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Want to Future-Proof Your CRM? Get Flexible

Want to Future-Proof Your CRM? Get Flexible

The secret to future-proofing your CRM implementation goes beyond the technology you may have on-hand. It applies to the technology too, but it's really an attribute that must be present across your entire customer-facing organization. That attribute is flexibility. CRM's about people, processes and technology. All three must be flexible in order to keep your CRM efforts relevant.

By Christopher J. Bucholtz CRM Buyer ECT News Network
11/17/11 5:00 AM PT

When the so-called experts dispense advice about CRM implementations, whether they're first-timers or replacements of old systems, they always include a caveat about the future. You need to solve today's problems with the new system, but you also need a way to "future-proof" your investment so that the next set of problems to present themselves don't force you back into the CRM selection process.

The key, as I've heard it from one undoubtedly Canadian consultant, is to do as Wayne Gretzky suggested: Don't skate to the puck, skate to where the puck is going to be. OK, but how to I get to the metaphorical location of that metaphorical puck if I don't know where it's metaphorically going yet?

The secret goes beyond the CRM technology you may have on-hand. It applies to the technology too, but it's really an attribute that must be present across your entire customer-facing organization. That attribute is flexibility.

CRM's about people, processes and technology. All three must be flexible in order to keep your CRM efforts relevant and maximize your ROI.

Limber Up, People

Let's start with people. The people you hire and the people you promote need to be flexible in how they think and how the input they receive modifies their approach to customers. Rigidity is a concept that favors business-centric approaches; customers evolve, and so the flexibility to evolve the way you relate to them is in itself a customer-centric trait.

This ability to be creative in the context of the way one works is important in front-line workers, but it's even more important in managers. Front-line people see the evolving customer on a daily basis, but managers can be removed from this reality and thus need to work at being flexible in the way they manage to let front-line workers' insights guide strategy.

Changes to Process

Next comes process. Unbending, rigorously adhered-to processes were great when Henry Ford was rolling Model T's down the assembly line. But customer relationships can't be mass-produced -- they can be replicated to a degree, but each customer is slightly unique. To meet the needs of each of these relationships will require the ability to spot where your processes need to bend or even change to accommodate the needs and desires of customers.

Not changing a process that clearly fits with the new tendencies of the customer because it works best for the business is no longer an option. It's not about your business -- it's about the customers, and they know it.

Application and Vendor

Finally, there's the technology -- and when I say "technology," I really mean the application and the vendor. Both need that attribute of flexibility.

The CRM system ought to be configurable, customizable and personalize-able easily. If the user can't make changes, they should be easy for others with more technical acumen, and those changes should be inexpensive and quickly made thanks to the way the application is built. This is the key to taking the things your people discover about customers and converting them into new processes that introduce the right data into your CRM system.

Your application vendor should reflect this. If it insists that you make your processes conform to the way it works, you're dealing with a vendor that fails to understand the value of flexibility. And beware any vendor that wants to charge you a premium for providing flexibility; in this era, that's like a car dealer trying to charge you extra for wheels.

When selecting a CRM solution, you must look for solutions to today's problems, and you need to consider features that can address problems you anticipate -- but flexibility in all three key components of CRM is the only way you can prepare to handle the issues you don't anticipate.


CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.


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