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7 Ways That Marketing Can Lead a CRM Turnaround

Customer relationship management projects continue to miss expectations at about the same rate that they have for the past 15 years. From all appearances, more than 50% of CRM projects miss expectations, and about 30% of them fail to generate any ROI at all.

In a number of discussions with CMO-level individuals, the theme of the commentary has been: “What can marketing do? CRM is a sales or IT project and we have very little influence.” As it turns out, there is plenty that marketing can do, and there are many case studies that point to marketing participating in, or even spearheading, a CRM turnaround.

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that budgetary authority in the highest-performing organizations is shifting from the office of the CIO to the office of the CMO. Executives have begun to realize that, after a few decades of investing in IT, the raw efficiency gains that IT can offer are diminishing. The focus now is shifting to applying technology to enable collaboration and relationships both inside and outside of the organization. CRM is key to this strategy, and the CMO understands collaboration and relationships better than anyone else in the company.

Depending on the structure of your organization, marketing can, indeed, be a bit at the mercy of sales and IT when it comes to a CRM project, but that doesn’t have to mean that marketing is powerless. Here’s what marketers can do today to start influencing the effectiveness of CRM within their organizations.

1. Identify insights. Most CEOs recognize that delivering insights about customers is one of the most critical areas of growth for their businesses. Who can best identify and deliver those insights? Sales? IT? Finance? The natural owner of insights into customer relationships is the marketing department. Without a good CRM system in place, it will require some “brute force” work to assemble the information required to deliver insights. It may require looking into Web analytics, e-mail tracking, accounting information and sales activity history, but this process, in and of itself, is insightful: Marketing can begin to paint a picture of the value of a centralized CRM system when it comes to more rapidly analyzing customer information.

2. Partner with the CFO. Chief financial officers often feel even more powerless to impact CRM projects than marketing does, but the CFO actually can play a pivotal role. Get the CFO comfortable with sales and marketing metrics so that she can begin to analyze those metrics just like financial metrics. Once the CFO learns that a CRM system can deliver metrics that better predict the future and give the leadership team more tools to control growth, you’ll have a powerful advocate for a CRM system in your court.

3. Collaborate with sales and customer service. Even with a good CRM system in place, it takes time and effort to coordinate efforts between marketing, sales and customer service. Without one, it is almost impossible. Do it anyway. By better aligning the efforts of these three customer-facing teams, the need for the appropriate tools to make this more efficient will become increasingly clear. If it has to be done with e-mail, spreadsheets and duct tape, so be it.

4. Point out the problems. After working through the first three challenges, this fourth one will become obvious. In a diplomatic way, begin to point out what the organization is lacking. About six months ago, we were contacted by the marketing department of an organization with about $500 million in annual revenue. The sales and IT teams had implemented a CRM project several years before, but it was not being used. Through their efforts to address the first three items on this list, the marketing department was able to identify the problem. The process of sharing their knowledge with the executive team was eye-opening, and at times uncomfortable, but the organization now is rethinking its approach to CRM in terms of process and culture change—not just a piece of technology.

With those basics in place, the marketing department is in a position to be a change agent and can start planning for tomorrow. The items on the list below are a long-term set of to-dos that will take time to fully realize, but stringing them together will lead to a much more productive marketing department that can collaborate smoothly with sales and service.

1. Rethink the vision. Most CRM project teams started out without a clear vision for where they were going. The expectation was that the right software would solve the problem. I recently read an article in which the author (presumably a CRM expert) stated that when sales are down, it’s time for a good “shot in the arm with a new CRM system.” This is precisely the kind of thinking that leads to costly and time-consuming failed projects. Take the time to determine what CRM should do for your business, what problems it is trying to solve, and what the road map is that will take you there. Many should be involved in this effort, but marketing should have a leadership role in the process.

2. Integrate marketing and CRM systems. Almost every modern CRM system includes marketing, sales and customer service functionality, but I’m surprised at how few organizations actually use the same system for all three of those groups. Although it may mean giving up on a few things that you like in your marketing automation system, the gains from working together should far exceed those limitations.

3. Integrate all customer data with CRM. This is similar to the previous item but a bit more difficult to attain. When we recently interviewed a distribution company about its CRM project, the company told us that, “after a seven-year project, what got people using CRM was when we finally integrated across all of our processes and systems.” Research shows that a customer relationship team will tolerate two different systems to get their jobs done. The more systems that they have to use beyond that, the less satisfied they are with CRM and with their jobs. Your road map should include making all critical customer information available within a single CRM system, even data that comes from accounting or other systems.

With marketing in the driver’s seat for delivering game-changing customer insights, you’re well-equipped to change the course of your CRM project, and deliver new customer information and campaigns with agility.

Geoff Ables is a managing partner of Charlotte, N.C.-based relationship management and employee engagement consultancy C5 Insight, and author of the forthcoming book, The LUCK Principle.