Monday, September 21, 2009

Making CRM Work for Your Firm

What's the best Client Relationship Management (CRM) system for your firm? That's easy; whichever one will get used. Of course, choosing a system by that criterion isn't all that easy.

CRM belongs on the long list of technological seductions that promise more than they typically deliver. It's not the technology's fault--not usually. It's a people problem. No doubt you've heard the phrase "garbage in, garbage out." With CRM, the most common shortcoming might be restated as "too little in, too little out."

Don't get me wrong, a CRM system can be an immensely valuable tool. But most firms I've worked with that have CRM fail to get adequate staff participation to make it work well. Like any database, the value of CRM is determined by the quality of information in the system. If that information is incomplete or outdated, the system yields limited benefits, thus fewer people are drawn to make use of it, thus the information remains inadequate.

How do you break this vicious cycle? Let me share some suggestions based on my experiences with a few firms that have made CRM work:

Choose a system based on what you want to do with it, not what you could do with it. This is where the problem with technology usually starts. Firms often make such purchases based on a whiz-bang demonstration of all the system's features. This elicits a response like, "Wow! Look what we could do with this." Then somehow it never seems to work as well after you buy it.

That's putting the cart before the horse. A technology's potential shouldn't drive your work process. Instead you should first determine your objectives, get buy-in among those who will use the system, then select the system that best serves those purposes. Don't neglect this basic reality: People will have to do some things differently. But those changes should be dictated primarily by the need to improve the sales process, not to fulfill the "needs" of your CRM system.

Master CRM with some key accounts before rolling it out firm wide. Like any database, CRM has limited value until it is adequately populated with information. When you attempt a full-scale rollout, it's common to lose most people's interest before you get there (which means you never get there). Start small. Pick a few key accounts and bring those up to speed in your CRM system as quickly as possible. Then you can more easily demonstrate the benefits to your other client managers and rainmakers as you gradually expand the system.

Sell people on the personal advantages of using CRM, not just the corporate benefits. This is a critical transition. Most people won't fully adopt CRM until they find it personally useful. Yet most firms promote it primarily for it's corporate usefulness. That's never a good strategy for getting widespread buy-in. Invest adequate time in training people how to maximize their use of CRM so they can experience the personal advantages. This works better, of course, if you started by getting them involved in making the purchase decision--fitting the system to their needs.

Develop some respected internal champions to promote greater use of CRM. It's better to pull rather than push people into change. In implementing the graduated rollout with key accounts mentioned above, it's important to start with key influencers who are willing to adopt CRM. Once they start singing the praises of CRM, others will be more easily persuaded.

Make it as easy as possible to use. Many firms overreach, asking for more information than they really need--and more than they can reasonably expect to get. Keep it as simple as possible. Pick a few mandatory fields and leave the others to the discretion of the user. The more information you demand, the more likely you are to end up with a CRM system of limited value. Of course, ease of use should have been a crucial criterion in selecting which CRM system to purchase. If your firm erred in that regard, then dumb it down appropriately. It's better to have 95% of 10 key information fields than 50% of 30 fields.

Delegate responsibility for keeping CRM up to date where necessary. There always seem to be a few individuals who won't use CRM consistently for their client accounts. You can try coercing them into compliance, but a better approach may simply be to assign that responsibility to someone else. I've seen administrative staff used effectively in this role. They work with client managers to see that CRM is kept updated.

Tie performance metrics to CRM. You've heard the old adage, "People do what gets measured." Well, it's usually fairly easy to tie important metrics to CRM. In fact, what metrics you want to track in CRM should be a key factor in determining which system to select. Many firms, for example, do all their proposal and sales tracking in CRM. So if people aren't using it, they end up under-reporting their business development activity. That can be a strong incentive for managers to ensure that CRM is kept complete and up-to-date.

What's the perfect CRM system? The one that gets used. I'm hard pressed to recommend one software product over another. But I favor simplicity, ease-of-use, integration with other programs. How it is used is far more important than what it can do.

Check out the perspectives of the rest of our panel of experts on what constitutes the perfect CRM system:

A special thanks to Matt for pulling this forum together. Please get involved and leave your comments at our respective blogs. If this works well, maybe we'll do it again. Got any ideas for future topics?

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