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CRM for the SME Market: More than Just Technology
Are your customers at the center of your organization? Are you confident that you can optimize your CRM strategy to maximize the value of your CRM technology investment? This ROCC white paper outlines just some of the principles of implementing CRM strategies within SMEs and touches on the role that technology plays.
CRM is no longer the domain of large companies. The dramatic increase in sales of CRM technology to small and medium-sized enterprises indicates major changes in the market. This change is driven by the realization that CRM can provide ROI in unexpected ways, such as reducing costs, increasing customer profitability as well as increasing advocacy (‘would you recommend us’). But SMEs are turning a deaf ear to the ‘cart before the horse’ rule, believing that purchasing a CRM package will ensure customer centricity. This is the same trap that big corporations suffered from in the 1990s. It’s vital to set your strategic CRM goals before evaluating a software solution – software is just one of a range of tools to support your strategy, it shouldn’t dictate your strategy. CRM is a management philosophy that firmly places the client at the center of business. Technology is the enabler that should support the business process to deliver the appropriate level of service to keep the customer happy, loyal and, above all, profitable.
What is CRM?
CRM is not just technology, it is a combination of well-designed business processes supported by appropriate technology used by trained and loyal employees. A successful CRM is always driven by a business strategy that drives changes in the organization. This change can be enabled by technology or enabled by process reengineering or cultural development. The key to success lies in the ability to develop and implement a business strategy that meets the needs of your customer (and other stakeholders), develop a true customer-centric philosophy that is embraced by every person in the organization, and develop effective and efficient customer-centric business processes that deliver competitive advantage.
The reported failures of companies implementing CRM technology in the 1990s can be largely attributed to the lack of a coherent customer-centric strategy. At the beginning, there was a lack of a clear understanding of the strategic goals and business processes that the technology was supposed to enable. A strategic vision is therefore critical. It provides compelling motivation for change and guides the operational actions that companies must take to achieve their business goals.
Why bother with CRM at all?
Although the primary stated goals at the start of CRM projects are usually “increased customer loyalty”, “increased sales revenue” and “increased customer retention”, Gartner’s research on the measured results of CRM implementations pointed out that the biggest payoff is improved operational efficiency improved operational efficiency
“The tangible benefits that most companies report are related to areas of cost reduction. In many cases, the benefits may be less tangible, but no less critical. Once organizations begin to ‘inject the voice of the customer’ into their decision-making processes, you become better at making decisions that are in line with the needs and requirements of your user base.” (Gartner 2005)
Research has shown that CRM programs lead to increased customer loyalty and increased revenue, but that cost reduction through streamlining business processes – as well as greater ‘advocacy’ (“would you recommend us to someone”) – are the main outcomes of CRM initiatives.
These gains in operational efficiency are usually the result of a ‘single view of the customer’. Essentially, this means that at each ‘touch point’, every member of staff can access the same information about that customer – when the invoice was last issued, purchase history, complaint letters, feedback forms, personal information, etc. Such a unified view leads to less duplication of effort, faster reaction time, faster decision-making and ‘seamless’ interactions with the customer.
Before starting any CRM project, it is necessary to carefully consider the specific business benefits that will be sought. These should be documented in the company’s benefit register for project investments and continuously monitored to ensure that they are delivering what effectively determines the future value of the company.
ROI from CRM typically comes in two forms. The first is to reduce costs by increasing efficiency. For example, when customer data helps the sales team maintain productivity levels with fewer resources, costs are reduced. When field sales agents have to spend less time manually entering data into slow legacy systems, companies save time and money. When access to customer data helps service reps handle incoming calls faster, savings add up.
Another form of return on investment is increased revenue, which also comes in many forms. A complete purchase and service history of top customers helps sales teams make the right offer at the right time in the right channel. Timely access to valuable information increases “time to sell,” shortens sales cycles, improves close rates, and keeps sales resources focused on valuable customers. Marketing teams send more targeted campaigns to customers who are more likely to make a purchase, while avoiding irrelevant leads that cause dissatisfaction. Accurate customer data enables service representatives to identify and confidently act on cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.
How do you ‘manage’ your customers?
No customer is the same. No customer segment is the same. The core of a good CRM strategy is ‘treating different customers differently’ to maximize their experience. A ‘high customer value experience’ leads to repeat business and advocacy – a profitable, much less used lead generator!
