Some may still consider the term "CRM" a dirty word. It conjures up images of large IT installations and millions
spent with systems integrators and consultants, followed by a corporate change management nightmare forced upon
employees to get them to use it correctly, if at all.
An increasing number of companies, however, have decided to look at CRM not through a technological lens, but as
a tool to solve problems -- even if they occur out of the sales, marketing, or service space. It gives a whole new
meaning to "out of the box."
"CRM is evolving from its traditional focus on optimizing customer-facing transactional processes to include the
strategies and technologies to develop collaborative connections with customers, suppliers, and even competitors," says William Band, vice president, principal analyst at
At the recent Microsoft Convergence conference, CEO Steve Ballmer referred to the technology as XRM. "It
means helping people manage all types of communications and data with customers of all forms," he said.
Jamestown Properties in Atlanta is a company without many actual people as customers. As a real estate investment firm, it's not a typical candidate for a CRM system. The 120-employee firm manages more than 40 real estate development projects at a given time, and information was mismanaged. Some people had data on their desktops, while others created random folders on shared drives.
Director of IT Chuck Niswonger, with the help of partner CustomerEffective, streamlined document and contact
management using Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The new system keeps all documents, contacts, and communications about
each project in one place, accessible by any employee. It's been up and running since October 2007.
The biggest challenge was to get employees to use it, Niswonger says. His adoption strategy was twofold: involve
all departments from the outset of the project, and more important, do not call it a CRM project.
"User adoption is the most critical piece of a CRM implementation," he says. "For it to work, it had to be
a partnership between IT, acquisitions, accounting, asset management, HR, and finance." Prior to this initiative
the rest of the company saw IT as a department that "did something to them," he says. "We wanted to do this with
So Niswonger put everything into context. He didn't explain the bells and whistles of the program to executives. He
asked them what tools they needed to do their jobs better. The group discussed how to share information, not just
"throw it over the wall" from one department to another. And he showed them how they could do their jobs more
efficiently and effectively by having all the information in one place. "The company now works as a team," he says.
"It's been a whole culture shift."
Also critical to user adoption -- and sometimes overlooked -- is a project's name. Niswonger never uttered the term
CRM to his colleagues when explaining the program. Instead, it is called Jamestown Business Intelligence (JBI).
"It's easier for everyone to understand what the system does with this name," he says. "CRM is another IT term
that means nothing to the rest of the company."
The new information frontier
Bill Patterson, director, product management, for Microsoft's CRM offerings, says that in his experience customers are looking beyond traditional sales/service/marketing tools when looking for software solutions. "There are hundreds of business processes that CRM was never originally intended to address that are being addressed," he said at the Convergence conference. He pointed to a healthcare firm managing health benefit information, a CPG company tracking consumer products, and a restaurant chain monitoring franchise locations. "Everything is adaptable to different information streams."
There is still much work to be done, as a majority of companies still think of CRM technology as an efficiency
tool, not a relationship-building tool. However, Patterson is encouraged that once initial efficiency goals are met,
companies will move on to more strategic and customer-focused initiatives. "People are amazed with how you can
use some of these tools."