How important is a robust CRM system for business success?
For me a robust CRM system is one that has effectively tackled all the different stakeholders’ needs and all the different ways that the business wants to progress. There are four main areas to consider:
The business needs to identify where they’re going, and then move towards that goal, accelerating through growth and efficiency towards their transformation strategy Customers should learn to love dealing with the organisation via the technology that’s been implemented Users should willingly adopt the software or the technology because it makes their working lives easier It needs to be cost-effective, sustainable in-house, and it should produce a return on their investment
If these four criteria are met, then we can say that we have a robust CRM system to support business success.
What are the top technical advantages and disadvantages of CRM systems?
It all comes down to the technology and the people using the technology. If the CRM system is done really well you can have things like automation and self-service software where people can get exactly what they need in the way they want it, and assuming all the data is linked up, efficient and clean we can also surface information, analytics and insights that will advance the organisation and help the business work in a more seamless way, while also providing a better service to the customer.
The disadvantages are when that’s not done well, and it just becomes a system that people really don’t want to use, that makes their lives harder, and is more manual. The customer gets frustrated and the business has become so dependent on their suppliers that they’re paying huge sums of money and not seeing a return on their investment.
What are the most common implementation mistakes you’ve encountered in CRM?
There are 5 implementation mistakes that I see all the time
1. When companies focus their attention on the technology rather than their business objectives.
Perhaps you’ve heard that Microsoft Dynamics is really good, and you want to try it out and see what you can get from it. Instead you should be asking yourself “what are we doing as a business?” and “what do we want to achieve?”. Only once you know your business objectives should you start to consider how technology can help you get there.
2. When there is a lack of strategic planning and support structures in place to help govern implementation.
If you put in new technology but the wider team isn’t aligned and hasn’t had any say in implementation, then you are creating silos and users aren’t going to adopt the technology. You need to make sure you have the governance structures in place so that every stakeholder is aligned and brought on the journey.
3. When there is not enough focus placed on the adaptability, consistency and longevity of the software.
Technology is changing rapidly and often people will decide to put in a technology as they would a project with a start and finish date, but there really isn’t an end date when technology is adopted. It's constantly evolving. People will come and go from the organisation, and they will all need to understand what happened before that brought about the move to this technology, where the organisation is trying to go with it, and they’ll also need to know how they can make sure to continue on that path. That doesn’t usually happen, and as new people come in they will want stamp their own ideas, then leave and the next person will do the same, and before you know it it’s a complete mess.
4. When there is an inability to acquire and maintain the right skills sets in house.
This is such a common issue within this industry because people can make more money if they if they are contracting, or if they go to some of the larger partners. What I’ve seen is that as long as people have really good training programs, enough autonomy, and you sell them on the vision of where the organization is going and where they fit within that, you can get and retain those skill sets in house.
5. When there is a lack of meaningful collaboration between the business and its digital partner.
I've actually been on both sides of the fence, at end user organisations that work with partners, and I've been in partners working with the end users. What I’ve found is that often organisations bring in skilled people, and expect us to tell them what to do, and, whilst we can do that, it isn’t sustainable on its own. They really have to take ownership of the technology and we almost create a hybrid where we're helping them grow by upskilling their team, making sure they have the right people in house, and all the right documentation or structures set up. People think it’s just about the technology but it’s 20% technology and 80% setting up the project process with the right people.
If we are talking about pain points, there are two types - the pain points that people know about, and then there are the pain points that they don't even know that they have. If they know about the issue, I love saying to people “just treat this as a counselling session”, and I really just sit down with all the representatives, create relationships and ask them about all the things they’re unhappy with. That way you get a really good picture of what's going on.
To uncover the hidden problems they don’t know they have, we look back at the digital transformation strategy and review what the technology is actually capable of doing, where the business is going, and how we can support the business to communicate better with their customers. We look at what is possible, and what they could be achieving – that’s how you uncover problems you didn’t know about. From there we align expectations to make sure we all know that this is a journey from A to B.