A single view of the customer enables more efficient and effective customer management in part due to better insight into customer behavior (purchase patterns, long-term value, likelihood of churn). It is also possible, although challenging, to measure profitability per customer. Here, a lot depends on the cost allocation methods. The promise of this approach lies in developing a deep understanding of customers’ actual and potential value by measuring their individual contributions to the organization. Real value is a measure of a customer’s long-term value – or the stream of future contribution if the customer’s relationship with you does not change. In contrast, potential value represents an unrealized opportunity—a measure of how much more business could be generated if the treatment of a particular customer were to change.
A better understanding of customer behavior should lead to “relationship marketing” that essentially prioritizes a lasting, profitable relationship with customers over a myopic view of sales as a one-step process. Relationship marketing tools include the use of media, mailings and newsletters, maintaining and evaluating databases, and, of course, evaluating customer data through CRM systems.
Leadership and organizational change in CRM
Regardless of company size, CRM initiatives depend on the approval and support of influential leaders to be effective. Such efforts define the culture and commitment of a customer-driven enterprise. Success requires consistent, visible communication and support from senior management and key influencers. Employees look to their leaders for signals about what is important and what is not. If CRM initiatives receive little attention from business leaders, people are far more likely to continue to follow old habits and work processes, thereby avoiding the challenge (and promise) of business change. Therefore, a lack of commitment from the top sets the stage for suboptimal CRM performance and reduced ROI.
Cultural change is key to achieving strategic goals and launching a CRM initiative. When organizations overlook the importance of cultural change, they increase the likelihood of CRM failure. To overcome this challenge, companies must be prepared to lead, communicate, train, motivate, and support employees to ensure they engage in the desired customer-centric behaviors. Employees must have a clear understanding of the initiative’s goals and be rewarded for using new customer-focused processes and technologies. A significant factor influencing user support in using new processes and technologies is the perceived personal benefit they gain from any proposed change.
Strategy and technology must work hand in hand to realize a customer-centric plan. “The software doesn’t give you a CRM strategy,” says David Thacher, general manager of CRM at Microsoft Business Solutions. “It automates your existing strategy, making that strategy actionable.” The challenge is to choose the technology that best suits your strategic goals and business needs. To make the right investment, important questions need to be answered: Which technology partner complements my CRM goals? Can I achieve cost reductions through efficiency and superior revenue growth? What functions are needed to support my newly established CRM processes? These and other questions must be addressed in order to properly invest in the right CRM technology and maximize return on investment.
Once you have defined your CRM strategy, the next step is likely to be choosing the right CRM technology, following the following step-by-step approach will ensure success:
Define technology needs at the outset: Draw on the knowledge and experience of IT and business experts within the organization to compile a report on user and technical requirements taking into account the current and future needs of the business.
Choose the right IT partner: Credibility and experience are everything – not only in technology, but also in the market in which you operate and in understanding the business processes that will be affected by the change.
Integration: CRM software used separately will be less effective than software that can be integrated with your financial accounts, email and other ERP packages
Scalability: Can your existing IT infrastructure handle a growing CRM system, for example, can it be accessed remotely with mobile employees? Ensure the ‘IT roadmap’ is aligned with business expansion plans
Flexibility: Consider ways to optimize your CRM solution, including scanning, eforms, images, telephony and workflow
User acceptance: Ensure buy-in with a system that is familiar and intuitive
As CRM matured, it became clear that the benefits of customer relations were no longer reserved for large companies with equally large budgets. The small and mid-market business case for CRM initiatives is compelling and focused on cost reduction as much as profitability and customer loyalty. Leadership is a vital success factor as is cultural change that reflects a customer-centric philosophy. Technology, as always, is the driver, and great care must be taken in defining goals, aligning processes with technology, and managing implementation.
According to Gartner, a CRM initiative is six times more likely to be successful if an organization uses an external management consultant and designates CRM ‘champions’ within the organization to ‘sponsor’ the changes!
ROCC has teamed up with strategy consulting firm Vantage Strategies, a CRM specialist, to offer you a free CRM workshop to help you dig deeper into how CRM can benefit your business and support you in putting together an action plan for a successful CRM implementation. Whether you’ve already implemented CRM or are still considering its benefits and impact on your organization, this short half-day overview will provide the clarity you need to optimize the benefits CRM can bring.
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