The Real Meaning of CRM

November 11, 2015
human and robot hands

Credit: Phillipedia Files

I often joke with clients and audiences that the acronym CRM may be widely accepted as shorthand for “Customer Relationship Management”, but we know what it really stands for: “Can’t Remember Much”.

Before you dash away from this article thinking it’s all jokes, let’s analyze the kernel of truth behind that chuckle.

Some parts of your work could be automated.  CRM is just one tool. That’s the good news. Implemented well, CRM can free you to spend more time applying your expertise on more creative work and expediting decisions on exceptional cases instead of tedious, rote activities like cataloging and retrieving information.

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The main challenge is human adaptability. It is natural to find comfort in routine, but when that same routine becomes unnecessary or a competitive disadvantage, you must adapt or face potential loss. Buggy whips, anyone?

To be sure, the economic benefits of automation include labor savings, but nobody is suggesting that all human-involved work goes away. Instead, your work might become more cerebral in nature. Amazon’s Kiva warehouse robots can stock shelves and fulfill shipment orders far faster and commit fewer errors, and Quill can produce narrative reports from raw data whose resulting output is hard to distinguish from a human-authored prose piece, but they are not existential threats.  Your ability to create, decide, interpret and act on information is a product of your judgment and experience; analyzing the risk and opportunity inherent in any decision is downright, intuitively messy. And we humans are surprisingly, inimitably good at it.  We just need our CRM solution to have proper care and feeding, including clean, accurate, relevant data.

It’s not just low skill, low wage work that could be automated. Many highly skilled types of work could have aspects of certain work processes delegated to automation. Scheduling, producing reports and aggregating data can be automated to synthesize new discoveries, flag exceptions and highlight decision options directly at their point of use – – the factory floor or the boardroom – where a judgmental human can use discretion to suit the desires and needs of a customer.

What does this mean to the business leader? It means we need to use our creativity and judgment to study developments in new automation solutions and assess how and when we might sensibly adopt them to maintain a competitive edge, or perhaps or discover a new one.

Technology of any kind is usually only a temporary advantage, but human creativity and productivity are hard to beat. You definitely want more creative humans on your team – especially creative ones who can interpret your needs and help you find the automation solutions to fill them. That’s where a CRM expert comes in. Shameless plug alert: luckily, you found us.

Additional Resources

Four fundamentals of workplace automation (McKinsey)


Are You the Toast of Your Customer, or just Toast?

October 28, 2013
on Sales & Marketing tech as core competencies

Spoiling customers rotten is the new black, the new mantra, the new grail quest.  Worst case: it seems out of reach, and you are toast.

champagne or toastWe see it everywhere.  We have come to expect each next interaction with our product and service providers to feel like progress, not another blind date.  Is that too much to ask?  It certainly has become a new watershed basis for satisfaction.  Ask any Amazon customer.  Examine your banking relationships.

As William Gibson famously said: “The future has arrived – it’s just not very evenly distributed”.  It seems that every day we are yanked between extremes. At one moment we are marveling at modern convenience, and the next moment we are musing about its glitches and unmet expectations, as if somehow entitled.  Maybe we are.  Maybe your customers think so.

Measuring up

Some organizations are equipped, focused and successful at doting on their audiences and customers.  Are you?  If so, great.  If not, why not; what’s keeping you from getting started?  The answer: a lot less than you think.  Of course you could cite the usual hindrances like people, time and resources, and yet today competing at selling, serving and pleasing customers is not an option or a choice, or even a competitive advantage. It’s a baseline expectation.  Table stakes.

Right now, as you read this, your business is either delivering value before, during and after each transaction, or you risk being replaced by a phone app (yep, there’s an app for that).  You can prevent ending up in that scrap heap by making up your mind to compete – affordably, and at scale. The tools are becoming easier to use and more sophisticated.  You just have to be motivated to change.

Our inflated expectations

Before even getting into a discussion on Sales CRM or Marketing Automation software, let’s look at one simple example of how tech tools have changed our behavior: the lowly appointment calendar.

