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In the first part of this series, the focus was on People. In Part 2 of the series we shed some light on process; what those people should do and how they should do it. For those of you who know me have an inkling for what is coming next <drumroll please> technology. The guiding principle is simple, technology should always be to support people and process

Customer interaction design or is it customer management?

How can and should organizations map the buying process to the selling process in such a way that both personalizes the customer journey and allows the sales organization to scale? At one end of the spectrum, there is the selling methodology that require specific actions and statuses, and at the other end is your best sales person who want nothing to do with your new sales methodology. What is the balance? The future promises artificial intelligence, but that is going to take some time.

Neither the marketing nor sales organization should be dependent upon specific individuals who like to hoard knowledge. What is needed is for implicit knowledge to become institutional, explicit and procedural, so that everyone has the benefit of the expertise of the few.

You pay good money for the tools your organization uses, so the temptation is always there is to rely on technology, sometimes, a bit too much. Organizations often fall into the trap of trying to manage everything from journey design, marketing resources and campaign design to leads, sales tools, and revenue performance all in one tool. Yes, technology has an important role to play in each of these aspects of the lead to revenue engine, but technology cannot take the place of carefully thought, designed and execution.

It is easier said than done

As hard as we wish it to be true, customers simply do not stay inside the prescribed lines. Customers are making their own choices, designing their own journeys, following their own path. These self-designed paths are particularly complex where customers jump from digital to old school (phone or in-person interactions) channels. Sales executives need technology to support their efforts, but technology cannot do all of the work. All too often marketers underestimate the importance of cross-channel marketing content and message delivery.

During the course of this discussion, we have been staying away from pure technology solutions, but at some point, the rubber needs to hit the road. We need the right technology, people need help to get things done. Any and all modern CRM platforms should allow marketing, sales and sales operations to visualize and choreograph both interactions and touchpoints within the customer decision cycle. The benefit of putting this capability within the CRM system is that key stakeholders within your organization will be able to track an individual customer’s progress through the steps of a journey in order to:

  • Understand and remove customer points of friction
  • Understand and remove operational inefficiencies
  • Provide visual cues to Sales team, showing the steps within the customer journey

Extending CRM with the right capabilities, that aids in design and execution, is extremely beneficial to bring people and process together with technology.  Reducing friction will facilitate customer progression through the decision cycle, which in turn will increase sales velocity in a natural way. The improved satisfaction enables your employees to stay on top of their game. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Working towards continuous improvement

When the topic of tools and technology come up in the context of the lead to revenue discussion, marketing automation vendors are typically the first vendors to enter the discussion. Frankly, marketing automation vendors are working hard to claim a leadership position, but they lack the human element. Optimizing processes is NOT the same thing as automating processes. But there is still work to be done. Giving users a guided path and flexibility to adapt to the customers’ changes is paramount to a successful lead to revenue strategy, driven by CRM.

Successful CRM requires an organization to learn and accept new business processes and supporting technologies, which is never easy. Often the greatest difficulty is changing the culture of users. Use quick wins to gain support for the new CRM system and continuous improvement to keep interest high. Users will not adopt new CRM processes and technologies that do not have a clear benefit for them. Nor will they accept a new CRM that is not properly socialized. End user adoption is always difficult, without proper change management and governance practices put in place. There is nothing more beneficial to users than a visualization of the path to success.

Designing and delivering a system for sustained, systematic improvement for the lead to revenue processes requires a more comprehensive approach than simply measuring the results of marketing spend by the metric of revenue contribution. To truly optimize performance, marketing and sales executives need to optimize the drivers of performance, guide the users down that path and focus on making users and customers alike to be successful!

 

In the first post in this series, we made the case for better alignment between two organizational teams, in other words, we focused on the people. Your feedback suggests that we are onto something here, which should be no surprise. The fun part about alignment is that people actually need to agree (be aligned) on something, right? The smart thing to do is to be aligned around the processes required to make money (too direct?) so that everyone is clear on who is doing what (and where the customer fits as well).

Starting with Vision

(Considering CRM like a Corporate Mission)

Unfortunately, very few organizations spend the required time to define a clear CRM program. When asked, most executives admit that a well-crafted CRM program must start with a vision and a roadmap. Even still, these efforts often stall and much needed organizational synergy does not have a chance to take shape. This is, in part, is about technology. But, it is really more about defining how technology should (or should not) be used. It’s also about data (as it should be), but it is more than data. It is really about data combined with process. One without the other is like lyrics without a melody. A well-considered CRM platform will support the company vision and will play a pivotal role in determining how teams can and should work together toward engaging customers across their lifecycle.

