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Q&A: Author cites strategy as first chapter in successful CRM

Judith Kincaid knows a thing or two about implementing CRM. The former director of customer relationship management at Hewlett-Packard Co. is now a CRM consultant and author. Her new book, Customer Relationship Management: Getting It Right, helps companies avoid the highly publicized mistakes of their colleagues. She offered up some insight to

When you were working at HP, how successful had the company been at effectively implementing CRM?
HP is probably in a better position now to be really successful with CRM than it was at the time I was there. At that time, the company was very silo-oriented. There were some excellent pockets of the company that were doing some really good things, but CRM has to be a company-wide effort. It was very product line-specific then; [CRM] wasn't a consistent effort across the company. I think [CEO] Carly [Fiorina] has made a lot of inroads into the culture, and I've heard from HP customers and seen evidence that its CRM efforts, as far as providing a consistent experience across the company, have been greatly enhanced. So you're telling companies to focus on process first?
Absolutely. It's actually a process of taking a deep look at what you want to achieve with CRM. It's more than just adjusting process toward customers. What is the strategy? What are the goals? How do we want to manage the customer relationship and what do we want [customers'] experience to be? People get nervous when they think about building a strategic plan, but I believe that with a solid framework in place to get started, you can pull the whole thing off in a short amount of time. You can plan the whole CRM process in six to12 weeks, basically, depending on the size of your company. A lot of the experts we talk to advise breaking the larger CRM project down into smaller pieces and attacking pain points, like the call center, first. It sounds like you agree with that.
Exactly. I think we've also seen so many of the massive programs fail, and not just in CRM. It amazes me that we didn't learn more from the ERP (enterprise resource planning) fiasco of the early '90s. It was a similar scenario: companies went out and bought huge, expensive software packages and spent two to three years trying to implement them, only to quit the effort in time. I think we started out trying to do the same thing with CRM. My recommendation is starting with a good strategy that gives you a rough idea of the big-picture goals and then breaking off a very small piece that you can really measure results for. You need to learn as you go. Is Siebel giving up ground?
I think everyone in the industry is giving up ground, but I'm not sure that Siebel is giving up market share. Most people talking about CRM are still talking about Siebel. They're always in the running. So HP faced the same CRM challenges as other companies that aren't as technologically innovative?
Exactly. We know that CRM isn't just about technology; we're trying to eliminate that perception. Are companies getting wise to the idea that the software isn't really a solution to CRM by itself?
I feel that a lot of companies have come to recognize that software isn't enough, and they're starting to look at the broader picture and rethink their approach to CRM for exactly that reason. They've seen that getting the applications in place is only part of the battle. Does Microsoft become a competitor for Siebel down the road?
I'd never underestimate Bill Gates. It's hard for me to imagine them taking over large companies' [CRM projects] right now, but you never know.


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What's your take on CRM vendors? Are they making it easier for people to succeed?
The biggest mistake the technology vendors have made, from a customer's viewpoint, is not being willing to adopt an open standard. I don't think any of the vendors are good and can be good at all aspects of CRM. First, the customer information that is at the heart of CRM is almost proprietary to a company; no vendor can give you that information. The ideal structure is to have an independent database that is very open that most companies could implement due to a flexible construction. You also need modules of software that can work against that core database structure from various vendors. Is one company doing a better job than others with that sort of design?
I don't think anyone is.

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