When clients ask me about global CRM, it’s almost always in the context of software: Which applications support “internationalization,” with features such as double-byte character sets, UI translations, on-demand workflow and flexible currency tables? Sometimes a client will even go so far as to wonder about the data implications of global CRM, especially when the goal is to have a global customer master. While these are all good questions, they’re not the right questions to successfully enable global CRM.
I recently worked with an insurance industry trade group whose membership consisted of insurance companies around the world. Its member companies in China had requested some education on CRM, and this group, based in the United States, engaged me to review a “CRM in the insurance industry” training program. I tried to help the group understand that its educational concepts needed to reach beyond “CRM in the insurance industry” to examine “CRM in the insurance industry in China.” In other words, its program needed to apply a “customers in China” lens on top of its insurance industry lens to really help its Chinese member companies get CRM right. Apply this notion to any multinational company and the argument goes that “CRM in Industry A” must be supplanted with “CRM in Industry A in Country 1,” “CRM in Industry A in Country 2,” etc.
Why? Because customers in different countries have different cultural norms and process expectations, and failing to design to these differences sets up what is, in my opinion, an untenable risk of alienating customers and having your entire CRM strategy backfire. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to convince my trade group client to adjust its training program, and the feedback it received after the course centered on its lack of relevance to the Chinese market.
‘The feedback it received after the course centered on its lack of relevance to the Chinese market.’
This brings me to my first piece of advice for global CRM: Start with differing customer needs, not differing organizational or industry needs to create an adaptive CRM strategy. An adaptive strategy suggests you create immutable strategic principles at the enterprise level and then adapt those principles for the various local customer bases. My insurance trade group client should have started from the position that Chinese customers are different, and it should have looked beyond industry process norms and include customer-specific process norms. For example, is an online channel strategy warranted in a country without a widespread telecommunications infrastructure?
Consider Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, to see how this is applied. Though a top luxury brand in the United States, Lexus is overshadowed in Japan by BMW and Mercedes Benz. One of Lexus’ key global differentiators is customer service. So to fight its European competitors, Lexus Japan adapted the global differentiator to the local market by applying concepts from ancient Japanese hospitality traditions to selling cars, concepts that would be very difficult for the Europeans to emulate. From the way sales reps opened car doors for prospects to the way they held their hands when standing idly, the entire sales experience was enhanced with intensely local customs. This was truly an example of the old saying, “think globally but act locally.” While sales results are not yet in, feedback from prospects is positive, and Lexus is expecting sales to be higher based on the attention to local customs.
Which suggests my second piece of advice for global CRM: Use enterprise architecture as a means to ensure technical integrity while thinking globally but acting locally. In other words, strategic principles around the business requirements should be determined at the corporate level. For example, you might specify that all customer data be in a specific format because it is rolled up monthly. But the specific implementation choices and details should be left to the geographies and governed by enterprise architectural standards. One multi-national retailer specified that all marketing campaigns had to be multi-channel. Each geography was able to determine the right channels and the technology needed to execute the campaigns. The retailer’s enterprise architecture program had already created standards around campaign management technologies, so while there wasn’t a universe of applications to choose from, there was a managed shortlist.
Which brings me to my last recommendation—at least for now—for global CRM: Select technology that can be supported in-country. Here are a few of the criteria you should consider in addition to feature/function when selecting global CRM technology:
Industry focus. Vendor domain expertise surrounding industry-specific business processes (such as automotive sales) is now critical for facilitating application implementation and reducing upfront application customization. One key to success is an ability to demonstrate vertical expertise (breadth and depth) and investment in internal process experts.
Share. Overall market share, as well as repeat sales into the existing installed base, act as a barometer for past market success (market penetration, revenue). Historical trending of market share is even more relevant because it shows which vendors are grabbing share and which are losing it. However, end users must not be deceived by market share claims. You must take CRM market share or revenue numbers from vendors that provide products in numerous domains (such as ERP) with a grain of salt, given that enterprise licensing and conflicting definitions of the technology components or modules abound.
Agility. Vendor ability to react to and predict geopolitical and technical change is a must for long-term viability and success. Integration is also crucial, especially among acquired product lines. Several key vendors have relied on inorganic growth to bolster product capabilities. Therefore, architectural homogeneity and “time to integrate” are the benchmarks by which enterprises must evaluate vendors. In addition, it is crucial that your solution is capable of recognizing, engineering and operationalizing new (external) integration requirements around channels, data sources and applications.
Make the customer the CRM design point, and you’ll be well on your way to succeeding with global CRM.