What Holds Back CRM Success: Executive Fear

The past year seemed like one of marking time in CRM — at least to me. The trends are all well spelled out: Social CRM will become a critical tool, service has grown in importance as customer acquisition has become more difficult, and the value of mobile CRM is becoming painfully apparent. So why aren’t we acting on the trends?

I’ve heard the excuses — most famously, “we need to understand the ROI on this before we launch any projects.” That’s not a great excuse, because ROI calculators are out there and ready for use, even for social CRM. Great or not, too often the excuses win out.

You’ve probably heard the mantra that CRM needs executive buy-in to succeed. That’s true — so true, in fact, that the opposite is also true. New trends in CRM need executive apathy and fear to fail.

The people working in the trenches are constantly receiving anecdotal evidence of the value of social CRM in helping with sales, marketing and service. The service team sees only too clearly how deficiencies in their processes are holding them back. The people in the field are relying on mobile devices for many things — and they know that a capability to use their business software on their mobile devices could make them both more productive and more effective.

So the front-line people are ready, and the technology is ready. What’s keeping many businesses from launching a CRM revolution? I like to call it “C-level fear.”

ROI Paralysis

Far too many executives operate from a position of fear when it comes to the customer. They continue to debate the idea that the customer is now in control of the relationship, because the loss of control is scary to them.

As a result, they soft-pedal emerging technologies, kicking the can down the road to a time not when their organizations are ready for change — because that time is now — but to a time when they have come to grips with how the customer is changing, and how that changes the expectations and duties of a C-level executive.

They’re afraid of making investments that don’t pay off, and they’d rather find themselves too far behind the competition than seem too far ahead of the technology curve.

The great default is the ROI argument. If an initiative can’t produce visible ROI in a short period of time, it doesn’t get a go-ahead. Investments should have payoffs, but the way those payoffs are evaluated should be fair and realistic.

A pilot program whose evaluation criteria doom it to failure from the start is not a good investment. An evaluation of an underfunded initiative after six months is not fair to those involved in it.

Worst of all, once a half-baked, half-hearted program based around social media, in-depth service or mobile technologies fails, the executives plagued by “C-level fear” can then use those doomed projects as evidence that all such projects will fail.

Best Practices Are Made, not Born

Another great dodge is the idea of waiting for best practices to develop. Best practices don’t just evolve on their own — they come about when someone actually tries something and then adjusts what they’re doing.

Thus, if you’re sitting around waiting for best practices, it means that someone else — probably a competitor — is out there working to develop them. With the speed that customer relationships are evolving, can you wait to copy your competitors? Are you willing to spot them a huge lead? If you’re not willing to answer the bell now, will you really be able to catch up later?

If you want to succeed — especially as a C-level executive — you need to be audacious. You need to realize what the reality is around customer relationships, accept what you have control over, and act decisively to improve those things. What you should not do is default to excuses that merely mask the fact that you’re uncomfortable with change.

One audacious move: If you’re a C-level executive, get out of the office and talk to the front-line people about these ideas. Find out if social CRM, mobile CRM, new service metrics, or new types of analytics would solve their problems. If the answer is yes, you need to realize that you will not be alone in any effort to improve your CRM efforts — if you’re brave enough to respond by initiating change.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 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 two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.


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