First, Ignore the Technology

By Heather Baldwin

Your company has decided to implement a CRM solution – time to research some vendors, right? Wrong, says Ro King, executive vice president of client solutions at Quaero, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based marketing consulting and systems integration firm specializing in CRM. The critical first step of any technology implementation, says King, is to forget about the technology and instead concentrate on becoming more customer-focused. Once you start figuring out the best approach to achieving a truly customer-centric environment, she says, you’ll be in a much better position to start looking at potential vendors – or you might find you don’t need a CRM solution at all.

Consider the case of one company King met with recently. The company has a customer database but has never looked at the data. Marketers can’t query it or even access it, so no one has any insight into their customer data. Yet the company decided it wanted a campaign management tool and jumped right into buying it. They put the technology before the business roadmap.

“What they should have done is asked themselves: What are we trying to accomplish?” says King. Once they asked that question, they would have realized they needed to understand their customers better in order to market to them. Then, they’d have realized that to understand their customers better they needed to be able to access their database and acquire a tool for mining that data – not a campaign management tool.

If you decide you want a CRM program and then jump straight to vendor selection, King says, you’ll run into one of two problems. Either you’ll wind up trying to solve a problem that isn’t a problem, such as the company that bought the campaign management tool when it really needed to make better use of its database, or, if you have ill-conceived business practices in place, you’ll simply end up with what King calls “a tool that helps you do something bad faster.”

That’s what happened at one dot-com company with which King worked. The company, without thinking it through, started marketing to its customers based on each customer’s activity on its Website. If a customer was interested in the blue shirt, the company would pop up an offer for the matching blue pants. But the system wasn’t tied into the company’s inventory software, so often it recommended products that were out of stock or no longer available. Then, with all the customer data coming in, the company started over-marketing, sometimes sending out as many as six emails in a day without a clear concept of what they wanted to achieve. Needless to say, a lot of customers opted out and walked away.

So before you even think about technology, begin by laying out your business goals. Then look at your processes today and where they should be headed. Only then, says King, should you begin asking yourself what technology you need to support those processes. You might be surprised to find the answer is none.