Re-Earning Your Customers’ Trust Through CRM

At the heart of any customer relationship is trust. Knowing how healthy that trust is in your company and its execution starts with knowing expectations your prospects and customers have. Many companies can easily list off these expectations of their customers in a rapid-fire litany yet, have no idea how these expectations are prioritized, and worse yet, if they are fulfilling secondary needs instead of primary ones.

Fix Disconnected Expectations First

Paul Greenberg, CRM luminary and author of the best-selling book “CRM at the Speed of Light, 3rd edition,” spoke to this problem this week when he and his business partner Bruce Culbert at BPT Partners (see below) spoke to me about the failure of most companies to actually find out what the expectations and demands of their customers are.

“Companies have to start with the knowledge of their customer’s voice by involving the customer in their thinking, not presuming for those customers,” said Greenberg. He brought up the point of companies having no idea if they are truly meeting the most critical expectations of their customers or not. He made the point that if companies are fulfilling expectations they may be addressing only secondary ones — like providing order status online, for example — versus finally getting around to resolving old invoice and pricing issues that have been riding on customers’ books for months.

Their comments reminded me of recent research completed by the Corporate Executive Board on the best practices of companies that are earning trust over time. Expectations are a critical component in the roadmap to trust and can move entire companies away from being purely transaction-based with their customers to developing greater lifetime customer value. Layer in complex products and services to this expectations discussion and the role of trusted advisor becomes the path to differentiation today especially in technology-centered companies.

The most successful CRM deployments are equipping sales forces to become trusted advisors. In thinking of what made these deployments different, the following factors came to mind:

Lessons Learned From Successful CRM Deployments

Looking back over the best CRM deployments I’ve seen, heard about or been involved in, the following characteristics emerge:

  1. Be as explicit as possible about your CRM strategy goals. Go so far as to create a dashboard in the CRM system to measure progress. Instead of just focusing on transaction-oriented metrics, go after those that show your progress to being a trusted advisor. You’ll definitely want to have as a goal knowing expectations by customer and how you’re doing against them. Your customers’ expectations are your future.
  2. Earn trust for CRM by attacking your company’s pain with it. The CRM flameouts I’ve seen have the majority of the time been due to companies staying product- and manufacturing-myopic in their selling strategies. CRM just adds more pain in these companies — it alleviates nothing. But for CRM to be successful it has to start at the most critical areas of pain where it matters most — expectations surrounding your performance and a true assessment of how you are doing.
  3. Processes and people come first. Getting customer-facing processes down from months to weeks and then to days is a huge competitive advantage, especially in manufacturing companies. Re-aligning people to be focused on customers’ expectations and driving lifetime value at the same time makes CRM work.
  4. Build momentum through cost savings. This is also critical because it gives CRM systems credibility inside your company.
  5. Cross-functional ownership is a must-have. I recall visiting one manufacturing company and the GM of the Division personally ran the CRM cross-functional team meetings and even created an advisory council with the company’s distributors to make sure the channel-facing system would meet their needs. Within two months after launch, there was over 88 percent usage on channel applications.
  6. Realize the largest vendors cannot be all things to all people. The reason Oracle is as large is they are is they’ve done a great job of finding the world’s biggest pain points in databases, yet CRM, to be successful, has to reflect a company’s core strengths. That’s why smaller vendors, albeit viable, are always a good idea to look at. They bring versatility in applications to the CRM arena.
  7. New system adoption starts at the top. Be overtly aggressive about new system adoption and if your VPs and C-level executives are decent speakers, have them talk about how they are using the system.
  8. Protect customer data vigilantly. The best CRM deployments don’t ever make the mistake of having customer data inadvertently get to channel partners, or sales history showing up in one customers’ account for another.
  9. Measure and reward progress. CRM can really change the culture in a company, especially where analytics are concerned. I’ve gone through companies who post their score cards in hallways so everyone knows how the company is performing relative to customers’ and their own expectations.

Winning at CRM Isn’t Rocket Science

What’s frustrating for many companies is that they do in-depth research into which CRM applications to buy, study best practices, hire analysts, system integrators and experts to tell them what to do, yet CRM systems still fail to deliver on the promise of solving the company’s biggest pain points. It’s not a lack of effort, it’s a lack of perspective leading to CRM failures. The companies have stayed myopically focused on how to use CRM as a tool against their customers — in this case selling them more product — rather than as a foundation for building trust and providing lifetime value.

When you look at CRM strategies from that standpoint, which is the assiduous pursuit of customer expectations and their synchronized fulfillment company wide, you can see how in large part, CRM vendors have failed to show how this could be accomplished with a minimum of incremental software sales.

To solve these problems, Greenberg and Culbert have formed BPT Partners — a literal dream team of CRM, including Greenberg, Culbert, Sampson Lee, founder of GreaterChinaCRM, Dr. Jeff Tanner of Baylor University, and Michael Chuchmuch, Vice President of Unisys’ Change Management practice.

The gap between what vendors provide and what system integrators will deliver, providing you sign an expensive engagement contract with them, is being filled by a new seminar they’ve launched titled “The CRM at the Speed of Light Professional Training Seminar.”

Their approach is unique to the industry. “We concentrate on making customer value and customer strategy the centerpiece of all business strategies, processes, and relationships within and outside of the company,” says Culbert. Also included is a healthy dose of change management, which is the most critical aspect of rolling out a new CRM system. The content and approach has been endorsed by the Rutgers University CRM Research Center, one of two university-level centers focusing on CRM in the country today, the CRM Association, and CRMGuru. Completion of the course provides the attendee with a certificate that is endorsed by those organizations.

Bottom line: There’s a major gap between what vendors are delivering in terms of best practices guidance, and at the high end, what system integrators deliver. For many companies to get their CRM strategies back on track and aligned with their customers’ expectations, BPT Partners’ seminars are a perfect fit.


Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He is the author of several books on making the most of analyst relationships, including Best Practices in Analyst Relations, which can be downloaded for free.


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