Today, you can easily set your calendar software to remind you ahead of each appointment and keep you punctual, reliable and prepared. In business, we use it to update meeting schedules, locations and agendas, synchronize participants, and keep progress on track. Without it, we risk gridlock, confusion, wasted time and missed opportunity.

Getting and staying in calendar-sync, in some organizations, is a baseline expectation – not a choice. Indeed, for some, being on time is a core part of the business model. From Fedex to Comcast to Delta, we can now know precisely when the next step will occur, often within a time window measured in mere minutes.

Likewise, you can program your Sales CRM software and your Marketing ARM software to notify you when a potential buyer or customer is visiting your website, asking a question, mentioning your brand name in an online forum, or complaining.  If you’re not listening and participating, that’s the same as ignoring.  Is that the reputation you want?  Wouldn’t you rather be as aware as everyone else when your customers praise or complain?  Are you making it difficult for people to buy? Are you even listening? Isn’t ignoring a customer complaint posted on a social media channel the same as ignoring their emails and phone calls?

Expand your capacity

This seemingly new competitive edge – marketing and sales automation – has actually been going on for years in leading organizations. If you are not using CRM or ARM solutions, admit it:  you are limited by human scale and fallibility. You have limited visibility, difficulty forecasting, an over-reliance on intuition and guesswork, and are probably making costly but avoidable mistakes.  What’s worse, you don’t even know the extent of your self-inflicted damage because you aren’t equipped to pay attention.

Conversations today are rife with examples of fumbled relationships and millions of dollars in lost deals that could have been prevented, if only the right hand had known what the left hand was doing. Has this ever happened to you? If you answered no, how can you be sure? Do I smell burning toast?

Quick quiz: assess your readiness for CRM

Imagine what’s possible

With a tuned, integrated “software layer” embedded in your business, you can:

  • create self-guided online experiences, complete with landing pages, call/response email exchanges, up-sell and cross-sell processes, social media engagement incentives, and other valuable interactions;
  • detect the faint signals of purchase intent or dissatisfaction, and intervene to guide decisions;
  • enable your customers, prospects and suspects to research solutions, evaluate yours, and even whimsically waltz among various decision stages and feedback loops toward eventually deciding whether to inquire, pay, receive and use your offerings, all with minimal human intervention; of course you can program it to notify you at key junctures, so you can intervene and assist.

You might think this online commerce model only makes sense in big businesses, large catalogs, complex workflows or servicing a previous purchase, but not in yours.  On the contrary; just about any organization can benefit from marketing and sales automation to help you scale up, optimize your business, and use the reports to discover ways to simplify, improve service, and get better results.

Put simply: there are 7 billion humans, and not enough time or resources to do each task by hand.  It’s time to automate.  Put differently:  we are now all technology companies.  From Amazon and Nordstrom to state and federal government services, we expect technology to facilitate everything from transactions to relationships.  Right?

So, how big is it?

Virtually all the major business analyst firms, from Gleanster and Aberdeen Group to Gartner Group and Altimeter Group, report that top performing organizations are performing better partly as a result of adopting marketing and sales process automation solutions.  Personally, having spent over 15 years programming these customer decision journeys for companies large and small, using a broad palette of tools (see right sidebar),  I have seen the transformation firsthand: clients scaling up to cost effectively satisfy more people, to more cost-effectively and efficiently manage buyer, customer and user interactions, discover customer and buyer behaviors that indicate satisfaction or need, and more.

CRM and ARM software can make you more productive and competitive, freeing you to focus on the creative, intuitive and intellectual  aspects of improving your business, and support you in making better-informed decisions.  Marketing, sales and service organizations are doubling down on tech; indeed, analysts and industry forecasters expect Marketing and Sales organizations’ tech budget growth to outpace Information Technology departments in coming years.  This isn’t necessarily a replacement of the IT organization; rather, IT can be your closest ally when evaluating tech options.  Knowing one another’s agendas can help you transition more effectively to a premises / cloud blend of agile business resources.

