IT systems don't typically show all that many symptoms of politics. They consist mostly of engineering and consistent rules. An accounting or ERP or integration system may be in place for a decade or more. It's hard to imagine a heated meeting about inventory allocation or accounting rules (other than Silicon Valley's infamous options-backdating issues).
Not so with CRM system implementation. These projects have lots of meetings. In fact, I'm going to assert that not having heated meetings is an almost a sure indication of future project problems.
Why? The surface reason—that flashy egos are involved—hides five more profound reasons.
1. Fundamentally, CRM systems are about optimizing revenue. This topic is important to every stockholding executive. Ideally, revenue or profit optimization should be important to every VP and her team. In too many cases, though, sales exclusively owns the revenue agenda. In these situations, the chief revenue officer tends to push every other function to the side in the CRM system, leading to classic sub-optimization. This can result in a system that's easy to use for sales, but is a pain for partners, is sketchy for ecommerce customers, makes marketing programs less effective, slows down product distribution or impedes customer support—all of which can lower customer satisfaction and revenue.
2. Relationships can be complicated. If a CRM system is true to its name, it should leverage and improve the customer relationship over time. If there really is a customer relationship to maintain over time, then it is rare for the sales folks to actually make the most "touches," since marketing and customer service are likely to be connecting with the customers more often than sales. The customer conversations that yield revenue are going to be with sales folks, though, and they tend to be fairly territorial about owning the relationship. Innocent issues such as record ownership and read permissions can lead to endless fun.
3. The more mature the CRM system, the broader its span of integration. It's quite normal for a CRM system to be able to see records from the website to the ecommerce system, from accounting to distribution, from licensing to warranty and from marketing to support. Just seeing those records can cause political noise—just like they can in a data warehouse—but in the CRM a good portion of those records also need to be written to. In highly compartmentalized organizations, the idea of writing across the silos can inspire a lot of passion.
4. At a high level, CRM touches several business processes. Of course, most of those business processes were operating autonomously prior to the advent of the CRM system. That's where the fun comes from—the CRM makes visible any disconnects among the preexisting business processes. If you're lucky, those discontinuities are just a matter of semantics, but even that can cause tremendous confusion. What your Web and social media team call a "lead," for example, may have nothing to do with what the sales team thinks a lead should be.
All too often, the discontinuities are deeper, to the point of mismatched objectives. The social media team may be measured only by its number of followers, and it may not have a mechanism to improve what sales needs in lead quality. Meanwhile, many organizations' sales and marketing executives were hired specifically for their unique knowledge and prowess with specialized business processes, which adds a nice substrate of career preservation to the CRM political puzzle.
All by itself, the business process mismatch issue can lead to enormous cases of "But I thought you said that …" in the 14th month of a CRM project.
5. The market has gone through rapid change. The dividing line between CRM and marketing automation keeps shifting. It's also not clear what social features should be included in the CRM system as opposed to a stand-alone, best-of-breed system. The debates about what system should be doing which part of a business process can get pretty confusing.
Seemingly Irrelevant Questions Can Cut Through Red Tape
When my firm starts a CRM improvement project, we ask a series of questions. They seem off-topic to the users, but we really need to know when there are disagreements across the client organization about priorities such as the following:
- What's more important: More leads or higher quality leads?
- Do you need more new customers or more renewals?
- Do you need faster growth or more predictable growth?
- Do you need higher customer satisfaction or more profitable customer service?
These questions expose discontinuities and contradictions of objectives across the organization. If there is a high percentage of discrepancy, fixing the system will be an exercise in chasing your tail.
The secret to these questions, as well as others you may think of, is that they're designed to have mutually exclusive answers. Don't let respondents waffle, and don't let them answer "neither" or "both"—these are strict XOR values.
When making improvements to your CRM system, you simply cannot ignore the political aspects of CRM problems and system enhancements. If you do, your so-called solution is likely to simply magnify as-yet-misidentified disconnects among business processes. Following a mandate to "just improve things" without addressing office politics will provide CRM automation that merely helps you do dumb things faster.
David Taber is the author of the new Prentice Hall book, "Salesforce.com Secrets of Success" and is the CEO of SalesLogistix, a certified Salesforce.com consultancy focused on business process improvement through use of CRM systems. SalesLogistix clients are in North America, Europe, Israel and India. Taber has more than 25 years of experience in high tech, including 10 years at the VP level or above.