How to Avoid Automating Ineffective Business Processes

By Geoffrey James

Talk to any CRM vendor and you’ll probably be told CRM will create an ideal customer relationship process via instantaneous sharing of detailed customer information across multiple interfaces – or something of the sort. Real-world experience illustrates that this ideal seldom is achieved because all too often CRM is automating and accelerating business processes that don’t work well in the first place.

CRM is not a sales productivity panacea. CRM acts as an enabler to your individual business processes, such as sales, marketing and customer service, as well as your total customer processes and relationships. Because of this, the degree of success possible through a CRM implementation is dependent on and limited by the functionality of your business processes.

These processes are intended to produce value, serve customers and generate income. These business processes, however, often evolve organically rather than strategically. Although all organizations have business processes, the fact that they’ve coalesced into their current form over a long period of time usually means those processes are not adequately documented or even fully understood. In a worst case scenario some processes actually might be counterproductive and could blunt rather than help the sales effort.

Contrary to what some CRM vendors would like you to believe, CRM cannot replace your existing business processes or fix the ones that are ineffective. In fact, using CRM to automate ineffective processes always is a costly mistake. With key personnel and financial resources diverted, the sales team will be less rather than more productive because CRM only makes ineffective processes more ineffective.

Fortunately, CRM provides an excellent opportunity to make your existing effective processes more so and can create new, better-integrated, more customer-centric processes. To maximize the value of CRM you must understand which of your key business processes are working effectively and contributing to the purchase, payment and usage of your products and services. Before entering into a CRM deployment, therefore, you should first develop a deeper understanding of what’s working and what’s not from both a company and customer perspective. This is best accomplished through the following five steps.

  1. Create a visual model of your key processes.
  2. Develop an understanding of your business process needs from your customers’ perspective.
  3. Develop an understanding of business process needs from the perspective of your customer-facing personnel.
  4. Identify gaps in your process functionality.
  5. Determine how to change those processes to make your CRM implementation more effective.

Remember that CRM, in and of itself, can’t create or maintain a customer relationship, produce a saleable product or deliver a useful service. CRM doesn’t solve problems; it accelerates processes. It’s best to have processes that work well before you think about making them happen more quickly.

The above is adapted from information provided by CRM consultant Barton Goldenberg, president of ISM, Inc., an independent firm founded in 1985 that focuses on CRM research, market analysis and consulting. Mr. Goldenberg, who has helped numerous companies select and implement successful CRM systems, can be contacted at 301-656-8448 or through