(Editor’s note: Thanks to Chris Bucholtz, who wrote the original version of this post for CRM Outsiders in July 2012).

When our sales team is in the early stages with potential customers, one of the first lengthy discussions is about who should be in the room and part of the CRM selection team. These are the folks who mull over what’s important and what’s not in the CRM they ultimately select.

Most companies pull in the big shots – the vice president of sales, the head of IT, maybe the chief marketing officer, whoever’s in charge of customer service, etc. They huddle up (and, perhaps, bring in their seconds-in-command) and out of this esteemed group comes a choice.

That sounds reasonable, right? Well, perhaps. However, the biggest hurdle to new CRM deployment is adoption – and that doesn’t mean the VP-types using the application. It means the people on the front lines in sales, marketing and service embracing the application and using it to its full potential. When that happens, the efficiency improves and people become better at their jobs. Oh, and the VP-types get complete their coveted reports full of comprehensive and complete data.

But in order for that to happen, you need an application that the front-line folks will use. Sadly, the VP-types don’t always guess right; they look at applications through their own set of agendas and needs, and the choices they make sometime end up alienating the front-liners, thus setting the stage for adoption challenges.

So, back to the CRM selection team – the best way to prevent a misalignment between the front-line users and the executives is to make sure front-line users are included on the CRM selection team. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be people selected at random, but people with some experience, knowledge of the processes that CRM is intended to help improve, and a decent understanding of their fellow employees’ behavior.

Not only does this get past the traditional issue of the application being selected by people who may not use it every day, but because it also creates a set of advocates who can hype the virtues of the new CRM for their peers. The perception becomes not that the application is something picked by management and dropped on the front-liners, but something that their peers helped select to make their lives easier. It helps with both the logistical and perception issues that can hinder CRM adoption.

This all sounds pretty reasonable right? I can almost feel your heads nodding. So, how often does this happen? Sadly, not very often. No matter how logical it seems, there is often pushback: choosing a CRM is too important to be left to the people who most frequently use it.

This is upsetting for those of us that live and breathe CRM. But, it also gives smart companies a chance to gain an edge. If you can be one of the few mavericks to reject the status quo type of thinking, you’re much more likely to have a smoother implementation and a quicker rate of adoption – which will mean better ROI from your CRM, happier employees, and a better and differentiated experience for your customers.

And that’s what you want, right?

If you’ve included front-line users on your CRM selection team, drop me a comment below and let me know how it went.

NLP (Natural Language Processing) is a big topic and a quick google search reveals several definitions floating around the internet. Here’s one more from SugarCRM’s perspective: NLP analyzes communications in emails, LinkedIn, Sugar and other sources between customer facing professionals and their contacts to keep their relationships on track, helping the former provide a better customer experience to the latter.

Definitions are fine, but let’s take a look at three ways that NLP will enhance the customer experience

  1.     Determine what customers are asking for when they send an email

This is the most basic use of NLP. NLP gives employees a head start on what a customer is requesting via email. Here’s an example, a SugarCRM customer in the financial services space is using our CRM for their customer service department. Many of the requests their support staff receives are common: transfer money from one account to another, replace my debit card, change my address, etc. NLP technology can scan email before the user even opens the message and get the process started. 

  1.     Communicate Urgency

Scanning for keywords and phrases to determine what the customer is asking for is NLP 101. The next step is to examine an email and determine urgency. Building on the example above, a request for “lost debit card” while “on vacation” is something that is likely urgent. A change of address request, while important, doesn’t reach that level of urgency. NLP can help push the urgent requests to the top of the of the customer service agent’s queue so they know what task to tackle next.

  1.     Determine customer satisfaction.

How many times have you been asked to take a “brief survey” at the end of a support call? Consumers are drowning in a blizzard of customer surveys and smart organizations are starting to realize many people find them impersonal and annoying.  

Enter NLP, which has the capability to examine email interaction between the employee and the customer and determine how happy, or how unhappy the customer is with his or her experience. Organizations can then step in and reach out to the unhappy customers much faster to remedy the situation. 

These are just three basic ways leveraging NLP technology with your CRM can increase customer satisfaction, streamline processes and reduce costs. The great news is that SugarCRM is moving quickly to add more NLP-based features and tools to its offerings – like our recent partnership with TrustSphere.

