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GM's CRM guru outlines her strategy to project success

General Motors Corp., Detroit, hasn't always been known for staying ahead of the technological curve. But unlike the massive company's attempts to keep its vehicles on par with foreign imports, GM didn't wait until the battle was already being lost to jump into the burgeoning arena of CRM.

Having already won kudos from industry experts including Gartner for its CRM project, dubbed C3RM, the company is pushing harder than ever to leverage enterprise applications across its far-flung operations. With a six month-old deployment that is focused primarily on partners and employees to this point, GM's company-wide effort is only getting started.

Lisa Anne Charney, executive director of enterprise customer management for GM, recently spoke with SearchCRM Assistant News Editor Matt Hines about the challenges and benefits facing the company as it pushes its CRM goals forward.

One of the most interesting aspects that we've heard about the C3RM project is that it aims to be "self funding." Can you tell us more about that strategy?

It's reasonably simple. We built an economic model that shows how we're creating value from a portal approach, for a lot of different business units within GM. [At a typical call center] I have the various vehicle programs sitting on my desktop. I have a lot of people calling in for different reasons. When they come in or call we're able to say, if it's an automotive related question for example, "I also have auto insurance; I have auto financing and leasing." If you can get someone to raise a hand and show interest, then you can forward that lead out to insurance, finance or the mortgage unit. When that happens, I've created contracts with the different business units to say, "You give me value by giving me this lead, I pay for this kind of thing externally, so now I'll pay you for it internally."

We also do things that have to do with customer management, for instance, mortgage servicing. [A GMAC customer] may call to ask a question about a mortgage they already have. I charge usage fees to answer any basic questions for GMAC Mortgage. It saves the [business unit] time and effort because we've handled the situation rather than transferring the caller over to them."

How did GM select the areas of its business where it could effectively leverage CRM technology and how did the thought process behind this work?

It's a huge company and beyond being a huge company there are such diverse products and services that you will never deploy a CRM initiative in a big bang theory.

For instance, GMAC is a very maverick organization. Basically the CEOs of each business unit get to do what they want to try to meet their individual goals. No one is required to do anything. We identified that every single business unit markets to the audience we call "GM family." These are employees and their families but it's a significant piece of business for GM. It's recognized as low-hanging fruit.

I looked at the big picture and said since we can't go big bang, we're going to start with this test bed. We chose an area where I know we can be successful in a quicker timeframe rather than trying to take on the consumer base at large.

And it's key to know how the different units are run. You have to know how the business operates to sell the idea. If I don't know how their units are run, they'll probably kick me out the door.

You've said publicly that about 20% of that goal has already been achieved.
Yes. We really only started about six months ago. I didn't get to integrate the vehicle purchase programs until then. That's when we started creating the lists of usage and referral fees. How was all of this factored into your startup costs for the entire CRM project?

Initially the CEO of GMAC gave me $20 million to purchase assets to put the project in place. But this wasn't going to be a dead-end investment. I'm paying them back already. I'm also paying the depreciation expense for my assets over a three-year period. After three years I will have paid back my entire cost of infrastructure. It was a novel way of doing it but it was the only way.

We hear a lot of experts say that you can't succeed with CRM if you try to do it departmentally. How are you handling this issue?

I found those individuals, those champions, that get the enterprise view, and I went after them. I clung to them and got them to support me. That's really why I was able to get farther along faster. I'm not bad at managing upward, meaning that I don't have a problem working with senior executives to get them to help me, and that's probably been my saving grace. I got enough champion support from senior levels that I was able to do this the way we had to. They're the ones that tell people in the company that, "you will support this."

But you constantly need to be able to show that you drive value. You can't say you're doing CRM for CRM's sake and expect people to jump on board. You do it because it makes a part of the company more profitable. I didn't go specifically at any business unit. I went at the constituency that I thought would be most effective at first.

Keep your eyes on SearchCRM for further installments of our conversation with the leader of C3RM.


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