Debunking the Technology Myths

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Almost 20 years ago, the promise for customer marketing was the customer information file. Eager marketers and anxious operations managers awaited this answer to their information issues.

About 10 years later, the data warehouse became the answer to all data management problems. Many were built, only to be found wanting by marketers. So you had every piece of viable information available, but either no way to query the data or methods that did not meet with a direct marketer's need for information now.

Fast-forward to the millennium, and while customer relationship management technology buzzes in every journal and at each trade show, we may be no further along. A fall article from research firm Gartner Group, Stamford, CT, noted that 500 companies "claim" to have CRM solutions but that 200 actually have them, and that by 2004 about 50 will survive. Think about this as you issue your $1 million-plus check for a three- to five-year implementation.

While many say they have the total solution, how do you determine what piece of technology you need and how to incorporate it properly? In addition to all your traditional roles, you need to define what you want and need in a technology partner.

So, what should those whose task it is to acquire profitable customers, retain those customers and increase the average order size do to evaluate and install technology properly as part of your marketing and sales plans? First, debunk the technology myth, then go back to some core marketing basics.

David Sims, a contributing editor to CRMGuru, said, "CRM is about technology in the same way that hospitality is about having a welcome mat in front of your door." That is a first step to reminding yourselves that "it's not about the technology, stupid." It is about what you must accomplish to remain a growing, profitable concern and how that technology can help.

With so many suppliers to choose from and the statistics of projected failure stacked against you, your pre-work becomes that much more important.

Here are five areas to consider before engaging a supplier for your divisional or enterprisewide e-CRM/CRM initiative:

• Take a long look at your past critical success factors. Do they match what you would want to achieve today? If not, examine why not. What made you successful in the past may or may not serve you today. This is where many companies falter in their quest to upgrade their processes. Without a good grounding of past successes and failures and a clear vision of tomorrow's wins, partnerships of any kind start on a faulty premise.

• Do you even need an e-CRM component? This may be heresy, but perhaps your growth directive is better served by a current or alternative venue. In this case you need a partner that supports "plug and play" upgrades when necessary and one that includes future growth in your implementation plan.

• When you examine the Web sites, literature and trade show booths of possible suppliers, read and listen carefully. Those Web sites are filled with product promotions touting "total customer view," "real-time decisioning" and "e-commerce ready." Great copy, but what does it mean to you in your world? What kind of pre-process engineering do you need to complete before the software can be implemented? Can the supplier create the pre-plan and implement it? Where will the supplier be when you go live?

• Make sure the vendor understands your business. In your supplier review, if you do not hear words from sales and project implementers like direct marketing, customer satisfaction, product positioning, targeting, offer testing, upselling, retention, response and activation rates, but after 20 minutes know everything about ASP, ETL and XML, run as fast as possible. This vendor does not understand your business.

• What is your potential supplier's track record with retaining customers and upselling added services? Can the supplier give you business metrics? How are they measured in the supplier's business? Profits, losses, acquisitions - if those answers are vastly dissimilar to how you are measured, find a partner with a business plan that is more in keeping with your own.

Remember, technology is only part of a well-thought-out plan for implementing a marketing solution. No software program can make you a better marketer or improve your plan. That resides in your business planning, marketing strategy and tactical implementation between you and your partners.


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