How to Become Your Firm’s CRM Visionary

By Geoffrey James

Technology is seductive. It’s easy to look at a CRM system and think of it as a wonderful thing in and of itself. But all those well-designed screens, perfect interfaces and detailed reports are totally meaningless unless the CRM system serves your ultimate goal, which is to provide an incredible experience for your customers.

Ideally, every time customers interact with your firm they should have a consistent experience, regardless of the nature of that contact. If your customers call customer service, the service reps shouldn’t be telling them something different than what they’ve heard from their sales reps. In this scenario, the purpose of CRM is to – at the least – create a consistent customer experience and – at best – provide value and information your competitors can’t provide.

In other words, you need to become the CRM visionary – the touchstone for what’s really important. When playing this role you face the following key responsibilities.

Prioritization. Today’s CRM systems are full of functionality, some of which won’t be appropriate for your organization. Because you’re responsible for the ultimate goal, you’re the right person to prioritize the features and functions that go into your system.

Planning. CRM systems inevitably change and evolve over time. With the ultimate goal in mind, you should be looking constantly 18 months forward and anticipating what changes will need to be made to better support the sales group and the rest of the corporation.

Communication. CRM systems can require significant changes to the computer systems and day-to-day business activities of other organizations. Because CRM is primarily a sales tool it will be up to you to show the rest of the company why all those changes are important.

Scheduling. Installing and upgrading a CRM system almost always involves programmers who often significantly underestimate the amount of time it will take to bring a system or an upgrade into production. As the sales manager you must figure out ways to adapt schedules to accommodate the changes.

Management. As the CRM visionary you’re not just responsible for downwardly managing the transition, but also for upwardly managing the perceptions of top management concerning the entire CRM effort. You’ll need to work continuously with the executive team to ensure they’re well informed and that they continue to support the project.

Selling. While customers couldn’t care less about some aspects of CRM, the parts of the system that are customer-facing, such as Web-based product support, likely will be a major factor in how your customers view your company. Because of this it may be prudent to do some selling of the benefits to customers who might want to use those features.

The above is based on discussions with Dale Hagemeyer, an analyst who covers CRM for Gartner, a market research firm headquartered in Stamford, CT.