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Martin Wales

[November 5, 2001]

Customer Catcher

By Martin Wales

Technology Can’t Help You Without A Strategy

Technology helps us increase productivity and save time. Wisely used, it decreases our costs and increases our profit. This is, in fact, our own sales pitch when recommending computer telephony or other information technology purchases.

Yet, I believe technology companies are even more prone to the misuse of technology in its application, and especially in its development. There are new software and hardware products continually developed with little customer input. They are not based on customer demand; rather, engineering design and innovation takes place around perceived needs.

Several of my clients are currently focused on using the Internet to improve business opportunities and efficiency. This focus led me to question the introduction of technology to improve the sales and marketing process, and the customer relationship management (CRM) segment in particular. Two main themes emerged that are applicable to all technology deployments, not just CRM.

1. If you don’t have an effective strategy, technology can’t save you from eventual failure.

Most businesses lack specific strategies regarding the application of new (and even not-so-new) technology. Those mesmerized by new technology tend to first ask, “How can we use this leading-edge technology in our business?” rather than "Do we need this technology?" This leads to subsequent tactics born of the desire to utilize the technology, rather than any clients really requesting it.

A more logical approach is needed: First, set your goals and objectives. Then, ask how you can best reach them. Finally, research what technology exists to help you reach your goals.

When the fax was introduced it wasn’t long before there was marketing via broadcast fax. Let’s stop and think. How many faxes do you just throw away? The technology got the message to you, but the message was not appropriate. This is indicative of a poorly planned marketing campaign and a poor strategy.

The point here is that if we don’t have something attractive or we’re not serving our prospects’ interests, then it won’t work as a fax, e-mail, or direct mail.

This holds true for your Web site strategy, as well. Unless you plan out where you want people to click and what you want them to read and do, it will not work. Again, the technology works but not your methodology. If you don’t have a target market and speak specifically to them, your sales will be flat. I like leadership guru Stephen Covey’s analogy of the insignificance of the height and strength of your ladder if it is against the wrong wall.

2. Start with -- and stay with -- your objective. Don’t get caught up in the process.

Don’t buy technology just because it’s the latest trend and you just have to have it. I spoke with Charles Cyna, co-founder of Avante Solutions Inc., for his views. Avante is a leading implementer of CRM solutions in North America. With my personal interest in CRM software, I wanted to learn some of the common mistakes made when sourcing this kind of technology service and support.

Cyna says he sees organizations spending too much time and money investigating the purchase of their new CRM systems. Then, when a tool is finally selected, a panic ensues from the realization that the original deadline for implementation had passed months ago and this "thing" needs to be deployed yesterday. Classically, this is being swept away in the process of implementing the technology, rather than reaching your business objectives (such as customer retention).

This scenario often leads to project failure, well before the first user reaches for the keyboard. Cyna offered six common pitfalls your should be aware of when remedying a situation with technology:

  1. Do not investigate too many or cross-tiered technologies.
    If you are looking at tools that cost $200 a license with ones that are $2,000 -- stop immediately. Something is wrong. This normally suggests that requirements have not been fully defined. Organizations should consider three or four technologies during evaluation to avoid taking only a superficial glance at many applications.

  2. Do not treat the evaluation as part time.
    CRM technologies can literally revolutionize how your company thinks about its customers. By not taking enough time to investigate solutions, it is difficult to assess whether all the requirements of your business case can be met. This is all about your return on investment -- the more time you put in, the better fit the solution you choose should be.

  3. Choose you evaluation team carefully.
    If it is their first exposure to technology, think about adding someone technical to balance the team. Team members each offer specific knowledge of departmental processes to reach common corporate goals.

  4. Don't let your evaluation period extend too long.
    Cyna recommends three months as more than adequate to select a tool. If you let it drag on for too long, the software and hardware being evaluated will be upgraded and your evaluation team will have to redo research.

  5. Have strong management support.
    CRM should not be a grass roots initiative -- its accumulative impact on the entire business is too great. Senior management needs to be on board, visible, and taking leadership of the project.

  6. Have clear business requirements and objectives.
    If your organization cannot communicate real deliverables of a tool, it is more than likely that the implementation will fail. Only clear objectives will limit the scope enough to allow the implementation to be successful.

In conclusion, no matter what the technology is and no matter how well it works, it must be applied in the right place, at the right time, and to the right people. In short, create a strategy. Cleary understand your objectives and seeks the tools to support your efforts to reach that goal. Avoid getting stuck in the selection process.

A mentor of mine who advocated a simple, direct approach to problem solving always said, “The easiest way to dig a hole is with a shovel.” I think he was wise. My personal addition is, “Why not make sure that there is a good chance of striking gold or oil while you’re digging?”

Martin Wales, the Customer Catcher, is a business development specialist helping companies win and keep more business with a focus on CRM. He is a technology-marketing specialist, speaker, and facilitator focused on maximum results with minimum risk using a company's existing resources. Contact him at martin@customercatcher.com.

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