Question Before Prototype

By Heather Baldwin

What’s wrong with this picture? The head of finance for a mid-size company walks into the IT department and says he would like the company’s new CRM system to have an auto-invoicing function. The IT department says okay and four days later produces an auto-invoicing function built on the CRM architecture. Think that sounds great? Not necessarily, says Ben Holtz, CEO of Green Beacon solutions, a Watertown, Massachusetts-based CRM consultancy specializing in the mid-market.

Here’s what should have happened instead, says Holtz. When the finance chief asked for an auto-invoicing function, the request should have generated a slew of questions from IT: How should it work? What should it look like? Which functions will be used most often? How will it fit into the business process? IT then should have used those answers to create a prototype of the auto-invoicing function, which the finance department could then review and make changes to, if needed, before the final product was built. Only that sort of probing and back-and-forth examination of the function could produce capabilities that are useful, that are actually used every day and that generate a return on investment, says Holtz.

Still, it’s the initial scenario that happens much more often today and helps explain why so many CRM applications are not being used or are not delivering the expected ROI. Holtz says 80% to 90% of his work is with companies that have had a CRM system in place for several years but want to make it work better for them and generate a higher ROI. Such a turnaround needn’t take a lot of time. Holtz once was charged with turning a CRM application that had been languishing on sales reps’ laptops into a system that would be used every day and generate ROI for the company. Though he was given just three two-hour meetings with the company’s sales executives to accomplish the feat, he met the goal by following his script of asking probing questions and then prototyping. After the first meeting, Holtz created prototype HTML snapshots and put them onto PowerPoint slides. In the second meeting the executives made changes. By the third meeting there was agreement on the look and content of the functionality and Holtz got the nod to build it. When you add functionality that way, he says, you wind up with a product that is useful and therefore used, and one that generates a return on your investment.

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