The choices

So, if you’re feeling bogged down in drudgery, overwhelmed by the escalating demands and expectations of your customers, outpaced by better performing competitors, working harder yet not gaining ground, or possibly even mystified about flattening or declining business, please know that it doesn’t have to be that way.  You can enhance your chances of growth and success by having the right systems in place.  Consider investing in Marketing ARM and sales CRM tools.  Or not.  The choice is yours.  There’s that burned toast smell again.

Take this quick quiz to size up your growth opportunity.

As always, I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.


Forget B2B and B2C; Hello, E2E

December 21, 2012
(Tune your Software Layer)

Forget B2B. Forget B2C. Embrace E2E: Everyone to Everyone.  Business and consumers alike are voting with their wallets and making mobile, tablet and personal 2-in-1 devices the “first screen” – relegating laptops, desktop PCs and wall-mounted flat screen TVs to “second screen” status.  They are messaging one another.  And they are talking about you. Are you listening?  Hello?

A few organizations have adopted the playbook to address this shift.   It seems, however, that most are not even thinking about the user-centric, user-generated, user-driven, mobile-first, E2E experience.  That makes it a huge opportunity, if you set your mind to it.

Aaron Shapiro, blogging for the Harvard Business Review, cited the “Software Layer” as an area of focus for optimizing this E2E User experience, no matter what business you are in.  I have incorporated some of his thoughts into the following 20-page storybook.  It’s a quick read (lots of pictures), and it outlines a framework for how Users interact with your Business through a Software Layer. Enjoy!

Who Uses You cover shot

Enjoy the brief SlideShare preso

I hope you find it useful in framing your thoughts on how to compete and excel.

Suffice to say, the race is on, and competing is not optional.

Make this the year you embrace the Software Layer of your business to drive User engagement, new opportunity, and new levels of success.

How is your organization adapting to the “Everyone to Everyone” world?   Love to hear your stories.

Cheers, Ed

@fanfoundry


Big Data in Marketing: 3 Prep Steps

October 11, 2012

In preparing case studies for my talk titled “Be a Big Data Voodoo Daddy” at Boston’s October 2012 FutureM conference, I noticed that almost half of our 40+ client projects over the recent years had to first devolve from “Implementation” projects to “Readiness” projects – equally valuable, and absolutely necessary.  How’s yours going?

Is your marketing automation, CRM, analytics, email marketing or other automation project going to deliver your desired payback?  Here are my top 3 warning signs that it may take longer to pay off than you think.

Stated differently, here are 3 must-do’s to ensure near-term ROI.

1.  The Right Stuff (Value based Goals).

Let’s first assume that you’ve already connected with the concept of Marketing as Moneyball.   Still, you may find that you are not gathering useful, relevant data to help you accomplish your stated strategic goal and implement the right CRM or analytics solution.  This may stem from having broad, imprecise goals.  For example:

  • “Grow revenue” is a great goal, but the paths are varied and nuanced.
  • “Increase Partner Channel Revenue” is, well, getting warm.
  • “Double Partner Channel Service Contract Revenue” is more like it.  Now you have a specific channel, identified players, and a specific product/service element attached to a numeric goal.  Specific, measurable goals and then measuring the right things are both essential elements if you are to to yield any meaningful analysis to motivate and support change.  No matter how efficiently you automate the wrong data, you risk stretching out the time horizon for any meaningful payback or, worse, running in multiple or wrong directions and wasting effort.  Strategy comes first.

2.) The Stuff, Right (Data Analysis and Process Maps).

Typically, your data is not homogeneous and some necessary processes don’t exist yet.  Data often exists in a variety of formats ranging from locked spreadhseets and various departmental databases to unstructured documents, such as paragraph text and visuals.  Processes that don’t yet exist can’t be mapped to a system; you can’t automate a vacuum.

Significant effort is involved in standardizing and preparing data for upload into your new automated solution, as well as  selecting the right tools to enable you to access and mine insights from unstructured  information.  At Fan Foundry, we are familiar with an array of powerful tools, and can develop custom, reusable upload frameworks to help clients address current and future needs for unstructured data.

This is where the scope of a project almost always expands, as additional valuable information repositories become included, because we often discover additional insights using all available data that just would not be possible otherwise.  You never know where the breakthrough “aha” discoveries may lie.  If you don’t have the luxury to expand your analysis, though, then rigorously insist on only analyzing the most salient data.

