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Improving Your Odds for a Successful CRM and IT Strategy

By David Shaffer (2142 words)
Posted in Leadership & Teambuilding on December 6, 2012

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By David Shaffer, Business Advisor & Executive Coach, David Shaffer Consulting LLC

The overall mission of business today, as it was yesterday, and undoubtedly will be tomorrow, is to maximize customer service. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is the foundation of business success, but giving the customer what he or she wants, when & how he or she wants it, without compromise, remains a daunting task. Technology offers integrated solutions to CRM, however with the expanded use of technology, there is an overabundance of data and a challenge to disseminate that data into information.


It is almost daily that we read or hear of Information Systems not fulfilling the expectations established at the time of acquisition. In fact, despite the most diligent efforts in defining requirements, evaluating options and selecting systems, the probability of higher than expected investments, as well as excessive system implementation and utilization issues are extremely high. Accepting the premise that the customer is the reason for a business to exist, justification, for the most part filters back to CRM. However, incongruent departmental goals and objectives make the probability of a successful CRM strategy difficult to obtain. The balancing and integrating of company and departmental goals with the capabilities of the Information System being utilized is the topic of this discussion.


Improved Results (IR):


It is fair to assume that all participants in the implementation of technology are focused upon improved results for their individual and collective departments. The aggregate of these improved results should be focused on, and result in, improved results for the company as a whole. Specifically a concise definition of measuring improved results as a positive gain in CRM. If there is nothing to gain then there is obviously no reason to change.


For a significant number of businesses however, changes are dictated externally by competition, customers, & vendors, and for publicly traded companies, possibly the shareholders. This external pressure, when coupled with potentially internal conflicting goals, tends to increase anxiety levels and can further contribute to poor system selection and/or utilization. How often is it heard that if we don’t change we will lose? The Internet and e-commerce are recent examples of technology forcing many businesses to react.


One of the ways businesses have tried to deal with change and expected external pressures is through strategic planning. When done correctly, and shared appropriately throughout the organization, the strategic plan becomes a roadmap and a source of reference throughout the year. In fact, a good strategic plan is the balancing point or fulcrum for the integration of the organizational and operational infrastructure to support the needs of the customer.


The customer is the final arbiter in determining improved results. As such, the strategic planning process represents the foundation for a successful CRM strategy. As depicted in figure 1, the implementation of the strategic plan is a delicate balance between the operational processes and the organization infrastructure. With the strategic plan acting as the fulcrum, the ability of a business to maintain the balance will directly determine the effectiveness of its’ CRM strategy.


Balancing for Success:


Traditionally, organizations have focused a significant amount of attention and resources on the operational side of the triangle. Expenditures and resource commitment in the selection and implementation of technology and new Information Systems have been viewed as major steps in the implementation of the strategic plan. However, in spite of the formation of steering committees, requests for proposal and numerous vendor evaluations, the odds are still stacked against the system reaching its’ full potential. One of the contributing factors is reflected in the fact that although a new system will directly impact almost everyone’s daily functions, little effort is given to concentrating on the Infrastructure/Organization/People side of the strategic plan implementation.


It is assumed that the procedures and policies associated with a new system will be integrated as part of the implementation process. Vendors of technology and software will do their best to provide the appropriate operational training, however are not generally in the business of assuring that the organizational infrastructure can absorb the change. That is left to the management team and the steering committee. Recognizing that a new system carries risk as well as rewards, the management team is functioning under its’ own level of pressure and may not be the best in soothing the concerns, issues and change being felt by the employees.


Finally, when one recognizes that the balancing act of the triangle is to expand customer service, the strength of a new system, without balancing investment in the organization, may cause the triangle to tilt. That is, the good intentions associated with the new system may indeed be counterproductive without the corresponding balancing of the attitudes, goals, objectives and concerns of the people that comprise the organization.


Addressing the Organizational/Infrastructure/People Side of the Triangle:


The objective: balance the triangle on a foundation of strong strategic planning to assure the maximum return on the organization’s CRM strategy. It is important that the strategic plan be well defined and includes a concise, workable set of deliverables that will establish a fulcrum to support the internal weight of the triangle and meet the CRM objectives. As such, the plan must clearly articulate how CRM will be measured, as well as define the specific strategies associated with meeting the measurements. The question still remains, how to effectively integrate the Organizational/Infrastructure/People side of the triangle?


The most significant means of reinforcing the organizational/people side of the triangle is to implement the appropriate processes that generate positive behavior while focusing on the balance of personal and professional goals. By generating positive behavior, improved results will follow. By generating positive behavior, reinforced and not threatened by the use of technology, the odds of a successful system implementation are greatly improved.


Affecting Positive Behavior:


Attitude is everything! Assume the organization employs personnel with the appropriate skills and knowledge necessary to do their jobs. By applying a positive attitude to this base of skills and knowledge while simultaneously integrating well-defined goals and objectives, positive behavior will occur. That is,



As a first step to the balancing of the triangle, the organization must assure that the goals are reflective of the strategic plan and are in fact realistic and attainable. Further, the goals should be linked to the goals established within the information technology and both areas must be supportive of the measurable CRM objectives. Finally, the individual assigned the goals must feel that they are under his/her control and reflective of the daily tasks under his/her responsibility. As an example, if one of the CRM goals is to measure customer service as next day product delivery, then although this becomes the goal for the shipping manager, that manager must feel that the appropriate action items required for meeting this goal are under his/her control. That obstacles standing in the way of meeting the goal can be effectively addressed with management and that he/she is empowered to address the obstacles. Finally, the Information Systems being utilized or being implemented must be able to provide the tools necessary to meet this common CRM goal of next day delivery.