A sure sign of maturity is the habit of questioning ourselves to see if we could be doing things better. When we take the time to answer important questions we start to see problems and opportunities we didn’t even know we had. As custodian of your organization’s customer experience strategy, you should always be questioning how and why you orchestrate CRM.

It’s accepted today that CRM is so much more than technology – it’s the fabric connecting the entire organization, creating an information-rich landscape through which the customer moves. So as CRM professionals the questions we ask ourselves must probe well beyond technology.

If you’re not asking yourself some key questions about strategy, people and processes it’s a sign you’ve got work to do, to drive your CRM to the next level of maturity.

Let’s look at 10 questions to get you thinking!

1. What does CRM really mean to your organization?

CRM tends to mean different things to different people across an organization. How can everyone in the organization get behind the real idea of CRM – and your customer experience strategy – if there’s no shared vision?

So, you’ll need to define and communicate your vision for customer experience and why it’s important to the organization. This helps everyone using the CRM to understand what part they play in making your vision a reality.

Everyone using CRM will have their own preferences, agendas and points of view. It’s important to openly address these, and hold them up against the organization’s goals so that CRM decisions are inclusive, transparent and objective.

If everyone understands that offering a better customer experience is what shapes your brand and determines success, and also knows what’s valuable to customers and can deliver it, then your CRM is in full swing.

But, if people don’t have this unified understanding of CRM, we find the opposite: various departments and roles interact with customers differently. There’s no cohesive approach and organizational idiosyncrasies are exposed to the outside world. This leads to an inconsistent experience for customers who end up dealing with silo’d individuals and departments, not one unified organization.

2.   Does everyone agree what CRM success looks like?

In a football (soccer from my American readers) match, every player understands the team’s ultimate aim: to score goals. They have their individualized view and their own role to play, but they all work towards the same thing. Success is clear, measurable and shared.

CRM success is also about common goals. But, success also needs to be measured at various levels and in ways that are meaningful to various people and areas in your organization.

If you don’t create a shared definition of CRM success, you won’t be able to identify improvements and show ROI, so your CRM investment will start to look like a black hole with no clear view of the value it’s delivering.

To meaningfully measure CRM success, consider these three angles:

Commercial: Sales are an obvious measure. But it can be a long time between the start of a CRM initiative and its end result, so you can look at leading indicators along the way. For example, the number of subscription renewals allows you to estimate revenue. Or, you can look at the margins for one-off sales as a predictor for final profit impact.

Customer-centric: Using measures like Net Promoter Scores, you can take a look at customer satisfaction levels before and after your CRM initiatives.

Operational: You can look at day-to-day performance measures like time to answer, time to resolve, first contact resolution, number of calls made or received, call length and pipeline size. These are all inward facing, but if they’re improving, so will overall business performance.

3.   Are you thinking more about your customers or yourself?

Someone who goes to the hardware store isn’t just wanting to buy tools, they want an outcome – a hole in the wall, a new door or a more vibrant color in the living room. Your customers are also trying to get something done, and you should help them to do it. Focusing on customer needs and outcomes is the main characteristic of customer-focused organizations.

The Three Es of customer experience[i] tell us that engagement needs to be easy, effective and enjoyable. If it’s not clear to all departments and individuals what your strategy is and how it relates to their interaction with customers, they’ll be going in different directions and often working at cross purposes. This means discontinuity for the customer. Their experience won’t be easy, effective or enjoyable and they’ll go elsewhere.

So, your CRM strategy should be based on what your customers ultimately want and how your organization is going to help them get it. With this bigger picture in view, you can provide clarity and motivation to every customer-facing employee to get behind your strategy.

 4.   How do you talk about CRM internally?

“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” —George Bernard Shaw

A big part of successful CRM transformation is about communicating the CRM strategy and explaining changes and new processes. If communication isn’t clear or sufficient, or if leaders assume that everyone will “just get it,” people won’t buy into change and they’ll actively or passively resist it. This is why many CRM solutions don’t gain traction with users, and fail.

You should craft frequent and meaningful communication to help every employee connect their role with the CRM and organizational strategies. Clearly explain how people can personally create a better customer experience and why this is critical to the organization’s success.

