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Marianne Cotter 10 Signs You Need a CRM Consultant to Guide Your CRM Project

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 By Marianne Cotter

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The decision to bring in a consultant to guide a CRM software project is ideally made at the highest level of the company in the earliest stages of the project. Too often, however, it is made out of frustration when executives realize that their CRM initiative just isn't taking off or that it has run amuck and taken a large chunk of the budget with it. Or maybe they aren't even thinking about CRM, they just want to know why their customer satisfaction numbers are so low.

In one common scenario, "you need a CRM consultant when you don't understand your customers," says Tony Branda, president of Black Belt Direct, a CRM consulting firm in the New York City metro area. While few companies would own up to not knowing their customers, many acknowledge troubling signs such as not being able to meet forecasts or a loss of market share.

Most companies want to invest in their customers; they're just not sure how to go about it. A CRM consultant can bring clarity, objectivity, analytic thinking, strategic planning, technical mastery and an understanding of customer-based processes at the highest level. But many companies won't hire a consultant until they reach a crisis. Here are 10 signs that will let you know you need a consultant to guide your CRM project to a defined destination.

You need to hire a CRM consultant if:

  1. You're too focused on tactical execution
    When your days are consumed with managing operational issues and problems, you'll never have time to give your business the kind of strategic thought it requires. A problem in the call center must be resolved as quickly as possible, but if too many of your days are spent in putting out fires, by all means hire a CRM consultant to assist or drive the big picture thinking. "When you're so focused on tactical execution you're not able to focus on understanding the strategic drivers of a problem," says Branda. "What are the drivers and the costs of that breakage? Why can't your customer navigate your website and then call into the call center to ask a question? How much money could you save if you could solve that problem on the web rather than in the call center? Those are the bigger strategic questions a consultant can address."

  2. You don't know the difference between Customer with a big "C" and customer with a little "c"
    This speaks to the core premise of Customer Relationship Management, which is to have a single view of the customer across the organization. "The Big 'C' is the customer at the enterprise level," Branda explains, "and the little 'c' is the customer at the product level." A customer at a banking institution might hold one product like a credit card, but they also may hold a mortgage and deposit account at the same bank. Taken individually, this is the little "c" customer times three. When viewed this way the bank fails to take into account the full value of the relationship when deciding how much to invest in retaining or deepening the relationship, which is the Big "C" level. Through customer identification CRM helps link the customer at the product level to the customer at the enterprise level. "Most companies haven't linked that data into a common customer view," says Branda.

  3. You don't have the proper IT talent on staff to handle a CRM software project
    Your company may have an excellent CIO or IT leader whose IT staff smoothly manages the transactional operations that keep the company running. Unfortunately, these people may lack the skill set necessary to handle a CRM project, much as they would like to take on the challenge. "Relying on IT people who are too engrossed in day-to-day operations to lead a CRM initiative is one of the biggest problems I see," says Branda. "You end up with this rub between the Sales leader or CMO and the CIO about who should build out CRM for the company." The CRM effort requires systems analysts and solutions design experts who know how analytical data needs to be structured and used to drive the customer experience. Simply put, the systems developed using a traditional IT life cycle require real-time data, which is a different type of development than a CRM system, which requires historical and time-series aggregation. "The competencies required to successfully perform the operation are different," says Branda, "and until CIOs and CTOs recognize CRM as a defined discipline with its own set of competencies, CRM will have challenges getting traction."

  4. When you don't have a social media strategy or tools
    You simply must have social media in your technology profile to accommodate the growing number of social customers across a growing number of social channels. "We're not just dealing with direct mail and email marketing anymore," says Branda. "We're dealing with Facebook data and data from mobile channels. A huge number of searches are done on mobile phones. We can't just push communications toward customers anymore because they can say no to most of those channels. Now they're telling you which channels they want to use." New social channels have shifted the power balance in favor of customers. They can rant about your products and services and it may go viral, damaging your reputation. A consultant can help you create a social media strategy that utilizes software tools that allow you to listen, engage and extract value from social communities. In addition, a CRM consultant can help you integrate the unstructured data from social listening platforms with more structured customer behavioral data. This allows you to see if comments about your product or brand are actually changing your customers' product usage and buying behavior.

  5. When you have disparate customer databases in different silos that don't talk to each other
    "There are still a lot of siloed data stores within companies," says Branda. "These may contain pieces of the common customer view that need to be integrated into your CRM system." For example, a credit card company may have one system that tells you how many purchases a customer makes and another system that may tell you how profitable those purchases were and yet a third system may tell you if that customer falls into your best customer segment. But until that data is integrated you won't have the necessary knowledge to extract the optimal value from that customer and do something with it. A CRM consultant can create a strategic intelligence capability or a centralized center of excellence that would define competencies in overarching data management practices to make sure that data is of quality and can actually drive decision making.

  6. When you can't readily transfer data about your customers to and from the point of contact
    With CRM analytics, information about the customer profile can easily be sent to customer-facing systems and to personnel so that the information can be leveraged for a more intelligent dialogue with the customer. For example, by knowing a customer's current product set the retailer might be better able to navigate a cross-sell or an up-sell offer or campaign.

  7. You don't know the total risk of the customer across all of your product holdings
    Branda hypothesizes that over the last 10 years the banks that had a better grasp of CRM strategy were better able to navigate their lending practices. These banks were able to leverage a 360-degree view of the customer relationship to make better lending decisions than other banks. "An innovative bank can determine the maximum credit they are willing to extend to any one customer," says Branda. "From there they can ask that customer how they would like to borrow and what type of products meet their life situations (credit card, mortgage, equity loan, etc.) as opposed to pushing individual credit products on customers who may not need them or be able to handle them."

  8. You can't identify the customer's last interaction with the enterprise or the channels in which the customer typically engages
    If your database is not set up to easily retrieve this basic information, you're falling short of simple CRM tactical practices and you are missing the opportunity to maximize customer lifetime value and reduce costs to serve.

  9. You don't know the cost to serve a customer or that customer's profitability
    Without this information you can't determine how effective or profitable your operations are. For example, if you don't know a customer's current profitability you might be overinvesting in marketing and servicing customers who do not and will not produce any additional revenue.

  10. You have low customer satisfaction or net promoter scores
    This is the most basic indicator that you need a CRM system with analytics. CRM analytics allow you to look at correlations between metrics such as customer satisfaction, profitability and retention in order to guide branded communications and investments in cultivating customer segments. CRM facilitates optimizing a broader set of objectives.

"Good CRM should have at its core a customer-decisioning engine, which has predictive analytics as its brain that drives customer interactions," says Branda. "The CRM system may predict which customer may respond to product A, based on which dynamic content, and which channels to sell product A through based on that individual customer's profile."

CRM software systems are becoming more dynamic, allowing information from the dialogue with the customer to be captured, analyzed and included in the next best actions that are flowing from CRM to the customer. A CRM consultant can help you take the steps necessary to raise these scores and better engage the customer across the lifecycle. End

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Comments (1) — Comments for this page are closed —

Guest Chris Nichols
  Your article offers great advice in choosing a CRM consultant. Unfortunately, I’ve seen way too many CRM implementation projects defer hiring an expert until after the project becomes troubled, at which time executive sponsors, project managers and key staff separate and distance themselves from the project. At that point, even good consultants will incur difficulty in reviving the project.


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Too many companies won't hire a consultant until they reach a crisis or fail to achieve their objectives. Here are 10 signs that will let you know you need a consultant to guide your CRM project to a defined destination—and successful outcome.


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