By supporting customers through their end-to-end journey with you will increase satisfaction and long-term loyalty. This requires a focus on process. The common thread is customer experience and the customer’s perception of their own experiences (not what you think they are). In a business-to-business context, the decision cycle is a series of interactions between individuals. Each interaction results in an experience; good and bad. Good customer experiences correlate to customer loyalty. Which, of course, is the goal because loyal customers are more willing to consider another purchase from a company, are less likely to switch to a competitor, and are more likely to recommend.

Designing the Process to Support the Journey

(Thinking through the journey one interaction at a time)

Lead-to-revenue success is dependent upon well designed and executed internal processes that support the customer’s journey. Process optimization is about using technology to define efficient, nearly procedural, processes for everything from resources and campaigns to generate leads, sales methodology, and sales performance. Managing the plethora of interactions and touchpoints with customers who jump from channel-to-channel requires extra attention. Especially hard is when a customer moves from a digital channel to non-digital. This is where the salesperson needs guidance.

The front-end of the journey is the purchase decision cycle. During a business purchase decision cycle, buyers control the steps of their journey far more than the seller. This is a sea-change from times past that companies (sellers) need to carefully consider. Buyers are engaging with sellers through a multitude of digital, social, and mobile touchpoints. This dynamic changes the role of each player within your organization in a fundamental way. It alters what they must do in order to meet the needs of each buyer. To be clear, this is more than just a journey mapping exercise, this is about diving in one or two levels deeper.

Think big, Start small in Designing the Journey within your CRM Platform

When building your CRM program and considering the vision, it is important to balance two forces: 1) top line revenue growth and 2) bottom line efficiency gains. Both are critical, and the common denominators between them is business process; efficiency and effectiveness. Yes, it is possible to spend time on process improvement that will lead to both cost reduction as well as top line revenue growth, but this is hard. The secret is to design processes that mirror the customer journey and their decision cycle. If your team is able to anticipate the needs of the customer and help them along on their journey, then you can save time along the way while increasing sales velocity and reducing costs.

Benefits of Process Alignment:

Strategic (Company Focused)

  • Grow Revenue
  • Increase Market Share
  • Increase Sales Velocity
  • Campaign Optimization

Operational (Departmental Focus)

  • Increase Efficiency
  • Execution Clarity, Lead Quality
  • Decrease Cost per Sale
  • Capacity for more Campaigns

Your job in 2017 is to articulate, communicate, and evangelize the CRM vision – focus on the process, not just the data. Make a list, prioritize that list and consider the rate of change while trying not to do too much in too short a period of time. With respect to process efficiency, introduce change and transformation properly with input from other teams. Finally, keep an eye on your communications, vertically and horizontally (do more than simply manage up), doing your very best to facilitate the change.

Visionary marketers are quickly progressing beyond simple process automation for demand generation and nurturing programs. The reason is that the buying process is no longer simple. The selling/buying cycle is complex, with many players and personas. Both sales and marketing are about revenue and performance, make no mistake.  In order to accomplish sales and marketing targets (artificial or not), the marketing and sales teams need to work in concert; beyond simple (aka fluffy) collaboration. It is time to focus on people.

To be successful, your organizational selling processes need align with the customer decision cycle. The marketing team needs to transition from pure demand generation to becoming masters of customer engagement, helping the sales folks along the way. The selling process should focus on shepherding buyers through their buying journey. The strategy should not be to move a mass of buyers through a process optimized for management reporting. Instead, the strategy needs to design an efficient process optimized to take a qualified lead and make that lead an engaged, profitable customer. And, once the process is perfected…rinse and repeat.

Taking Stock of the Current State

The proliferation of customers’ digital touchpoints has accelerated requests for and the flow of information, especially in complex business-to-business decision cycles. Furthermore, organizations continue to struggle to predict where prospects will go to look for information. This unknown is causing marketers to do a bit of hair pulling. The idea of determining the right “marketing mix”’ feels a bit too much like a finger in the air strategy when trying to keep up with the vast array of possible touchpoints, along the customer journey.

Marketing and sales need to align their strategies and coordinate communications; both content and timing of message. In many organizations, the most apt descriptor for the relationship between marketing and sales is “frenemies”. Further, being in marketing is often like being an athletic trainer and never knowing if your athlete won the race. The marketing team has limited visibility into leads after they became “sales qualified” and are handed off to the sales team. This lack of insight prevents marketing decision-makers from testing campaign effectiveness or determining why something did or did not work.

Overcoming a Few (relationship) Obstacles

The relationship, at all levels, between sales and marketing is one of the most important relationships within any organization. This bond is personally critical to both the CMO and VP of Sales. The key point of friction is that marketers are focused campaigns and nurturing, while sales folks are focused on the deal and the only metric that matters is revenue. One team is looking at something built for the masses, while another is focused on an individual.