5.   Is your CRM aligned with the mission and vision?

Your organization’s vision and mission statements clarify where it’s aiming in future and what it’s doing today, to get there. They’re designed to foster collaboration and reinforce the values every employee should work to. Your CRM goals and success criteria should map directly to the clear points of your mission and vision.

Without clarifying how your CRM goals support your mission and vision, you risk individual or departmental goals superseding them. This prevents collaboration and fosters a silo mentality which will end up creating a disjointed customer experience.

6.   Do your leaders share your CRM vision?

CRM is not software run by one department; it’s an organization-wide strategy for customer engagement. Those best positioned to lead something across all departments are senior executives. When your leaders share and advocate your CRM vision, it shows all employees that CRM is a critical part of the organization and its success.

If leaders don’t actively support customer-focussed initiatives, there’s little motivation for employees to do so. And if CRM is driven by one department, others usually feel marginalized or irritated.

7.   Do you understand the whole customer buying process?

It’s common to fixate on individual elements of the buying process, like what happens when customers buy, install or unpack a product. But unless you consider the entire buying process, each individual or department starts thinking of only their interaction with the customer and the organization ends up delivering a fragmented experience.

So you must also understand what happens before and after these individual moments.

Mapping out a customer buying process means connecting up all related touchpoints. You should highlight interactions that start long before direct contact and show how the customer journey extends well beyond that point.

8.   Does the way you sell match the way your customers buy?

Many organizations have some form of selling methodology, formal or informal. Often the CRM is configured to support this sales methodology, using industry terms like ‘marketing qualified lead’ and ‘prospect’ and ‘opportunity.’ However, this is inward-focussed and it causes us to lose touch with who our customers really are and what they’re thinking.

The underlying requirement for great CRM is personalization, which is really quite the opposite of objectifying customers in terms of internal sales language and methodology.

In truth, a customer is never a “qualified lead” – they’re actually “interested” or “researching.” Using real language that pertains to the customer will help you – and everyone else in your organization – understand them better.

9.   Do your people use CRM because they have to, or want to?

It takes honest introspection to get to the root of a question like this.

If people don’t understand why they should change, they’ll resist. Your CRM project will fail if the software and its processes aren’t adopted. Conversely, if the people interacting with customers see CRM as helpful and valuable they’ll use it, and your organization will perform better.

There are a few reasons why people resist change or don’t think using CRM is important. Perhaps they don’t understand the consequences of not changing. Maybe they don’t see how new processes can make a customer’s life easier or why this is even important. They might not understand how CRM can specifically help them. Or it’s possible that they just don’t have the right training to use the system.

When employees don’t adopt CRM there are two key risks: that you don’t get any data into the CRM at all, even with threats. Even worse is you get “garbage” data as people just plough through processes to appear compliant.

10. Do employees actively use CRM?

It’s easy to set up CRM as just software or just a data collection system, but this fails to provide meaning to its users – they won’t understand the benefit to them, to customers or to the organization. This means they’ll have little motivation to use CRM.

Well-constructed CRM enables you to shape behaviors and get people working together to support your organization’s mission and vision. It can prompt people in any department to ask the right questions, talk the right language and add value to customers at every stage. But this all depends on people buying into CRM and using it actively.

So what does CRM maturity look like?

The answers to all these questions center around the idea that well-designed CRM is much more than just technology run by one department.

CRM should gather and utilize customer information from multiple sources. It should streamline customer interactions based on employee roles, and it should drive the right behaviors to deliver excellent experience.

All customer touchpoints across the entire buying process need to be coordinated through CRM so the customer’s journey isn’t disjointed. Also, of course CRM needs to provide customer insight and recommendations back to the organization, based on data intelligence.

A mature approach covering strategy, people and processes will see you using CRM to create a truly customer-centric culture across your organization, enabling every employee to play their part in delivering excellent experience during every customer interaction.

