Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leverage your CRM to its full potential

Takeaway: If you’re not leveraging your CRM to its full potential, especially in light of recent technology shifts, you’re leaving money on the table.

With the recent technology renaissance that’s given us everything from ubiquitous tablets to commoditized datacenter virtualization, CRM seems like a bit of a quaint technology. Even mom-and-pop companies have access to a variety of cloud-based offerings from startups to enterprise darlings. For medium and large companies, rocky CRM implementations and struggles to drive sales force adoption are likely distant memories, and aside from an occasional report request or minor enhancement, CRM is low on the “attention list.” If this describes your organization, you may be leaving money on the table and not leveraging your CRM to its full potential, especially in light of recent technology shifts.

Dust off the “we’ll do it later” list
One of the biggest missed opportunities that come from large, complex IT projects like a CRM implementation is burying what I call the WDIL (We’ll Do It Later) list. As time and budgetary constraints loom over a project as its deadline nears, there are always good ideas that you simply can’t get to, which end up on some form of WDIL list. In many cases, there are enhancements or functionality on which you’ve done 80% of the hard work, but the few extra hours required to implement just couldn’t be found at the time.

In particular, with CRM a critical concern, is whether sales and marketing will embrace the new technology, so many companies err on the side of caution when implementing, legitimately focusing on change management rather than fully leveraging the tools. About 6-18 months after implementation is a perfect time to dust off the WDIL list; users and management are familiar with the tools, and items from the WDIL list are not yet forgotten, creating a minor PR coup for IT when you actually deliver on your promise to do something after the fact. With most WDIL lists containing bushels of low-hanging fruit, there’s lots of opportunity to squeeze more value out of what was already a significant expenditure.

Getting mobile
Many of the recent CRM innovations have involved mobile technology, both in terms of gathering information about your customers and providing information to your sales force. As your channels for interacting with customers have expanded, most CRM systems have expanded their integration with everything from email marketing tools to social media tracking and reporting. While there’s a danger of capturing data and generating reporting for reporting’s sake, careful use of these data can provide a more detailed view of your customers and their interactions with your company and products.
Internally, most of the CRM tools are now integrated with mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

There’s an obvious benefit to a salesperson walking into a meeting with current information on their customer, insight into product availability, and all the usual information you would expect, but delivered rapidly, in real-time, literally to their pocket. Mobile data delivery was once the province of high-dollar, complex systems, but with the rising popularity of cloud-based CRM, it has become a freebie with even the most basic systems.

Better databases
A more technical trend that could potentially revolutionize enterprise computing is the evolution of the databases that store all the data captured by our enterprise applications. Until recently, database technology had been surprisingly consistent for decades, with advances in speed and functionality but little change to the core technology. While traditional relational databases have been “good enough” for most applications, new generations of databases change everything from the fundamental way data are stored to the ability to rapidly gather and analyze changing data.

Relational databases have traditionally struggled to do CRM-related tasks like analyzing the performance of a massive marketing campaign on different demographics. While this type of reporting is available, it literally takes hours to generate. Some of the new technology promises this type of analysis in minutes, essentially allowing marketing and sales promotions to be tweaked in real-time. This is an area that is rapidly evolving, and worth considering when you get requests for complex analytics that were once impossible.

Where next?
One of the great, largely unfulfilled promises of CRM technology was that it would allow us to predict with reasonable accuracy which customers would likely buy our products, and effectively allow us to focus our sales efforts on those customers. Being able to increase the odds of a sale by a dozen or more percentage points is a lofty goal, but one I still don’t think the current crop of CRM tools provides.

Some of the developments mentioned here, however, push us further in that direction. In order to offer this predictive capability, we need to know more about how our customers interact with us, have near real-time visibility into how our marketing and sales efforts are performing with different classes of customers, and deliver that information to the people actually doing the marketing and selling. The recent evolutions in the CRM space are pushing this trifecta forward, and while your happily functioning CRM may not be on your radar now, it’s worth investing some time and effort to prepare for this future.