Solid CRM is difficult, but not impossible

By Mario Apicella, InfoWorld |  Software

Managing customer relationships has always been complicated and unpredictable, but the popularity of the Internet and the explosive growth of wireless technologies make it even more so -- and more expensive. But relief is finally possible. A robust CRM (customer relationship management) solution -- from one vendor or a mix from many -- can make your sales efforts more incisive, your marketing campaigns more effective, and your customer service more efficient.

But proceed with caution: Many early adopters have reported lengthy, expensive CRM implementation cycles and failure to achieve demonstrable results. Even the boldest CTOs tremble at industry scuttlebutt which says that as many as 77 percent of CRM projects fail to some extent.

Each company requires a unique mix of resources and information to best respond to customer issues. Although technology helps, a packaged solution, no matter how well-established and rich in features it may be, will not alone take care of your customers. Even a perfectly designed solution can fail to produce results if you haven't tuned it to the specific requirements of your company.

Such requirements are often difficult to identify because different departments have different notions of what's good for the customer. To consolidate those views into a coherent image, your company may have to reassess the way it does business. Without this essential first step, your CRM implementation will have no clear target and will fail to produce significant results.

Rethinking customer relations is just the starting point. Implementing a CRM solution, which must be integrated with existing applications and infrastructure, is a monster project with a gargantuan appetite for resources. Learning from other IT leaders' experiences can help you identify the most critical parts of your CRM project and avoid common mistakes.

How tough is CRM, really?

In February, InfoWorld surveyed 500 readers who are involved with acquiring CRM software and services and who work with 100 or more other employees. The InfoWorld CRM Survey has a sample tolerance variance of plus or minus 4.4 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

This survey offers insights into the dynamics of implementing a CRM solution. We asked our readers to share their experiences, their expectations, and their plans for CRM. To clarify our questions about CRM, an all-encompassing, confusing term, our extensive questionnaire focused on specific aspects such as sales-force, marketing, and service automation, and links to other systems including back-office and supply-chain management applications.

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