A Crawl, Walk, Run Approach to CRM

There is a continuing debate over the daunting task of integrating customer relationship management into an organization.

We've heard a lot about CRM failure, which is typical of an industry in its early stages, when there is usually experimentation and a lack of structure or systematic practice. This also holds true for the CRM industry, where there seems to be a misconception of the enormity of CRM integration, an impatience with the slow pace of progress and a lack of process. This environment has created situations where companies try to accomplish everything upfront, which usually becomes overwhelming and results in failure.

One of the many metaphors for CRM integration is building a car. A system and process are in place, and they require the involvement of many people working toward the same goal. CRM integration needs this kind of systematic process. It needs a process of identifying key business challenges, addressing them and slowly and systematically moving toward clearly defined goals.

My approach to CRM integration takes place in three main stages, each broken out into multiple phases. Each phase builds upon the previous one until the completion of the stage, which then lends itself to the next stage. Everything accomplished and learned is leveraged along the way. This kind of clearly defined, step-by-step process makes CRM integration more manageable and less overwhelming. When companies move too quickly, they sometimes pass over essential steps, which could be disastrous down the line. The key thing to remember is that before you run, you have to learn how to walk; and before you can walk, you have to learn how to crawl.

Stage 1: Crawl. The crawl stage should be looked at as a testing or pilot stage. One of the goals is to prove the concept. Get everyone within the company to believe in the project and do this in a cost-effective manner. Not having everyone on board for a CRM project — from the CEO to the telephone operators — will lead to complications and, most likely, failure. All aspects of the organization must be committed to a project that requires teamwork and commitment to a shared vision and set goals.

The first step is to understand where you are and plot that against where you want to go. This will create a gap analysis that shows what needs to be accomplished to meet business goals. In this phase of the crawl stage, clearly defined business needs and goals will be documented. This documentation will become a stake in the ground around which initiatives will be based, yet it will be fluid to allow for changes along the way. Companies that avoid this phase tend to buy a canned product or seek a technological panacea that is not tailored to meet their specific needs.

A simplistic marketing repository will be built during the crawl stage. This can be as basic as identifying customers across product lines. At this point, anything that provides a central location to identify customers will do.

During the crawl stage, minimize cost expenditures and maximize the implication of return as work progresses toward meeting goals. As previously stated, this is a testing or pilot stage. If you have to get from point A to point B, you don't necessarily need to launch a major initiative. Work in small, manageable pieces. Make a test run. The crawl stage is about finding what is going to work, then scaling it. This will allow you to test economically the hypothesis that CRM will help your organization and could help prove its merit to skeptics.

Don't let scope creep occur during the crawl stage. Elements that are out of scope should not be addressed. They should be identified and prioritized along the way. Find where they fit within the timeline, but do not address them yet. One key to this stage is the balancing act of meeting two goals: immediate need while understanding the long-term goal.

Let's return to the metaphor of building a car. If we know that our eventual goal is to use the car to tow a boat, we should understand the ramifications of that upfront. We want to make sure that the blueprint of our car takes into account this long-term need.

Stage 2: Walk. In the walk stage, everything learned in the crawl stage will be leveraged and expanded upon. In addition, most of the initial investment will be leveraged. A good rule of thumb is that 80 cents on every dollar invested in one stage should carry over to the next stage.

During this phase, multiple touch points will begin to be integrated. In addition, trigger-based marketing (looking for product affinity, purchase behavior, etc.) will be implemented as well as personalized communication. The simplistic marketing repository from the crawl stage will start to become a database. Ensure that the database is specific to marketing. Databases that are built around products, for example, do not adapt well to marketing programs and do not provide a good basis for analytics and feedback loops. It is important to make this clear, because during the walk phase, campaign management and analytics will emerge. This demonstrates how each little step is critical.

If campaign management and analytics are performed on an improperly built database or a database with bad data, you will be walking down a dead end. You'll eventually have to turn around and deal with the database. That will cost time and money and probably credibility. Remember, you are getting the rest of your company to walk along with you.

Back to the car metaphor. Now that we have proved that we need to build a car and that we can do it in a cost-effective manner, we have to ensure that the proposed car can accomplish the task. Let's return to towing the boat. Even though we have not purchased it, we know that we intend to. Therefore, in this stage we may decide that a pickup truck would better suit our needs. We can check the engine size and the suspension and inspect a number of variables that if assessed later, will cost more than they do now.

And one more thing: Resist the urge to run during this stage.

Stage 3: Run. In the run stage, everything learned and accomplished in the crawl and walk stages will be leveraged and expanded upon. Initiate real-time personalization, proactive communication as opposed to reactive and real-time data modeling and analysis. You will become integrated across all touch points of your organization — front end and back end — and speak with one voice to deliver the same brand message through all touch points. Your long-term goals will come to fruition as you will begin to understand your customers and your prospects and how they behave. We have seen a high rate of success in this stage when this process is followed.

Now that we have purchased the boat, we need to ensure the truck is ready for the long haul. This could include adding heavy-duty shocks, transmission cooler, the towing hitch, etc. Think for a moment about the time and money it would take to back everything up to the point where we decided on a truck instead of a car. And what if we never decided on what we wanted the vehicle for? There's no way we could have made it up to and through the run stage. We would have a CRM implementation stalled somewhere in the walk stage, which many companies currently deal with.

The point is, we need to understand where we want to go in the crawl stage, in our “desire state.” This allows us to follow a logical, step-by-step process that takes us to the point of meeting our objectives in the run phase.

Though I've been using the metaphor of building a car, I want to stress that CRM is not about reaching a destination. It is a way of corporate life. It needs to be embedded in all aspects of the company and in every customer interaction. Yes, the run stage is a destination, but once you are running with CRM, the system and the process must continually learn and evolve from one interaction to the next. Following the crawl-walk-run mentality to integrate CRM and weaving a CRM philosophy throughout your corporate culture will pay large dividends to your organization and your customers.

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