“What I talk about when I talk about CRM”

The title of this article is inspired by Haruki Murakami´s book title “what I talk about when I talk about running”. I am not pretending to be a CRM all-terrain expert. When I talk about CRM I prefer to focus on “fit to process”, the “user experience” and the “effect this has on the end-customer experience”. I leave the technical evaluations over to the experts!

From the 30th of March to the 1st of April I took part in the CRM2015 event of SAP Insider in Las Vegas, in the role of Influencer. It had been a long time ago since I had been so exposed to novelties in CRM systems, as my focus has been more focused on processes and people in the last few years. It was good to be back in the systems world though!

titan crm moniqueFigure 1: How I loved the event

I saw impressive systems and met great people. No doubt about that. However, I am not going to give you an ordinary summary of the event in this post. Instead, based on what I have seen at the event, what the customer testimonials presented there proved, and above all, from what I experience on a day-to-day basis working with our customers and giving CRM system and process training.

I would rather reflect on how today´s CRM system offering – in general – is a fit (on not) to the user’s needs and business processes and ultimately: Does it fulfill the expectation the end-customer has about the products & services he buys or consumes?

  • Typical objectives of CRM implementations are, amongst others:
  • Getting a 360 view on the customer for all users
  • Enable management decision making though reporting
  • Serving the customer “better”
  • Balanced campaign member targeting

Bold objectives, and most of them are met after implementation. However, traditional pitfalls about CRM implementations by their users are:

  • Business: Cost of implementation/innovation is so high, and ROI difficult to prove, I can´t make a solid business case!
  • IT: The cost of maintenance is high, I won´t be able to manage all those expensive upgrades!
  • Customer Service Users: This system does not make my work easier nor quicker…I am confused and my customer is too.
  • Most Users: I have all the info I could possibly need on my customers, but it takes so many clicks to view it all!
  • All Users: Why is this so slow? Why doesn’t it work? Why wasn´t I involved?
  • Campaign managers: It´s almost impossible to create proper campaign segments without being an IT expert!
  • Social/Web marketing: why do my social and web leads do not end-up in this CRM system?

Luckily, CRM solutions in the Cloud brought quite some relief. Cloud solutions tend to have a much faster and more user friendly user interface, and data response is fast due to the nature of the beast (=powerful Cloud engines). On top of that, Cloud CRM vendors claim they are easier and quicker to implement. Important for the business cases: with Cloud, investment moves from CAPEX to OPEX. And, in CRM Cloud we have a wide range of vendors, much more than in traditional On Premise CRM.

From the traditional large CRM Enterprise vendors to the small players out there, they are all worth investigating. While I was already impressed by the Cloud solutions presented in the 2013 and 2014 releases of CRMIdol, I was also pleasantly surprised to see at the event in Las Vegas that SAP is now also getting their Cloud solutions on firm ground. Be honest, by hearing the brand SAP, what is the first thing that comes into mind? BIG ERP systems isn´t it? And maybe a bit of late to catch up in the world of CRM?

Well, my perception at least has definitely changed now. The SAP Hana platform seems, according to both demos and customer testimonies, FAST and user friendly. By SAP´s incorporates of companies such as Hybris and Jam, they ensure that also the e-commerce and collaboration areas are covered, areas that in traditional CRM is often forgotten. Being a late player means that you can learn from the mistakes of others, and I think SAP has done a good job there.

How FAST can we implement?

Keep it simple and keep it straight. I admire SAP’s approach to their Rapid Deployment Package strategy. It makes sense – in 5 out of 10 cases I would say – to decide to not apply any customization, choose a standard module and implement CRM in a matter of weeks. But I also have some doubts with that. The main savings in the RDS approach come from the none-existence of a customization phase (coding, deployment, re-coding etc.), and completely eliminating the business blueprint phase from the project plan. Now this last part is what makes me feel a bit uneasy. Why? Because all businesses are unique, and even if there is a match in process flow from what a company does and why the package offers, still there will be a need to business to adapt to the system limitations. And this is where my main doubts lie form user-experience. If the user is not aware or not trained on this change of the way we work, and sees him/herself limited in the way things are done, this will have an impact on the way they feel and gives service to their end-customers. Call me traditional, but I prefer a healthy but small dose of customization to ensure user buy-in.

On Premise – Cloud or Hybrid

From a CRM user perspective, for me there is no doubt: Cloud is much faster, nicer, agile and modern then On Premise. However many companies have invested over the years so much in On Premise CRM integrated in their ERP, that most use cases on SAP Cloud CRM showed companies that had – rapidly and obviously pleased with the result– implemented Cloud for Service, Cloud for Sales, SAP Jam or SAP/Hybris on top of their SAP CRM 7. Basically creating a fast, agile and modern GUI with the following consequences:

  • Split data storage: the main master data (customers, prices, products) remains On Premise as well as being used in the Cloud, but transactional data (leads, quotes, service tickets, complaints) is only available in the Cloud.
  • The latter ensures agile reporting on performance via the Cloud.

SAP calls these deployments hybrid implementations, and openly promotes this option. I think this in important step forward: using Cloud to leverage long term On Premise investment. The downside is: you cannot please your CFO by completely moving from CAPEX to OPEX, only partially.

What about the users?

Being who I am and doing what I do, I obviously asked the question in the Use Case presentations I attended. In general, the feedback of the users on Cloud or Hybrid scenarios is positive and it appears to motivate them in their daily work. But there were also occasions where the companies struggled to get the users to adapt to the new system and use it. How this rings a bell. Do we never learn? Why do companies keep forgetting to ask the users to be part of a CRM decision, why do we not communicate properly during the deployment project and prepare the staff for the change? Why do they only realize this and try to fix it afterwards?

crm evolution

Figure 2: CRM evolution according to Buljan & Partners Consulting

This brings me to believe that although CRM systems have evolved in a positive way catching up with market needs (see picture above) the implementation approach has not. We try to do things quicker without taking a good look at impact on business blueprint and prepare for change management.

Please remember: A happy CRM user will deliver a better Customer Experience!
Last but not least I would like to thank my SAP hosts: Dr. Volker, Jamie, Nayaki, Scott, Seema, Vikas: thank you for inviting and inspiring me! Then of course an impressive list of fellow influencers: Anneke, Dr. Natalie, Britton, Scott, Geoff, Raluca: thank you for your company and enjoyable and philosophical conversations. And of course many thanks to all the brave expert presenters from SAP, their professional partners and their customers.


Monique Jansen is Managing Consultant and Service Line Leader for Customer Centric Process Leadership at Buljan & Partners Consulting. Monique is a specialist in Project Management and CRM and CEM training accross several industries since 1998.

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