3) The Players (People).

The talent shortage is legendary.  If you are inadequately staffed or trained to assume the role of data manager, analyst and strategist, or transformational leader, let alone carry on administratively after implementation, you shouldn’t start the project.  The time to assign roles is up front.  Get any necessary talent aligned first so they can be involved in the project.  Some of your team can adapt; sometimes you need to extend your team to include a capable partner.  The single most effective way to stretch out the payoff time horizon is to not involve its eventual owners and primary users, or not have the stomach to lead a transformation effort.  Be prepared to change, or else don’t start.

The full list of must-do’s is extensive, but if you tend to these three first, most of the rest will fall in line, and you’ll enjoy a successful implementation.

Toward a “Measurement Culture”

You’ll know you are succeeding when you have established a “culture of measurement” in which the right things get measured, the data supports meaningful analysis, all meaningful data is reflected in a single, integrated, centrally accessible “record of truth”, and you are using the insights you have gained to achieve transformations like improve margins, speed to market, pricing accuracy, supply chain efficiency, sales growth, and other incremental and transformational improvements.

Finally, it must be stressed that human judgment is not taking a back seat to data.   Interpreting analytics in light of pragmatic experience and using that knowledge to take calculated risks is a hallmark of success.


The Sales and Marketing Alignment Conversation

October 27, 2011

The path to sustained sales and marketing alignment can be a simple one – simple to do, simple to repeat, simple to remember.  All you need is a map.  In that spirit, I attempt here to boil down some alignment opportunities for Sales and Marketing leaders.

The chart below shows the three main focus areas each for Sales and Marketing which, if approached collaboratively, can improve business results and transform the relationship.  Below the chart is a set of definitions, followed by a few examples of how to apply it to your own situation.

Sales and Marketing Alignment topics chart

Sales and Marketing Alignment topics

3 Sales goals – Value, Volume, Velocity

Value.  Since it is almost as costly to close a small sale as it is to close a large sale, Sales professionals would be wise to focus on increasing the potential Value of each sale.  In larger organizations, differently skilled teams manage different sized deals.

Volume.  The more deal flow you can create, the better your chances of growing the customer base and improving the company’s financial ability to innovate and fulfill their evolving needs.

Velocity.  Increasing the speed of deal flow through the pipeline also increases your capacity to sell, grow the customer community, and learn from them to help you innovate and improve.

3 Marketing goals – Content, Community, Conversion

Content.  The more compelling and relevant your content, the more you will attract the audience most likely to benefit from your offerings.

Community.  The more your content resonates within and among audiences, the greater your capacity to build a community and engage in dialogue to improve sales, products, services, and support.

Conversion.  The more effectively you convert sales, the more you can learn from experience about how to improve the conversion process.

Conversations Worth Starting

Using the 3×3 chart above, look at the 9 intersecting boxes and ask the questions implied by the two nouns whose paths cross in each box.

Example 1:  Value + Content.  In the upper left intersecting box, where Value and Content intersect, Marketing might ask: How can we improve our Content to increase the Value of each sale?  Sales might ask:  How can the improved Value of each sale guide us in improving Content?  It’s the same question, asked from different perspectives, that aligns your response.

Example 2:  Conversion + Velocity.  In the bottom right box, where Conversion and Velocity intersect, Marketing might be asking: How can we improve the Conversion process to accelerate the Velocity of Sales?  Sales might ask: What sales accelerators can we use as input for improving the Conversion process?

See how it works?  You may come up with better questions to suit your organization’s culture and challenges.  Now, formulate your own questions using the relevant nouns for each intersecting box, turn those questions loose in your organization, and watch what happens.

Measuring results with analytics, sales CRM and marketing automation solutions can help you measure and manage your improvement.  If you need assistance here, contact us.

How’s it working for you?  What questions would you ask your colleagues to help you get better aligned?  Drop us a comment here; we’d love to hear your feedback!  Visit our Resources page for more free strategy tool downloads.


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