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No excuse for CRM analytics excuses

With companies as cost-conscious as ever, proponents of CRM analytics must have answers for the critics. Gartner provides them.

When Alaska Airlines elected to deploy CRM analytics from Siebel Systems Inc. a year and a half ago, it was a fairly straightforward decision for some.

Executives loved the dashboard, and marketing was eager to get its hands on a tool that could help capitalize on its customer data. Yet it wasn't a total slam dunk. IT wanted to ensure that the company had the right technical tool set and that Siebel analytics was flexible enough for the airline, according to James Archuleta, director of CRM for the Seattle-based company.

"We were looking to bring depth to decision making and to deploy information instead of just data," Archuleta said.

Investing in CRM analytics can be a difficult case to make, according to Gareth Herschel, research director with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. CRM analytics offers the promise of reaping ROI from customer data and operational systems, but companies are cutting costs, and technology investments require more justification than ever. Excuses for not investing abound.

When presenting the case for CRM analytics, proponents should be prepared for some of these excuses. For example, "We tried it, but we didn't get the results we expected" is a common excuse that points to an underlying data quality problem, according to Herschel. Proponents need to quantify the cause of the data quality problem, what it will take to fix it, and the improvement that analysis will deliver. Most analytic initiatives devote a substantial portion -- often more than 50% -- of their time and effort to fixing data quality.

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"The standard advice is to fix your data quality problems first," Herschel said. "The caveat is some organizations get themselves into this Nirvana ideal of what data quality should look like and never get around to doing anything with the data. The thing to think about is how good is good enough. Go in with [the] caveat [that] there may be data in there that is of poor quality. Having a healthy respect for the margin of error is good, but you don't want to do any analysis because you're so scared."

Another frequent excuse is, "Employees wouldn't know what to do with analytics if they had it," according to a recent research note from Gartner entitled "How to Tackle 10 Excuses Not to Invest in CRM Analytics." Project teams should survey employees to identify the analysis and the benefit which having that analysis would bring in the customer relationship, Herschel said.

For Alaska Airlines, proving the business case was simple, Archuleta said.

"That was easy, once the dashboards came through," he said. "Airlines are constantly cutting costs. The dashboards were deployed in days rather than months and the executives love them. Before, every time executives wanted a report, they would ask IT and it would take a 24-hour turnaround and have to be downloaded into Excel."

Alaska Airlines selected Siebel's analytics as a standalone application. It didn't have an existing installation of Siebel CRM, but for many companies, operational CRM systems are used to delay analytic investments. Another common excuse for not investing, according to Herschel, is, "We've just bought a new operational CRM system and want to get that established first before making any new investments." Companies are continually changing some aspect of their operational systems, and this can cause an ongoing postponement of analytics, he warned. Proponents should justify analytics as an ROI multiplier of those systems, delivering further value.

Similarly, time is another hurdle bringing up both the "it takes too long to get results" and "we are too busy this quarter -- maybe in the next planning cycle" excuses. The time-consuming process is not the analysis but making the changes to enable it, Herschel said. Project teams should identify the business processes that may be affected by the analysis and get buy-in beforehand. Advocates will help drive the change, Herschel said. Projects that face a delay until the next cycle should promote analytics as a way for the organization to prioritize the issues it's facing and provide guidance in how to solve them.

Of course, cost factors into the equation as well. The "we are totally in need of analytics but it's someone else's problem" excuse can fatally delay initiatives, as organizations argue over cost allocation across multiple budgets. Proponents need to establish ownership of the application within the group that will rely on it, Herschel said, not those who create it.

"It's a very fragmented market," he said. "There's interest in CRM analytics but it's a mistake to think of it as a mass of analytics. Instead, think of it as a number of sub-markets you could roll up."

For example, sales performance management and customer service analytics are very popular now, as companies look to improve on cross-selling and upselling.

At Alaska Airlines, it was marketing pushing for the new technology and the executive vice president of marketing who sponsored the project. And there was one surprising revelation that came out of the evaluation process.

"Siebel was the least expensive of all the applications we looked at," Archuleta said.

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