[i] Forrester’s “Three E’s of Customer Experience” are Effectiveness, Ease and Emotion

Today, SugarCRM is pleased to announce it has signed a deal with TrustSphere to bring its relationship analytics technology into the Sugar Platform. With relationship analytics, every customer-facing professional can easily tap into their colleague’s knowledge and interactions with their prospects and customers before reaching out to them. Relationship analytics is typically most effective in large organizations with long sales cycles that involved multiple handoffs between employees. Having said that, here’s a very simple (SuperBowl week) scenario about how it works:

Let’s say I work in the sales department for the New England Patriots and have just been assigned a batch of renewal opportunities. My goal is to reach out to corporate customers to engage with them about renewing their luxury box contracts for next season. What better time to reach out than Super Week right? I send an enthusiastic email to the first contact on my list to establish a relationship, only to have him sternly tell me he’d already emailed with my colleague Vijay about his list of preferences multiple times during the season.

None of this information was in my CRM. Wouldn’t it have been nice to know Vijay had already established a relationship with the contact before reaching out? I could have used Vijay’s knowledge to become more efficient and would have saved myself some embarrassment. Not to mention the experience would have been much better for the customer.

Relationship analytics allows CRM users to leverage their most valuable asset – the “Collective Relationship Network.” Relationship Analytics for Sugar solution will dig out the relationships between your employees in the entire organization and your customers. The solution scans email headers to find previously hidden and untapped insights (see the example above), which are seamlessly integrated into Sugar. These customer insights improve sales performance, reduce customer churn and accelerate the new employee onboarding process.

This partnership makes TrustSphere’s Relationship Analytics a complementary solution designed to work seamlessly within Sugar. The user will gain valuable insight without ever having to leave the CRM. Relationship Analytics for Sugar is priced at $20 per user per month. It integrates with popular email systems like Microsoft Exchange and Office 365, Lotus Domino and Gmail for business. It is available with all Sugar editions and supports both SaaS and on premise deployments.

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!

 

If you follow SugarCRM, you may remember we like to tout that Sugar is designed for the individual user, not just the management team.  We take immense pride in offering a CRM that helps the users do their jobs better. What is even more heartening is when our customers and partners carry over that spirit and deliver a user-focused approach using our products.

Sugar MACS

Last fall, we announced the availability of Sugar MACS which allows companies to customize the look and feel of our mobile app with a simple UI – a CRM industry first!

With Sugar MACS, our customers can deliver a unique brand-building experience to their users. Customers can leverage the power of the Sugar Mobile app and at the same time customize it so it feels like an extension of their company.  Best of all, there is no coding required.

Symphony Mobile CRM App

One of our OEM partners, Symphony, showcased the simplicity and power of Sugar MACS recently.

Symphony provides software and consultative services for accounting professionals. Symphony’s CRM offering is a central aspect of their business.

Symphony used Sugar MACS to re-skin the Sugar mobile app to give a look and feel that their accounting professional user base can relate to. After all, it is more intuitive for a Symphony CRM user to search and find the Symphony CRM mobile app on a Google Play or iTunes store than for a Sugar mobile app.

symphony-crm-1      sympony-crm-2

 

Sugar MACS makes it that much more easy for Symphony to deliver on their user-centric CRM promise. Here is the promise in their own words – the whole point of CRM is to make it so completely useable and useful that your people embrace it enthusiastically.

Industry game-changer

Every company has its own unique ways of using technology. Extending that premise, every company has a unique way of engaging with their customers as well. Custom mobile CRM apps are beneficial for the productivity of the mobile workforce. So, shouldn’t companies have the flexibility to easily customize their mobile CRM user experience as well?

The mobile CRM use cases of a telco offering white labeled SFA functionality will be vastly different from that of a CRM services company serving accounting professionals in a specific market. The affinity and needs of a mobile CRM user working for a large global financial company will be different from those of a customer facing employee in the shipping industry.

With Sugar MACS and Sugar mobile app, any company of any size can easily create a custom look and feel through a simple UI. Sales and customer operations leaders don’t have to worry about a learning curve for their mobile CRM users. On the contrary, a branded look and feel will increase mobile CRM adoption.

One of the primary reasons, SugarCRM customers choose us over our competitors is because of our application design (customers LOVE our user experience and our focus on building for the individual end-user first and the manager second). Sugar MACS embodies that spirit.

Learn more about Sugar mobile app and Sugar MACS. Contact your SugarCRM representative or SugarCRM partner for more information.

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.