In SMEs, Collaboration Is the Word for Getting a Workable System


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Marketing and IT people and departments are not often collaborative in their daily work—especially when it comes to the question: Who owns the technology?

This fact of life is evident to any reader of the cartoon strip Dilbert. Dilbert and his nerd cohorts believe the marketing department is peopled with ambitious yuppies who want to market any products whether or not the products work correctly—or even exist.

But Dilbert suffers from the same IT help desk person whose vocabulary is limited to two sentences:

  • "Every thing is forbidden."
  • and

  • "Nothing is allowed."

The adventures of Dilbert are recognizable to anyone working in a large company. But small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) also have problems between CRM and IT on the issue of technology ownership and development. Several cases come to mind:

  • The reluctant owner. A CRMGuru member once wrote to me with this plea:

    Help! I am the only IT specialist in a small company. The boss bought a CRM system and I attended the product course. When I returned, the boss said that I should implement it. I don’t know anything about CRM—what do you suggest I do?

    I could only commiserate with this hapless IT-er, suggesting he get budget to hire a CRM expert to help him or to give back the assignment. Would he be asked to develop hiring policies or structure compensation plans if he had to install a human resource management system?

  • The orphan CRM system. A supplier of hospital equipment hired Joe to build a CRM system. Joe was a bright guy who was a one-man consultancy. A minor problem: He didn’t have much time for things like documentation. But his hourly fee was low.

    Joe’s system started out well, and the marketing, sales and service people were pleased with his work. But they thought up more and more functions, and the CRM system grew and grew. One day, Joe said he had accepted a job offer and stopped working on the project. But there was nobody left to fix the bugs or make changes—and no documentation for another rocket scientist to work with.

    The company ended up having to hire an expensive systems house to clean up this "orphaned" parentless CRM system at great expense.

  • The "we can do it!" syndrome. The aggressive IT department of a mid-size office equipment retailer gladly welcomed the assignment to develop a CRM system on their ageing minicomputer. Although the company had no experience with CRM, the IT guys were confident that—with a bit of reading up on the subject—they could deliver a CRM system and train the users. Later, I was hired by the boss to speak to the salespeople and make them like the system. It was a tough afternoon, facing a disgruntled audience. Only later did I discover that the sales managers, trained during the same session as the field sales folks, were also unhappy with the bug-filled system and thought it should never have been released.

    It took years for the company to clean up the system and regain the trust and confidence of its sales force.

Do these situations look a bit familiar to you? The question is how to avoid such dilemmas as these. The following food for thought may be helpful:

  • CRM systems should be "owned" and embraced by the users: sales, marketing and service people. IT-ers should be facilitators, not owners.
  • From the outset, the organization should form a CRM team of sales, marketing and/or service managers who will, together with an IT representative, design and/or select the technology that all hands believe will make their tasks easier and more effective. A management team member should also be on the team to watch the budget, smooth over arguments and get management support for their efforts.
  • Never become hostage to any one-person software developer. If he or she goes away, you could be flying lost and blind.
  • Think carefully before you decide to build a CRM system in house. That wheel has been invented, and there are a multitude of packages, some of which may have been designed especially for your industry.
  • Train marketing, sales and/or service managers on a new technology first, and have them train the "worker bees." The real implementers of CRM are not IT nerds or consultants in dark suits. If needed, you can form two-person training teams of a manager and techie to play a supporting role.
Jay Curry
Customer Experience Factory
Jay Curry is a founder of The Customer Experience Factory. His book, the Customer Marketing Method, was one of the first to show how to evaluate and realize customer profitability. Curry's current focus is on how Customer Experience Management applies to healthcare and non-profit organizations.


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