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CRM planning: Don't end up with celery Jell-O

With CRM, hindsight truly is 20/20, because there's nothing worse than wishing you had known then what you know now.

BALTIMORE -- Analyst Scott Nelson is advising CRM decision makers to avoid the celery Jell-O syndrome.

Just like unappetizing flavors of the popular dessert weren't well thought out and sat on store shelves, CRM projects that aren't planned properly leave a bad taste in the mouths of executives, the Gartner vice president and research director said.

"In a lot of cases, CRM to me is avoiding celery Jell-O," said Nelson on Monday, in a keynote speech at the Gartner CRM Summit. "It's sort of the ability to not have to go back and say, 'I wish we had known then what we know now."'

Not only is CRM not dead, Nelson said, it's poised to become even more important in the enterprise.

In a lot of cases, to me CRM is avoiding celery Jell-O.
Scott Nelson, Gartner analyst,

Still, he conceded that some common pitfalls exist and noted that the market is at a crossroads, as companies regard the buzzword "CRM" warily.

But even if you're resistant to the term "CRM," maintaining profitable relationships with customers will always be important, Nelson said. If companies are to succeed at that, they need to keep a few things in mind: First, CRM is a process, not a technology -- so companies shouldn't expect CRM software to magically perfect customer relationships.

Additionally, a company's CRM process should exist enterprise-wide; it shouldn't be the concern of the IT department alone. And that process should be based on a vision that's developed in-house, not borrowed from a vendor or consultant.

Further, a company's CRM vision should take into account the customer's perspective, Nelson said. That idea may seem obvious, but it's not -- and companies that implement a CRM system thoughtlessly may learn that lesson the hard way.

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To illustrate his point, Nelson described an experience he had buying a PC online. He selected his preferred features on the Web site, which told him he couldn't buy the operating system he wanted with the internal Zip drive he'd selected. Nelson, who knew that the combination was in fact possible, phoned the company's call center to report the bug -- but, even after several months passed, the call center never corrected the problem.

Later, Nelson said, he learned that the employees in the call center had collected many complaints about the Web site that they didn't pass on, possibly because they did not earn commissions from sales made on the site.

"They had a silo problem in their organization -- two departments were fighting with each other," he said. "They had to change the environment, change the compensation structure, change the culture, and in their case change the platform, to make sure that ... if there was a problem on the Web site, the call center operators had every reason in the world to make sure it was fixed."

A few hundred people attended Nelson's speech -- and many said they found Nelson's remarks useful.

Scotty Bryan, CIO of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, said that Nelson's examples of poor channel management resonated. Bryan said that his organization, like the PC maker Nelson described, uses many channels, including a call center, a Web site and e-mail, as it deals with its customers: students who have applied for and received loans, scholarships and grants.

"Our call center does a good job, but sometimes there are silos that exist there," he said. "Hopefully, ours aren't that bad, but I know sometimes there's a lack of communication."

Barry Bernier, division director of application development for the American Medical Association, said that he was most interested in Nelson's higher-level ideas about the development of a CRM strategy.

"What we're trying to do is [answer the question]: What is CRM to us?" he said.

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