Are Lookouts Guiding Your CRM Journey?

In a past life, I was a bosun’s mate in the U.S. Navy. A bosun’s mate’s job is best described as “sailor stuff” — running small boats, tying up and casting off in port, steering the ship, maintaining things, and lots and lots of painting.

Bosun’s mates also stood lookout watches, and plenty of them. These watches involved simply monitoring the environs, day and night, for signs of other ships, aircraft and things that were important for the crew to know about. Usually, these watches were long, dull and uneventful.

But once in a while you’d spot something that could be incredibly damaging to the ship — like the enormous, mostly submerged logs we encountered off the coast of Oregon, which had escaped from logging operations on the Columbia River. Had the ship struck one, it could have punctured the bow and caused millions of dollars of damage.

How does that relate to CRM? Well, like ships, we put a lot of effort into thinking about strategy and the actual construction of the processes and associated technology. We launch them and use them for their intended purposes.

But how many companies are actually posting “lookouts” to make sure their CRM efforts aren’t encountering unexpected obstacles so that they can be avoided before they have an impact on the business? And what should they be on the lookout for?

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

You may think that the day-to-day users of your CRM system are looking for these issues, and you may indeed have had some good ideas for improving your processes surfaced by members of the sales or marketing teams. But there’s a real need for leaders in sales, marketing and support — and IT, in certain cases — to take deliberate and intentional looks at how effectively CRM is working and to anticipate “course changes” that can keep it working best.

Every business will have different areas that command attention. A periodic review is important, but so is a constant monitoring of the effectiveness of the CRM system by people who understand how it’s supposed to work and know the system’s defined goals.

To jog your imagination, here are a few areas to keep an eye on — but this is not the exhaustive list. It’s just a set of aspects of CRM that should get you thinking about the question, “is there anything I’m missing and should be keeping an eye on?”

1. Features Whose Times Have Come

Most businesses don’t utilize all the features of their CRM applications, many of which address specific and unique business requirements that didn’t exist when the application was first rolled out. But businesses are never static, and their needs evolve over time; unless you have a “CRM lookout” in place, you may find yourself yearning for a feature that you unknowingly already possess.

This can be embarrassing, as in the case of a business that realizes a few months after identifying a need for a feature that it could have been using it all along. It can be expensive if a company pinpoints that need and then embarks on a CRM replacement process without realizing its CRM application already provides it.

Keep an eye out for new needs and know the full capabilities of your CRM application, and put them together when the time is right.

2. Evolving Lead Behaviors

The activities that indicate when a prospect is ready to buy can change and evolve with time. What works as an indicator today may become less of a sure thing over time; similarly, indicators that aren’t on your radar today may become the keys to when leads qualify in the future.

If you aren’t watching for these changes and being proactive in adapting CRM practices, then you’re going to be reactive, chasing customers and perhaps never quite catching up to them.

3. Data Aging Out

About 20 percent of your customer data becomes stale each year, but few companies do a really good job of keeping an eye out for this hazard. Many catch and delete inaccurate data as they encounter it, but few businesses approach this in a routine manner.

Keeping an eye on data not only allows you to maintain a fresh set of customer data, but also permits you to see what data sources may be failing at delivering timely data.

4. Holes in Customer Data That Impair Service

Supporting the customer requires a complete picture of the customer’s experience with the company. However, few businesses achieve this, forcing agents to rely on their resourcefulness to work around gaps in the customer record.

Instead of counting on the agents to pick up the slack, CRM leaders should be looking for those areas and working to make changes so that agents no longer fly blind.

Staying Afloat

These are just samples of things to watch for — and high-level things at that. The devil is truly in the details when it comes to proactively adjusting your CRM strategy and processes, and those details will be specific to your organization.

However, unless you acknowledge the inevitability of these changes — and unless you charge someone with looking out for the changes as they happen — you can’t react in time, and you’ll pay with lost revenue and lost market share. In other words, without making provisions for a regular CRM lookout, your business could be sunk.

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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