Solid CRM is difficult, but not impossible

By Mario Apicella, InfoWorld |  Software

The InfoWorld CRM Survey revealed a telling contradiction: Although the vast majority of respondents -- 78 percent -- consider CRM critical, just 35 percent have actually implemented it. This confirms the complexity and difficulty that IT leaders face when tackling their CRM implementations. No matter how important it is for a company, the obstacles to implementing the solution are such that they can actually delay or sink the project.

The readers we interviewed pinpointed those obstacles with relentless accuracy. Not surprisingly, budget constraints are the most important barrier for the majority of the respondents. In fact, depending on the complexity and the level of integration required, implementing CRM can cost a company hundreds or thousands of dollars per seat. And that's just the beginning; respondents also warned about the costs of integrating existing applications, consulting fees, training, and potential upgrades to their hardware infrastructure.

Trying to get approval for an astronomical budget entry can be the worst possible approach. Try breaking a CRM project into more manageable and less expensive subprojects. Take a phased approach; first deploy what's most appropriate and easiest to achieve in your company's environment.

In our survey, 49 percent of readers first deployed a call center or customer service solution, 21 percent started with SFA (sales-force automation), and a significant 10 percent began by implementing MA (marketing automation).

Total buy-in or bust

One of the greatest challenges you face when implementing a CRM solution is coordinating the requirements of multiple departments. If you ask who is responsible for the customer in your company, the answer will vary depending on whom you ask. Your company's sales, marketing, accounting, and service personnel will all claim ownership, and they are all correct.

The truth is that each department has a precise but partial image of your customers, and the difficult task of combining those segmented views into a coherent, companywide picture is crucial for a successful CRM implementation. For 49 percent of InfoWorld CRM Survey respondents, obtaining widespread cooperation from all levels inside the company is a major bump in the road to CRM. Also, 24 percent of our readers indicate that a lack of commitment by their management staffs can be a serious handicap, and 29 percent point the finger to an unsupportive cultural climate inside the company.

Although technology in itself will not solve your customer relationship problems, technology is one of the major reasons for failure or success on any CRM deployment. The existing infrastructure of hardware, operating systems, and applications is the foundation on which to build customer-focused applications.

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