Sales and marketing processes are built with an eye on internal efficiency. However, sales processes need to be reshaped, and should also include an external focus towards the customer buying journey. This is most evident in how success is currently measured in many organizations; monthly and quarterly goals, such as: lead conversion, number of sales qualified leads and likelihood to close (by some artificial percentage).

The Path Forward

It is time to focus on positive customer outcomes and define organizational goals that support and even reshape marketing practices to drive effective customer engagement. This is about customers, not products, features or solutions. Work hard to balance pushing customers towards the next step and make sure you understand where they are in their buying journey. Once you understand where they are in the process, the right information can easily be shared. Context is a critical element within the buying journey. Customers need care and feeding – the right information, at the right time, on the right device.

We are no longer in the information age, we are in the age of customer centricity, customer focus and customer engagement. In order to succeed, the sales and marketing organizations need to match the selling process with the buyer’s journey. Yes, this is about customer acquisition and revenue generation, but it is also about lifetime value and establishing lasting company/customer relationships. Many factors have come together that extend marketing’s role much further into the selling process; even through the very end. Marketing is accountable for content creation, but they cannot do it alone, the sales team needs to come along for the ride! Marketeers and marketing leadership need to collaborate with sales folk and sales leadership to design and build a lead management process that makes sense to all players. Organizational alignment around the buyer journey is critical to success – hard stop.

After aligning goals and objectives within the team, the next logical step is to be do aligned on the processes required to support the customer journey. In the next post within the series, the focus will be on process improvement and efficiency.

A key initiative here at SugarCRM is to provide to our customers a platform that allows them to create and support extraordinary relationships with their own customers. In the spirit of sharing best practices, we wanted to publish some ideas on how we approach designing and building our platform to meet this objective. True to the philosophy is breaking down the problem and then putting it back together in a way that helps us to reach the best possible outcome.

Background

Designing and building a software application is no easy feat, if it were easy, anyone could do it (well). While many companies have become quite good at managing and building product features leveraging Agile methods, Agile is specific to a specific part of the production lifecycle. Figuring out what the user community actually wants, and going through iterations in design is a different matter all together. In order to attack this issue the two methods that have come into favor during the past 10 years are both Lean and Design Thinking. There are strengths and weakness to both, but what if we take the best parts of each?

It is important to outline the basic principles for each Lean and Design Thinking. Yes, there are many books written on each, clearly a paragraph does not do justice, but will suffice.  A Lean focused product development approach works towards creating a minimal viable product (known as MVP) and leverages data and specific feedback throughout the design and development process. Lean takes a feature/function approach to the product as well, more on that in a bit.  Lean is considered a fast, efficient approach to the whole process, as depicted below:

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 1.21.32 PM

Design thinking puts more emphasis on empathy and creating a stronger bond with the target end-user and the job the user needs to get done with the product in question. This is also known as a Service Design or a jobs-to-be-done philosophy. Where Lean is closer to quantitative, Design Thinking is qualitative. Where Lean is logical and detailed, Design thinking is emotional, detailed and places the product in question within a larger context; the future, my business, the world around us. Visually, Design Thinking looks like the picture below, note the differences from the picture above:

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 1.22.29 PM

In designing and building a platform for a large enterprise, it is harder to think in terms of MVP, because the team is not designing or redesigning the entire product. In this case the team needs to create another vehicle in order figure out what to build, when to build it, and whether it will work (to satisfy our customers).

With respect to building or enhancing an Enterprise platform, should the team choose an approach that favors Lean, or one that uses Design Thinking?

Both.

Resetting the Baseline

In order to make my case, it is important to redefine the rules, if only a little bit. Taking a moment to discuss exactly what “minimum viable product” describes is important to this discussion. By definition an MVP has just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development. While, by definition, MVP needs to deliver just enough of a desired outcome for people to want to sign up and use it, within a Fortune 500 organization, the bar is quite high. The baseline for MVP within the Enterprise domain is different. So much so that it cannot be ignored. Is it possible to look at this from a feature-by-feature perspective?

In the world of Enterprise Software, there is not one target user (persona), there are many more.  Enterprise applications live on a technology stack, and often have domain areas of functionality. Within the spectrum of Enterprise users, some are very analytical, logical and perform tasks in a very specific way, these jobs-to-be-done require repeatability and precision. For others, there is a strong emotional element, efficiency and creativity are a high priority; like sales people for example. For this reason, this reason alone it is enough to now make the statement that one method cannot work. In an Enterprise fast, iterative, quantitative and qualitative design, along with a strong empathetic bond is required to build the right stuff.

Here are the three groups Enterprise application designers and developers need to keep in mind as they design and build software (using CRM as an example):

  1. End-User – Sales, Service or Marketing user, I need CRM to get my job done.
  2. Designer/Developer – Configuration, Customization, Integration
  3. Technology Support – Raw iron (or VM) up to Application layer; OS, DB, PHP

A balanced approach to each of the personas is required to design, build and deploy software that meets the needs of all three types. The balance in approach needs to come not only from how the process takes place, but whom the team talks to and how the discussion takes place.  The question of approach may need to pivot towards the question of how best to get user input into the process, again, not a simple task.

