Before Implementing CRM Software, Redesign Your Workflow–All of It!


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Hey, remember the long-running "CRM theater" show that almost broke the all-time rerun record? The one where a company runs out and buys software, then decides to do CRM? What a tear-jerker.

Finally, we got sick of seeing it. So they rewrote the script. I’m sure you’ve seen the remake. Where the savvy company decides to "do CRM right," so executives reengineer their sales, marketing and customer service processes first, then buy the software? It was supposed to have a happy ending. But it fell flat. Ever wonder why they couldn’t write a happy ending to that script?

Lots of companies were left wondering. But this second set of bad endings shouldn’t have come as such a big surprise.

Here’s the deal. CRM doesn’t involve just marketing, sales and service. It involves the whole business. Yup. Manufacturing, procurement, logistics, warehousing, accounting, billing, even HR sometimes. CRM is an organization-wide belief that affects business process across all functions, not just in the front office. Heck, if all you change is front-office stuff, you become a poster company for Freud’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome. If the back office doesn’t change, the customer experiences the same stuff, just with front office make-up applied. Trying to mask customer-insensitive operations by dressing up sales, marketing and customer service is like putting lipstick on a pig.

Hear the roar out there? Those are howls of protest from frustrated companies and consultants alike, who think CRM is already too complex, too expensive and too time consuming—without involving the back office. My CRM motto? "Go big or go home." If you’re not going to do what CRM takes, why risk less time and money when you’re likely to get nothing back?

Want an example of thinking big—and reaping big? Take Ed Phillips & Sons—a relatively small wine and spirits distributor in relatively rural Wisconsin. Several years ago, management took a step toward CRM software, then wisely retreated. Very forward-thinking for the time. Didn’t see how adopting CRM software would provide any customer benefits. Hey, what’s so great about recording in CRM software that this retailer or that ice-fishes? Everyone does up there. That’s when I received a call.

Before long, we had validated strategies and were combing through business processes for the entire operation, back office and front office. Looking at front office and back office together revealed many ways to add value to customers—such as increasing order accuracy; having field sales know warehouse inventory levels; giving sales time to discuss and plan orders with retailers, instead of reserving every second available for writing up and submitting orders; clearing up billing problems on the spot; sharing information and visuals about upcoming deals and promotions; projecting needs based on historical shelf turns; and on and on.

Know what? Not one of these benefits could be delivered by reengineering front office business processes alone. Nor, for that matter, could they be delivered using front-office, CRM software alone.

What type of ending did this CRM episode have? A very, very happy one. Not only did the Phillips crew deliver more wine and spirits to retailers, but also it delivered more value.

Yes, the implementation was complex—and got a little messy. Thankfully, local consulting firm Wipfli did yeoman work in melding a new, Great Plains back office system that talks to a specially configured Siebel 6 system that’s augmented by bar code scanners hooked to HP iPaqs, which run custom software that feeds orders to Siebel, which uploads orders to Great Plains at every store—with Great Plains updating Siebel clients overnight with accounting and shipping data. And there’s no high-speed access in the field; 56K modems do the job just fine by day, while everyone high-speed syncs from home or office at night.

Simple, quick, easy and budget-priced? Hell no. Pretty complex, actually. But know what? Business is complex. And when you simplify business to keep CRM simple—and quick, easy and low-cost—you don’t get the benefits. So why do it?

When you think about CRM, think, "Go big or go home."


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