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CRM and The Little Red Hen

If CRM is to survive and move forward, the bottom line is simply that we all must improve our teamwork skills.

Lessons In Loyalty

Think back, if you will, to your favorite childhood nursery rhymes and you'll no doubt recall the lesson learned from the Little Red Hen. She and her brood of chicks planted and cultivated the corn, harvested it, made it into batter and baked it into delicious bread. Suddenly, the other farmyard animals -- who had stood around refusing to help while she and the chicks did all the work -- also wanted to enjoy some of the coveted cornbread.

There's a nice metaphor here that can be applied to the development and execution of CRM programs, particularly the elements that are dependent upon skilled, user-friendly data development and management. Think of CRM as the cornbread. A lot of work has to go into making the CRM project a success. But is everyone willing to share in the responsibility? When these programs fail to meet objectives, as they are considered to do in 60% to 80% of the cases, no one wants to take responsibility for strife and underperformance. In fact, many are quick to point fingers and cast blame. However, when these programs goes well, and when benefits are reaped, then everybody wants to take credit and share in the results: everyone wants a piece of cornbread.

Recently, I gave a keynote speech for a CRM conference in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, the largest such program held in the Benelux countries. Just after my presentation, there was a facilitated question-and-answer roundtable that featured panelists from four leading data software and solutions providers.

One of the more than 1,000 audience members challenged the panelists to identify who should be considered at fault when CRM programs fail (i.e. companies, their consultants, or both). One by one, the panelists answered that, in their view, most CRM programs do not meet objectives because they are poorly defined and/or managed by clients. The questioner retorted that while the suppliers seemed to be taking no responsibility for failure, they never seem to be reluctant to take credit when their programs and systems succeed. This seemed to catch most of the suppliers off guard, and they consequently modified their statement to say that CRM projects were, or should be, a partnership between supplier and client, with each bearing an equal share of results, good or bad. Their level of discomfort, and the audience's, with this question was obvious to all in attendance.

So I posted this same question in a recent searchCRM discussion forum, and the replies expressed sentiments similar to those I'd heard in Rotterdam. I had several responses and all them referenced poor project management as the culprit for failure, from lack of requirements definition, to lack of buy-in and participation by senior management, to under-resourced planning teams, to inadequate leadership skills. Principally, the responsibility was the client's. The responses also reflected what I've seen in forum postings on other CRM portal sites, so these are not unique opinions by any stretch.

At least one of the responses was refreshing in its candor. Brian Dunn from Adapt Software stated that CRM program development and execution are, or ought to be, shared responsibilities between the client and the CRM software supplier. Challenges to this partnership include the fact that decisions are often made by different individuals than those who will actually use the system, and so software suppliers must make systems both user-friendly and useful.

He said that clients and vendors also share responsibility for employee buy-in. Integration of software elements is another frequent failure area, he felt, and also was an opportunity for clients and vendors to seek collaborative solutions.

Mostly what I've observed is exemplified in the way one vendor concluded his posting: "Sure, vendors might promise the world, but it's the responsibility of the project team to manage, define, and deliver realistic and achievable results -- regardless of vendor sizzle and hype." This statement troubles me because it speaks to the lack of partnership and true collaboration, which should be on behalf of the client and the client's customer, between software supplier and customer.

I've even seen evidence of some suppliers trying to re-label the types of technical CRM projects their clients can undertake, in what seems to be a further effort to absolve themselves from blame. One supplier defined the large CRM database management projects, prone to failure, as "data-centric CRM systems." Conversely, what they claim to do is provide "process-centric systems," built around clients' business workflow and management capability. They claim the process-centric approach is both different and more effective.

If CRM, particularly the technical aspects involving customer data, is to survive and move forward, the bottom line is simply that we all must improve our teamwork skills. If companies and vendors want a piece of the CRM cornbread, they need to stop being the disinterested barnyard spectators and roll up their sleeves as part of the Little Red Hen's crew.

Michael Lowenstein is managing Director of Customer Retention Associates, a customer and staff loyalty program development, research and consulting firm located in Collingswood, N.J. He has three decades of experience in customer and staff loyalty research and has written several books, including Customer Retention: Keeping Your Best Customers, The Customer Loyalty Pyramid and Customer Win-back: How To Recapture Lost Customers - And Keep Them Loyal.

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