The attitude we bring to our daily personal and professional environments is a function of the behaviors and values we have developed throughout our lives. In fact, our core values are developed during our formative years and become part of our subconscious. We learn at an early age what not to do (don’t talk to strangers, don’t touch the fire etc.) and we wait, in most cases, for our school days to explore what we might actually be able to do. With our values and beliefs as a foundation for our subconscious behavior, and something that has been with us all our lives, it is unrealistic to expect that raising the level of conscious rather than subconscious decision-making can occur without the utilization of a proven and effective process.


The basis of this process is that of repetition and positive reinforcement. Much as we have learned the basics of mathematics or common commercial slogans, repetition is essential. Attending a half-day seminar on behavior modification provides immediate gratification with minimal long-term affect. As an example, think back to a seminar you attended four to six months ago and list the four or five critical actions you have taken as a result. Unless that seminar was skill related, that is, essential updates for you to perform your job, then chances are you will struggle with creating this list.


To raise the level of conscious thinking and to generate positive attitude, the repetitive process and reinforcement must recognize what is important to the individual and the work environment must establish goals and measurements that the individual can control, measure and feel empowerment to achieve results. Attitude is present in all we do. Whether it is positive, neutral, or negative it will impact the end results of what is trying to be accomplished.


Implementing the Strategy:


Regardless of the current information technology status, that is utilizing an existing system or entering into the selection process of a new one, it is essential that CRM be clearly defined. That is, just how will we as an organization measure CRM and, equally important, how will our customers measure us to decide if we are in fact successful in our CRM strategy. In addition to this measurement is the strategic plan. It must be reflective of where we want the business to be and how we will measure our success. Finally, the integration of technology and infrastructure are essential to maintaining the balance of the delicate triangle supporting the customer. We must place equal emphasis on understanding and implementing positive attitude as we are in implementing technology.


Defining and achieving improved results is critical to the on-going success of most businesses. To invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in technology and systems without recognizing that tools are only as good as the operator is a formula for disappointment. It has been said that the majority of systems that fail do so because they do not meet management expectations. We invest significantly in the selection process, but we need to expand that investment into our most valuable resource, our people.


Understanding the triangle and maintaining the balance between operations and infrastructure requires a solid strategic plan and a commitment to both sides of the triangle. By making the commitment, the balance will be maintained and the customer, the final arbiter, will be satisfied.


Do you feel your company is lacking the systems infrastructure to support your CRM strategy?  Or, is your CRM strategy not taking full advantage of the technology infrastructure you invested in?  What have you done, or should you do from a strategic planning perspective, to create a balance between the two?


Please join the conversation in 'This Week's Discussion'


{#/pub/images/DavidShafferPhoto.jpg}Written by David Shaffer, Partner and Director Consulting Services, David Shaffer Consulting LLC   Recognized for his ability to effectively integrate all aspects of business including financial management, information systems, infrastructure, sales management, sales strategies and operations. David assists companies from executive strategic planning through operational and business process improvement opportunities to the selection and integration of Management Information Systems solutions. He also supports Private Equity firms in due diligence activities extending from strategic planning into leadership development and CEO mentoring. His range of company support includes start up through fortune 500.


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Comments (6)

Sandra Owens posted on: December 7, 2012

Great article.

Elizabeth O'Keefe posted on: December 10, 2012

I am actually really happy I just joined this group and ecstatic that I happened to see this article - all in the same day! It touches on the exact issue with which I am dealing at work, and has given me some much needed ful for my fire! Although it is primarily addressing changes on a larger, corporate scale one paragraph in particular hit home with me, particularly as we are talking about implanting a new system. I feel very strongly that we need to hit the user aspect of whatever new case management system we implement, hard and with a strong sense of accountability. As I’ve said all along, no matter the system it will only be as good as the data input by the users.

Elizabeth O'Keefe posted on: December 10, 2012

“Finally, when one recognizes that the balancing act of the triangle is to expand customer service, the strength of a new system, without balancing investment in the organization, may cause the triangle to tilt. That is, the good intentions associated with the new system may indeed be counterproductive without the corresponding balancing of the attitudes, goals, objectives and concerns of the people that comprise the organization.”

Felicia Moreland posted on: December 21, 2012

Matching people's strongest dimensions with the work they do benefits everyone. When you and your team are using your strengths, you're all more satisfied and excited about what you're doing – and your organization benefits from improved productivity and engagement.

Adam Robinson posted on: December 21, 2012

Yes, David, a great read. Thanks for sharing!

Dr. Murugesan Ramalingam posted on: December 21, 2012

A well planned strategy compatible with the existing processes needs right skills for success. People factor is a great need of the hour to ensure customer satisfaction!

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