How To Get the Right CRM Tool

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
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How To Get the Right CRM Tool

By David Sims
David at firstcoffee d*t biz

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else:

One of First Coffee's favorite regular features in any newspaper or magazine is, of course, the rerun Calvin & Hobbes comics. But another one is Carl Bialik and Jason Fry's "The Daily Fix" feature in The Wall Street Journal, where they round up the best sportswriting appearing that week.

Unlike sportswriting, which is quite ephemeral… well, except for the best of it, which ages as well as a good song, wine or customer, well-done CRM has quite a long shelf life. In other words, much of the best advice doesn't change. How you apply it does, of course. But "buy low, sell high" gets repeated for a reason. Hard to improve on that.

So for First Coffee Saturday we'll look at the best of what's been said and what's being said about how to actually do this thing called Customer Relationship Management. Bear in mind that over 2,000 years ago a wise man noted correctly there was "nothing new under the sun," and when it comes down to how best to serve, relate to and build loyalty with your customers, that rule holds pretty well. Novelty in CRM comes in new ways to practice classic, time-honored truths.

As an experienced CRM reader you've been innundated with "Ten Best Ways To" and "Five Mistakes To Avoid" columns, and there's a reason for that: They work. Such columns, of which this scribe has generated his fair share, are found to be useful by those of you in the trenches. We'll focus on those.  We'll also consider new books, studies and surveys containing information useful to you.

So without further ado:

Let's start with the big picture. Industry observer Jennifer Schiff interviewed NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson a while ago, and learned what we'll call The Number One Get It Right Or Else Everything Else You Do Will Be A Big Honkin' Waste Of Time, Money and Motrin:

"A big mistake that companies typically make when considering a customer relationship management system is not taking the time to think about and outline what their broad and specific customer-related business issues are before they make the purchase," Schiff writes.

Exactamundo, Quasimodo. "That's really the upfront challenge," explains Nelson. "If all you're trying to do is get a better forecast out of your sales reps, just go use Excel. But if you're really trying to manage how a customer is first touched -- when he comes in as a prospect, how he responds when you ship the product, how you react when the customer visits your Web site or calls you for support -- then you're looking at a business process. True CRM starts by understanding how you're going to interact with that customer throughout the life of the relationship, not just the forecast this month."

As Nelson tells Schiff, "You have to take a holistic look, not just at what the sales guys are doing with customer data but what the guys in accounting and shipping are doing with customer data. How are the Web guys exposing this customer data? It becomes a very complex process, and that's why you have to look at it across the company, not just as a sales issue," he says.

And I can see we've lost half of you already. Yeah yeah, you mutter, velly nice, now tell me what product to buy. If that's your attitude then go buy whatever you want, because it won't matter a whit anyway. If you don't know where you're going or why you want to get there it doesn't matter if you plunk down a quarter million for a Lamborghini Murcielago or pick up a '63 Dodge Dart for a couple hundred bucks, does it?

The answer to this kind of thing isn't "Get Oracle," or "Buy whatever Microsoft sells," you're a long way from purchasing technology when you start out. Figure out what you want the tool to do.

Imagine walking into Home Depot. You tell the clerk you have a job to do and ask what the best tool in the store is. "Well, that depends, sir, what job do you want to do?"

"Oh, you know, fixing stuff. The house. Working on the house. Whaddya got?"

And of course if the clerk knows his stuff -- especially if he's working off commission -- you walk out with a $1,895 riding mower, take it home and discover you really only needed a Phillips screwdriver.

If you'd done your homework before grabbing your checkbook you would've marched into Home Depot and said "Hey, you there. Show me your thermoplastic elastomer Redback Maxi S5 Phillips screwdriver, fitting size 0 to size 3, with the ergonomically designed grip and blade forged of alloy steel with a hardened tip."

"Yessir, that'll be six bucks."

That's what Nelson's saying here. This is so important we'll type slowly: Decide. What. Tool. You. Need. First. Like, as in, before you buy it.

Because CRM technology is just tools. That's all it is -- tools. One big Home Depot for dealing with customers. If you don't know exactly what you want the CRM tool to do, you're as lost as if you buy a riding mower to tighten the kitchen sockets.

As Nelson tells Schiff, "not all CRM products are capable of supporting the business processes of every company." Right -- not all screwdrivers fit all screws, not all riding mowers work on all lawns. "So it's very important to understand how you want to approach and manage your customer relationships. And then you find a piece of software that can effectively [give you] that desired outcome or [handle] that business process."

Let's say you've got a lot of customer data on hand. Oodles of it. Been dutifully collecting it from Day One. Now you're wondering what to do to get the, well, you know, value out of it. Wasn't that the point in the first place?

You need a CRM tool, yes. But not a CRM contact center tool. Not a CRM tool promising "360 degree view of the customer!" Not a CRM tool to synchronize your home office CRM data with remote sales reps. Not a CRM tool with the ability to maintain contacts with alumni and solicit donations. You want a CRM analytics tool.

Check out the vendors specializing in or offering a decent range of CRM analytical tools. There's SAS, Wipro, SAP and a few others you should look at. More legwork to do, yes, but you've narrowed the field considerably and you stand a much better chance of getting a tool to actually do what you want -- you're at least out of Lawn & Garden and over in the Hand Tools. You're not in danger of coming back with a 50' flexible hose extension instead of the Phillips screwdriver, put it that way.

How to find what you want a CRM tool to do? Look at where your company's pain is. If you're just puttering along, doing okay, your two main business technological applications are Microsoft Outlook and Excel, but you have this vague feeling you could be soaring with the eagles if you had a fancy-dancy CRM Thingabob, what you do is sit down with coffee, doughnuts and whoever you need to in order to create a complete picture of your company.

Find out what your business processes are. Decide if you're doing each one as well as you could be, or if there's inefficiency you're losing money from -- you're answering some e-mails, but not all. Write that down. Customers call in and you can't locate all their information, including past orders and interactions, at the touch of a button. That goes on the list. You think if you did a better job following up purchases you'd get more repeat business. Things like that.

Decide where your real pain points are, where you could really see a solid return on some investment -- "If we did a real whiz-bang job capturing leads at trade shows, man, I bet we could move some serious product. I'd sink a few bucks into a computer doohickey to automate that for us so we're not dealing with smeared business cards and cocktail napkins with phone numbers that could be anyone from a client to a call girl."

Now you can pick up the phone and start calling vendors. "Hi, I'm looking for a system to follow up on trade show leads instead of flushing them down the toilet when we get back, we need a sales and lead tracking tool to…"

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