Tell us about a time you had to fix issues in a complex CRM system
Technology maintenance is one complexity. One such example is that Microsoft Dynamics 365 is an excellent tool with lots of ‘out of box’ functionality that can be configured to adapt to many business processes. However, it can also be further extended by creating custom code and features, which should be used with caution, in my opinion. Microsoft can change their code structures every now and again, and it can cost companies thousands to rewire the code. One way I’ve found to manage this is to implement a no code rule. This allows us to get really creative with out the box functionality, and only use code unless we really, really have to. It just makes it so much easier to maintain going forward.
Ensuring all stakeholders are aligned is another complexity. I was recently on one of the most complex projects I’ve ever worked on, which ran over a year and was a political minefield trying to align everybody together. Eventually we got a really great implementation and everyone was behind it, but getting to that point and bringing them on the same journey was one of the biggest challenges. This is especially true when a company starts to grow, and more and more people need to be on board. Organisations often devalue change management experts when they are looking to save money, but it's a disaster to do so, because essentially change managers align people with the technology, so they are really needed.
What advice would you give a company looking to start using CRM software? What kinds of question should they be asking?
You’ve got to know why you want the software put in first, and then you need to work on what your customer journey is. Ask yourself:
What do you want your customers to feel when they are interacting you’re your organisation What are your customers touch points? How are they going to interact with the technology? What are the different customer personas? And what are their journeys through your organisation?
Once you know the answers to these questions, you can then start to align the technology with what you want their ideal customer journey to be. Resist the temptation just to pick software for the sake of picking software or because you've heard it's good, and make sure you do all of the necessary planning upfront.
What are the main issues in CRM in 2023?
I went to a technology Microsoft event way back in 2017, and I remember sitting there and suddenly realising that the industry has changed from technology trying to catch up with our needs, to a place where the technology can do so much more. And in 2023 we're now in a world where technology is so advanced that it really requires a shift in mindset to be able to understand and use it. It’s not a technological issue anymore, it's an understanding how to best utilise the technology issue. That’s the biggest problem that I and a lot of my colleagues face now, because we're still dealing with a lot of old, foundational problems and mindsets, and we're not really taking advantage of everything that the technology can do yet.
Where do you see CRM heading in the next 10 years?
Microsoft has put huge amounts of investment into AI, and we're now seeing lots of features coming out, like providing analysts with analytics and insights and next steps they need, and it can be especially useful around fuzzy logic areas like sales, to have suggestions and pop ups from an AI. That’s just going to continue to advance in a lot of different ways.
I think the other area that will continue to grow is the Metaverse. A lot of organisations don’t fully know how to use this space yet, but over the next 10 years I think it’s going to start to become more important.
There also has to be a shift between how people are currently working with technology and how best to use it and embed it in the organisation. I think this mindset shift will start to happen over the next 10 years, and if people don’t change their mindsets they’re going to lose more and more money and the journey will become more painful for the end user.
I heard at a digital transformation event recently that there needs to be a focus on lowering the carbon footprint in a digital world. Everything is stored from emails that have been sent to data that is stored, and it’s all being used somewhere as part of a process. It’s going to be really important to streamline and automate so that certain parts of the organisation’s carbon footprint can be removed, but there needs to be a foundation or mindset shift for that to start to happen. Then the industry will start to speed up in terms of getting the best return on investment from the technology.
Richard White is a MS Dynamics 365 CE & Power Platform Principal Consultant, Solution Architect and Lead Functional/Technical Hybrid Consultant, with almost 2 decades experience in Consulting, Business Analysis, Development, Product Management, Training and Business Management. Richard brings a strong understanding of business awareness mixed with exceptional communication, interpersonal, leadership and technical skills which, enable him to understand collective needs, set visions, build fruitful long-term relationships with clients and galvanise and empower teams to create solutions at a fast pace and that far exceed expectations.
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