OPINION

How CRM Can Suffer When It Crosses Borders

Building better relationships with customers is an ideal that’s not limited to any one market, community, industry or even country. The basics are the same, for the most part; they involves collecting data and applying it where appropriate to drive sales and customer loyalty.

Understanding this comes as second nature when you work within a single country; the practitioners of CRM are customers themselves and thus share many of the cultural characteristics of their own customers. They also understand the legal requirements around privacy and data security for their country, and they have an understanding of the technical abilities of its communications infrastructure.

But what happens when you expand your CRM focus beyond the borders of your country? Can you simply clone CRM operations from one geography and expect them to get results in another?

Even if you could, it would probably not be effective — but in many cases, you can’t, due to legal and technical barriers.

So, what do you need to go global with your CRM efforts?

    1. Understand the legal issues concerning what you can collect and where you can store it.

When you cross borders, you come under the jurisdiction of different laws. In some cases, those laws can be quite different from one country or region to another. For instance, privacy laws in the European Union are quite different from those in the U.S. Local laws may demand that customer data must be stored locally, which can throw a monkey wrench into cloud-based solutions. Additional levels of regulatory granularity around specific industries can further muddy the legal picture.

South America is a great case in point. Although the nations of the region share many aspects of their cultures, each nation’s lawmakers have approached privacy and security issues at different paces and with different attitudes. The result is a patchwork of requirements that makes it very difficult to have a single CRM system.

The lesson: If you plan to run your global CRM efforts from your headquarters only, think again. It may simply be impossible to do so legally, so examine the law closely and be prepared to set up CRM systems unique to specific geographies.

2. Realize that all technology infrastructures are not equal.

In North America, a robust technology infrastructure is enabling all kinds of cloud-based innovation, and CRM practitioners can take that for granted. In parts of the developing world, on the other hand, that infrastructure is not as reliable, ubiquitous or capable — which means that what works in the U.S. may not work elsewhere.

Before you take the plunge into a new geography, consult with your IT team — or with a local consultant — to develop an honest view of what technology can be used reliably in that region. It may be necessary to use on-premise software and to build your own computing infrastructure in those regions, even if you’re using a SaaS solution elsewhere.

The lesson: Don’t assume that the entire world has the same capabilities when it comes to computing — and if you want to use advanced computing to support your CRM efforts, you may have to pay more for it than you might expect.

3. What matters to customers is different from place to place.

The cultural issues between markets are probably the most obvious differences to marketers and sales people. There’s a reason that local marketers and sales people are important — they understand what motivates customers and what information can help close sales.

When it comes to CRM, that means you can’t drop the exact same data fields that produce winning results in North America into Asia or the Middle East and expect to get the same results. Some information — contact data, for instance — is universally useful, but other information is less helpful from place to place. It may be common to collect certain data in one place but rude to request it in another region.

Once again, reaching out to your people in these regions — or to consultants in areas you’re looking to move into — can help you understand what unique data helps build relationships in a particular location. Understanding that can help you customize your CRM application and give your international sales and marketing teams better and more pertinent data.

The lesson: If you hope to sell to locals, listen to locals and take their input into consideration when tailoring your CRM system for a new geography.


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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