Stick-to-itiveness: 3 Steps to Continually Refine Your CRM

Each dollar spent on CRM yields US$5.60 in benefits, according to a recent report from Nucleus Research. Though the findings are interesting, the methodology is questionable. The 70 participating companies were customers of a firm that had been profiled in case studies, meaning that they were not necessarily typical CRM users.

Still, it’s worth noting that the companies that contributed to Nucleus’ numbers were embodying a trait of successful CRM users simply by engaging with the firm and seeking an outsider’s viewpoint of their CRM activities.

That trait could be described colloquially as “stick-to-itiveness,” or perhaps more formally as a devotion to continuous improvement. No CRM system is ever finished. It’s intended to provide you with the right view of your customers in the context of your business. As your customers change and as your business changes, the set of processes built around CRM must change as well.

The Neverending Story

Too many businesses treat CRM as an IT deployment: Once it’s installed and data’s flowing into it, it’s considered done. That outlook is dangerous for the business and calamitous for the CRM investment; without regularly scheduled reviews of ways to tweak the CRM system to adapt to changing conditions, the tendency often is to blame the technology as it becomes less and less effective and to look for a replacement.

In reality, the technology is not the problem. The problem is the attempt to solve new problems and address new customer behaviors with a set of processes designed to address issues of the past.

To avoid treating CRM as a “fire-and-forget” system within your business, it is critical that your management team plan for these adaptations. If you build three steps into the management of your CRM system, you should be able to smoothly adjust your approach as your customers and your business adjust the way they work.

Make It Everyone’s Job

No one’s going to spot holes in your CRM strategy or changes in important customer data faster that your front-line sales, marketing and service staff. Do they know who to go to when they see these opportunities — and do they even know that someone in the organization wants to hear from them?

Establish a single point of contact for this information among management — at least within departments — and make sure that everyone understands the value that communicating these ideas up the chain of command holds for them personally.

More-effective management of sales data means more commissions for sales people; the collection of a new, critical bit of data could help marketing qualify leads more effectively; an improvement to workflow patterns could help support deliver better service and do it faster.

With a pathway for ideas and an illustration of how the use of that pathway can result in personal benefit, your front-line people will be motivated to make a direct contribution to the evolution of your CRM system.

Put It on the Calendar

Once you have a continuous flow of ideas, you need to manage them, prioritize them and put them into action. That won’t happen if you attempt to pass any and all ideas in real time to the IT assets in charge of making technology changes or the department heads responsible for changing human processes.

Instead, schedule regular meetings of the critical managers to look at the input you’re getting from the front-line workers — and consider putting front-line workers on the team, too. A meeting every two or three months to evaluate ideas will give your team a concentrated set of tasks to execute, rather than a never-ending stream of incremental modifications.

A quarterly or bimonthly set of changes becomes part of the process; a stream of changes becomes something you start to disregard when it cuts into your other work. Schedule idea evaluation and change execution, and stick to that schedule.

Listen, Measure and Evaluate

Not every modification is going to work. Sometimes, ideas born of the best intentions have unintended results. Other times, the modifications to processes don’t go far enough. While the front-line workers are great for generating ideas, managers are responsible for spotting areas where improvement can be made — and that goes for improving the improvements, as well.

You should have a set of KPIs to measure the effectiveness of sales, marketing and service; use these KPIs to study the effects the modifications to your CRM processes are having on the business. It’s also incumbent on you to listen to customer feedback — if changes are rubbing them wrong, they’re the wrong changes to make and should be reconsidered.

Naturally, this sequence of events will look different within each business. But these activities — and others unique to your organization — need to be institutionalized and continued over the lifetime of the CRM system in order to squeeze the greatest return on investment from your CRM technology and maximize profit and customer satisfaction.

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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