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CRM will disappoint without an honest self-assessment

Launching a new CRM program or jump-starting an existing one requires a careful self-assessment of processes and technology, according to a recent report.

CRM is doomed to disappoint without a clear focus and self-assessment of a business's needs, according to a recent analyst report.

History has taught that the "big bang" approach to CRM, massive implementations of technology deployed across sales, service and marketing all at once, has proven to be a failure. Instead, organizations looked to smaller, tactical deployments and are now deploying CRM tactically with an eye to long-term goals. Yet that approach has required organizations to be adept at assessing their own business, either when launching a new CRM initiative or trying to jump-start an existing one. That's where Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. is hoping to provide some help. The analyst firm has published a self-assessment tool and set of best practices for CRM.

"The history of CRM is often that these things are driven by technology," said Bill Band, principal analyst. "The market has matured and people looking back realize they didn't do a good enough job on the strategy or assessment."

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Forrester surveyed 94 business and IT executives responsible for CRM and found that less than 50% were fully satisfied that the benefits met expectations. That's usually due to a lack of focus on specific business capabilities, according to the firm.

"We've done a lot of these assessments, and we continually find that people usually are weak in customer data management," Band said. "The other area is they do not think sufficiently about people and change management issues."

Forrester recently published a set of CRM best practices, offering advice on how to deploy the technology. The question of what needs attention is a different matter. It applies both to organizations launching a new CRM initiative and wondering where to start, and to companies with existing CRM programs that have lost focus and want to re-energize.

For example, many companies bought large bundles of licenses from CRM suite vendors like Oracle, Siebel and SAP, only to see many of those licenses turn into shelfware, sitting unused. They need guidance in identifying what pieces to turn on first. Companies buying new technology need guidance in developing a strategy for a two-year CRM roadmap, Band said.

"Where a lot of people fall down is CRM means so many things to different people," he said. "Going through an assessment with a multi-functional team, you often see that they perceive strengths and weaknesses to be quite different. Getting alignment is critical for going forward."

Forrester recommends a cross-functional team that includes a senior business manager who is accountable for a particular customer-facing business result, such as the senior vice president of sales or the senior vice president of marketing, as well as people in functional business roles and IT.

Reassessments should be conducted about every 24 months, though there is often an impetus for change, Band said. For example, a new leadership team may want to make the business more "customer-centric," or an acquisition might require the company to roll out new functionality or regions. IT can often push for a re-assessment if it's getting pressure to upgrade to a new version and wants to rationalize the company's technology architecture or needs to consolidate multiple CRM systems.

"The whole point here," Band said, "is to find a way to systematically, quickly have both parties work together."

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