OPINION

When CRM Stalls: Kicking It Up a Notch

As a CRM journalist, I always enjoy talking to integrators (or resellers, or VARS, or partners, or whatever term they choose to describe themselves). It’s always an interesting contrast to speaking with vendors. The discussion you have with a vendor is like taking an anatomy course; the discussion you have with an integrator is like speaking to the coroner.

I’ve heard gory things about vendors and technologies, but I’ve mostly heard the gruesome facts surrounding CRM customers. One integrator remarked that without exception, they all seemed convinced that the things they needed from their CRM system were completely unique to them. “In actuality, in 25 years I never heard a single truly unique need,” he said, “but I had to sit there and nod my head as though they were the first people to ever suggest a feature.”

This, perhaps is the greatest lament of integrators working with CRM: There seems to be an imagination deficit within many organizations around the transformational capabilities of the concepts and technology. Too many companies spot one critical area that needs fixing, bring in CRM to fix it, and then pull the plug on continued innovation and redesign of internal processes. This is far more prevalent in small and medium-sized companies, but it happens within organizations of all sizes.

The Band-Aid Approach

Why does this happen? In part, it’s due to the paucity of enthusiasm around the idea of dramatically changing an organization. An infatuation with the status quo is dangerous for a business, but sadly, it’s not uncommon. Fixing a sales or marketing issue by implementing CRM is, for smaller businesses, a neat band-aid that allows them to continue with business as usual, minus the problem that was vexing them.

If the business is not in the habit of continually examining its processes and at the same time thinking about how CRM can improve and evolve them, CRM ends up being a wasted, one-time investment. It’s worrying to think how many companies’ first CRM applications were replaced when they were perfectly suitable simply because the business had confused its own failure to increase its usage with a lack of functionality.

There are other factors that hamper full utilization of CRM solutions. Here are three pitfalls that can keep your business from taking full advantage of its CRM investment:

Inadequate Training

Why do businesses go to the effort to select, buy and deploy CRM applications but then fail to fully train the employees who need to work with them? Many businesses have mistaken “ease of use” for “no need for training,” with limiting results. Others have provided limited training to a core cadre of employees, leaving half-trained users to train other untrained users.

The cause is usually a quest to save money, but scrimping on training is a great way to take the money you’ve already spent and waste it. It sets the employees up to know just those surface functionalities and how to solve today’s problems, but it also leaves them without answers to tomorrow’s problems. Training solves that — and it can open up channels of thinking for employees that can result in better solutions through alternate usages of the application.

Excessive Complexity

Vendors don’t get off scot-free. Too many of them present users with software engineer-centric interfaces, with features buried off the main screen.

Although it’s smart to concentrate the most-used features on the front page, you don’t want additional functionality to be hidden where users will never go looking or them.

If that functionality penalizes users, they’re not going to use it, and the CRM you have now will be the CRM you have in the future, regardless of how the version number changes over the years.

Disorganized Software Releases

Another issue that reflects the first two is the tendency for vendors to release new features in a scattershot approach, especially since the start of the SaaS era. Several vendors — RightNow, especially — do a good job of grouping new features around tasks. That means that every quarter, one or two parts of the organization have to train around several new features.

With a scattershot release, every part of the organization has to train around one or two new features that may apply to their jobs. This makes it easy to skip training, and soon new features start to be ignored — and your CRM functionality goes into a state of suspended animation.

The most important thing, however, is still the use of your imagination. How can your organization improve, and how can your CRM solution help make that improvement? If you keep thinking about that question — and acting on the ideas it generates — you can continue to grow the value of your CRM investment well after it solves your initial problems.

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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