Be thoughtful when you integrate CRM into your e-business strategy

By Michael Vizard, InfoWorld |  Software

Of course the justification for investing in CRM is that it will help you encourage recurring revenue by maintaining a lasting relationship with your customers. Whether the product is a PC, a household appliance, or a car, there could be an opportunity to sell additional products and services assuming the customer is happy. In theory, this is a principal application of any sound e-business architecture.

Unfortunately, most companies today don't have the business processes in place to really support CRM initiatives over the long term. Trying to return an item bought online to a physical store is a challenge to which most companies cannot yet rise. And in the world of business-to-business e-commerce, the complexity is greater. Ford Motor, for example, manufactures very little. Instead, it assembles parts from a broad range of suppliers. For companies such as Ford, tying their CRM projects into their order-management and supply-chain system is a major multiorganizational endeavor.

Ultimately, through better communication with the customer, this process should prevent disasters such as the tire debacle Ford is currently experiencing. But it will be years before companies get all their suppliers and distributors inteegrated with CRM projects because it's a major business re-engineering project.

The simple truth of the matter is that CRM today is soon going to be what enterprise resource planning projects were to IT in the mid­1990s. This is because installing the software is relatively easy compared to driving the cultural changes necessary to make these investments ultimately pay off.

In fact, when you think about it, CRM projects are only the tip of the e-business iceberg. It's a great place to get started, but deploying a CRM initiative without thinking through all the implications is an open invitation to internal strife that, at least in the short term, may do a lot more harm than good.

For IT managers, this means that you need to be seen as a proactive champion for CRM projects while simultaneously being wary of unleashing forces in your company that could have unintended consequences, not the least of which is setting up customer expectations that your company may not actually be prepared to deliver for a long time.

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