Process, integration key to CRM success

A strong business process, robust application integration capabilities and solid management buy-in are key factors in any successful customer relationship management installation, said users at two events in San Francisco last week.

IT managers on panels at Oracle's OpenWorld user conference and a separate event sponsored by Siebel Systems offered advice on implementing CRM systems. Some acknowledged that their CRM expertise comes from lessons learned while working on projects that failed.

John Graff, vice president of marketing and customer operations at National Instruments, said that few CRM failures result from flawed technology. "In my view, the single biggest reason is a lack of a business strategy," he said during a forum at OpenWorld.

National Instruments, a maker of high-tech instrumentation products, runs the Oracle E-Business Suite 11i CRM application to support sales, marketing and services operations.

Without a business strategy for CRM, companies can rarely gain any return on a CRM investment, Graff said. For example, he said, some companies buy a CRM tool and install it but "don't know what the business process is. They just press a button and get data. There's no strategy (for how to use the data). It's not easy stuff."

Sealing Devices, a manufacturer, failed in two efforts to implement CRM systems before succeeding on its third try, said CIO Patrick Harris. The two failures were primarily the result of a lack of integration with other applications. The failed CRM systems -- the first homegrown and the second a package from an undisclosed vendor -- required much redundant input of data, which led to mistakes. The company's current system, which is based on Oracle CRM and other Oracle applications, allows users to enter data once for all systems.

Sealing Devices expects the latest project to deliver an ROI of 153 percent over five years.

Izmocars, a provider of Internet tools to the automotive industry, also suffered through multiple CRM failures before undertaking a successful effort that relies on Siebel's OnDemand hosted sales force automation software. Izmocars blamed a variety of technical and cultural problems for its failed CRM efforts, which were based on Siebel's Enterprise software, Salesforce.com's hosted systems and Microsoft's CRM software.

At the Siebel event, Izmocars President Tej Soni said one of the keys to succeeding with CRM in a small or midsize business "is nailing down the process and ensuring process compliance." Many smaller companies don't document their sales processes -- something Izmocars did for the OnDemand rollout.

Soni said the Izmocars process includes input from the company's sales force. Soni credited the documentation and user input for the successful use of the new CRM system. In the past, sales personnel used CRM software only for basic calendaring, not for the full sales process, he said.

Meanwhile, Susan Knox, senior vice president of sales and marketing at eTelecare International, contended that CRM rollouts "fail because they don't have executive sponsorship."

ETelecare, a provider of call center services, runs Siebel's OnDemand product. To succeed, it also helps to provide "early wins," such as rolling the CRM applications out in small increments to a limited number of users, she said.

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