TORONTO–Customer relationship management has been called a lot of things — many of them unflattering — but now you can add “a topic near and dear to my heart.”

This comes from Charles Schwab Canada Co.‘s Steve Kruspe. The chief information officer spoke at the 2001 Customer Relationship Management Conference: A Growth Strategy For Your Business, put on by The Conference Board of Canada.

Kruspe delivered a familiar message about CRM at the enterprise level on Thursday: it can be a tremendous benefit, but results aren’t guaranteed. To wit, he said a 10 per cent revenue increase is a reasonable expectation, but 65 per cent of CRM projects fail, according to the Boston Consulting Group. He recommended a number of strategies and highlighted pitfalls so as to avoid joining the majority.

Something the size of a enterprise level CRM implementation can become a juggernaut steaming along out of control, so Kruspe said it’s essential to periodically take a step back and examine things. This goes a long way towards eliminating shoddy understanding of the project and lack of risk management.

“You need to stop and re-evaluate where you are once in a while. As much as I hate to admit it, in the two-and-a-half years that we’ve been rolling our Siebel solution out we have done three mini-launches,” Kruspe said.

“The reason we did that was we wanted to re-energize our end-users, we realized we made some mistakes the first go around, so we made some changes.”

Another strategy, Kruspe said, to keep these projects in perspective is to break them into sequential, bite-size pieces, with key people determining the size. Easier said than done according to CRMA Canada president Laura Pollard.

“In many cases companies don’t know how to prioritize and sequence,” Pollard said. “Your users need to build it. If you users aren’t building it then there will not be the acceptance and there will be the failure.”

Kruspe said it is important to look at CRM as a business discipline and not a product or a sales tool.

“CRM is a better tool for supporting business development,” Kruspe said. “We’re trying to build information about clients, client experiences, what they have done in the past, achieving things like segmentation, trying to create ways for better delivering to a client’s needs. And those are kind of the business development activities that support tactical sales activities.”

Once an organization grasps the difference, the next step is to get everyone, from upper management on down, to buy into it. Executives need to drive the initiative and employees have to use it. Kruspe said this is an arduous, but paramount, task.

One of the biggest hurdles is overcoming what Kruspe called the Big Brother phobia.

“A lot of people feel that, ‘Geez, everything I’m doing is getting recorded into the system so am I doing it OK? If I don’t do it are they going to know that I’m not doing it?'” he said.

To help overcome this fear, Kruspe suggested offering incentives for using the system. At Schwab, he said, sales teams are offered leads and those that follow up on them are given more leads.

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