the things that matter most to the customer.
  • The processes, systems, and skills that are required to deliver that winning customer experience.
  • The measures that determine how well the company is delivering the experience at all the major touch points.

This customer-based design is what should shape how CRM software is implemented.  Technology does have an absolutely vital role, but will only be successful if it is built on the right foundations. Understand also that the technology challenges will be dwarfed by those of building a deep understanding of customers, getting people to change, and politicking by narrow-minded vested interests.  Legacy mind-sets are a far bigger CRM challenge than legacy systems.

Here is my manifesto for successful CRM.

  • Recognise that CRM is an on-going business challenge, not a one-off programme.
  • Never put a technologist in charge of CRM, but ensure that whoever is in charge is technology savvy.
  • Be crystal clear about your chosen customers and what their needs are.
  • Understand the interactions that make up the customer journey of your chosen customers.  For each interaction, ask:
    • What matters to the customer at this stage?
    • How can we deliver a great customer experience?
    • What measures (leading and lagging) indicate success?
  • Build your processes, your CRM software, and train your people to enact the interactions and experience you have purposefully designed.
  • Ensure that everyone has access to a single, up-to-date view of customer information.

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