What is Feedback?

“If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would say faster horses,” attributed to Henry Ford – though he never said it, and many are not sure if it was good or bad. In other words, the job that needed to be done was to get from point a to point b, Ford was selling cars, something very new.

Some might contend that the key difference between Lean and Design Thinking is one of practicality and science versus wants and desires.  The quote above, whether factual or not does represent how Ford approached the automotive industry. However, the factory model he built created his legacy and nearly caused its downfall. It was rigid and hard to change. General Motors came at Ford pretty hard in the late 1920s. In 1921, the Ford Motor Company sold about 2/3 of all the cars built in the U.S. By 1926, this share had fallen to approximately 1/3. (5)

The practical value of when and how to listen to customers and/or users is a very complex problem. Any designer/builder of enterprise software should have detailed understanding of their customers and their customer’s problems via both empirical knowledge and observable patterns; domain expertise is a definite nice-to-have. In the end, the team should also feel empowered to ignore customer input, as the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’ is often lost in the day to day within many organizations. The emotional attachment to features and functions needs to be heard and considered, but in the end tough decisions made.

Thoughts anyone?

Sources for the discussion:

1 – https://medium.com/art-marketing/lean-vs-design-thinking-6ae7c04453a6#.7ue9w2px9

2 – https://medium.com/lean-product-design/couple-design-thinking-lean-for-your-mvp-80478b8fb9f5#.prs6zjujv

3- https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/reuse-lose-many-uses-stan-garfield

4 – https://hbr.org/2011/08/henry-ford-never-said-the-fast

5 – http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-user-experience-why-data-not-just-design-hits-the-sweet-spot/

 

It’s been a while, but here I am, taking my own CRM journey full circle. I wrote my first blog for SugarCRM five years ago and here I am, at it again. My perspective now is more focused, taking cues from front line experience and watching companies work to make sense of the sea change happening in the business world. As an industry, and as a discipline, we have made significant progress. We are not arguing about definitions and are much more focused as a practice (CRM practice, to be clear).

The historical perspective—the one where users of the system considered CRM only a management vehicle to watch, control, and measure their performance— is not yet eradicated. But dare I say this is no longer the majority viewpoint either. Empowering the individual user will always likely be a work in progress, but since I have hung my hat at the front door of SugarCRM, significant progress has been made.

From the individual contributor to the senior executive team, organizations have come to realize what a well-tuned CRM engine can do for their business, especially if we understand the needs of the user. Driving success is about answering the $64,000 question, “What’s in it for me?” The overall success of any CRM initiative can increase simply by answering that simple question. Know what you are asking your teams to do every hour of every day and ask how can you help them to do it better!

So…“What’s in it for me?”

The Sales Perspective: Ask a sales person what they think about CRM systems and the answer might be less than positive. But, whose issue is this, really? In the realm of carrot and stick, too much stick does not get the job done.

When we discuss the part of CRM that is used to drive sales, track leads and opportunities, as well as manage contacts, we often forget to include the discussion about helping the sales team close the deal. Many might argue that ‘closing the deal’ should be a non-event. If value to the business and the end users is clear, then signing a piece of paper is just one step in the process. Actually, by then, it should be the easy part. What we need to focus on is helping everyone to derive the value from the system that each user wants.

The Management Perspective: In answering the question “what’s in it for me?” we can’t forget management, as they too are individuals that are looking to extract personal value from a CRM initiative. The senior management team within all organizations does have the right to track progress, is that so wrong? The VP of Sales does have the right to understand how his or her sales team is using a system and how often reps connect or interact with customers or prospective customers. Finance has to plan the course of business, cash flow and production, staffing and other important business metrics. The marketing and demand teams need to know if their programs are designed correctly. In short, management is not the enemy.

The Customer Perspective: My lessons from the field during the past few years suggest that the cultural changes happening now are much more complex than the technological changes. Spend time actively listening to your customers and reward your sales teams who spend this time engaging and listening as well. Individual users of the system will very quickly see the benefits of a system that brings context to their discussions, and provides efficient means to share customer information. The conversation between the management team and sales teams should focus on the customer, not system tasks and made up numbers.

So, how can you start answering the “what’s in it for me?” question on a company-wide basis during a CRM implementation? A great start is to engage your teams and include them in the entire CRM deployment process and have a fundamental understanding of what they need. Your goal should be to align your organization around the needs of your customers. If your team, especially those on the front lines, believes you are an ally, in the trenches with them, the question “what’s in it for me?” will rarely ever need to be asked.