That Gee-Whiz Technology and Souped Up Strategy Won’t Get Your Company in Gear Without a Fine-Tuned Process


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Several years ago, we were hired by a service company to help it implement CRM. Senior managers had some hot ideas for bonding with customers. They needed help fleshing out their strategies and making them actionable plus installing new technology to drive implementation—or so they thought.

We started by helping them flesh out strategy, which changed substantially once they got a better grip on marketplace dynamics. Then, we were ready to start aligning process with strategy, they started grumbling, “What, no technology yet?” No way.

Their process proved to be so hosed, enterprise-wide, that it took us a year to help them get ready for automation technology. The company had lots of people working in parallel. Lots of folks doing redundant work. We’d never encountered a bigger mess (well, except for the time long ago that a client didn’t just have extra people but extra departments). Come to think of it, this company actually did have one whole function without function.

We’ve developed an ingenious new customer strategy. Now we’re gonna buy software to support it. Then we’re going to kick some serious butt out in the market.

If the executives had gone forward implementing CRM, the business would have wound up like bug splat on a windshield.

An extreme case? You betcha. But the problem just doesn’t exist in extreme cases. On a broad level, office process dysfunction runs rampant. And most companies trying to implement customer-centric business strategies need a thorough process overhaul before they try to implement any new strategies—but especially customer strategies requiring unique types of process support. Unfortunately, the fact that companies need heavy-duty process work before successfully implementing customer-centric strategies doesn’t mean many companies actually do anything about process redesign. Most don’t.

Hey, we hear it all the time: “We’ve developed an ingenious new customer strategy. Now we’re gonna buy software to support it. Then we’re going to kick some serious butt out in the market.” Process? Fuggedaboudit! No time to waste. Gotta get the jump on the competition.

Unfortunately, companies like that are more flexible than humans. Even double-jointed. Which allows them to kick their own butts until they’re black and blue—and red, too, in honor of the financial hemorrhaging that comes with their process neglect.

Souped up and dead

A fitting analogy for this inattention-to-process foolishness is trying to race a car with souped up engine, extreme performance tires but no transmission.

Companies can make all the strategic pronouncements they want; buy all the gee-whiz technology they want; but without process to connect them their car ain’t going nowhere. Moreover, what do most companies do after they fail to leave the starting line? Of course—they retool the engine and change the tires.

I can hear you thinking, “Yeah, those process people need to start grasping customer-centricity and doing something about putting our strategies into play and making our technology do something useful. Then we’ll start lapping our competitors.” Nice try. But you’re writing the formula backward. In reality, those customer-centricity people need to start grasping process to put their strategies into play and make their technology useful. And one way to do that is to put the front office in charge of stepping us.

“What?” you say, “The front office should take responsibility for process? Front-office people are not process trained.” Well, I have a tip for you. Neither are process professionals—at least not in office process, which plays by radically different rules than manufacturing/production process. And I’ll let you in on another little secret. All along we’ve assumed that the dirty word holding back customer-centric process is “customer-centric.” Ain’t so. The dirty word is “process”—as in: Most front office people don’t want to touch process with a 10-foot pole. It’s messy, “under the hood” stuff that marketing and sales in particular avoid at all costs. Which is why customer-centric process remains missing in action after all these years. And why what does get accomplished, remains mostly at Process 101 level. And why so many CRM implementations stumble forward minus an element critical to success.

So, good-bye to the notion that the process gods—not to mention, process professionals—are going to march in on cue to correctly redesign office process to support new customer strategies. Hasn’t happened. Won’t happen. Front office folks have to put on their work gloves and start getting dirty. And start getting process savvy—so they can fill this process void by themselves for themselves.

But don’t start by Googling “process.” What you’ll see will be totally off topic. Nothing but manufacturing process, software design process and project management process. Instead, search “office process,” which is fast becoming its own discipline, with not much more in common with manufacturing or software design process than the word, “process.” You’ll find lots of “need to know stuff,” at least if you’re committed to CRM success. Or you can also click the link in my biography below and download a free white paper that gives you the skinny on office process along with an office process design approach. Or, better yet, do both.


  1. Dick,

    Good observations. One other thing to consider is that through our review of 1,000+ CRM initaitives the past year we found that as the level of process rigor increases — firms implementing formal verus informal or random processes, the % of reps actually using CRM systems also increases. We attribute this to that fact that reps can now leverage CRM to better manage their daily workflow. Jim Dickie


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