CRM Systems: Unite or Die?

The founding fathers' "Join or Die" flag symbolizes the problem many large CRM customers have: What to do with your 7 (or 27, or 37) CRM instances?

When it comes to CRM systems, large companies are anything but centralized. CRM vendors love to get in through the business units and at the department level. Even if your company makes centralized CRM decisions, it may have merged or made acquisitions that Balkanized the systems. IBM announced it's going to spend $20 billion on acquisitions — how many dozen CRM systems do you think they're going to be bringing in over the next 24 months?

The IT reflex is to move towards consolidation. Of course there are economies and efficiencies to be had, but CRM systems aren't like infrastructure purchases. The users' reaction to the system — not just the features, but the configuration and the data quality — really matters to the system efficiency. Since the users are "gold collar" workers — some of your most expensive personnel, yet with the widest variations in productivity — their happiness with CRM system is what determines its business impact. So it doesn't matter if you are able to save 10 percent on CRM costs, because that is miniscule in comparison to just a 2 percent improvement in sales productivity. That "small" revenue increase can mean a 1 percent increase in company profits, something that IT cost efficiencies won't achieve. You don't want to spend foolishly, but at the same time you don't want to focus on consolidation's cost savings at the expense of revenue.

As I wrote previously, there are clear strategies for consolidating multiple CRM systems. But there are also business situations where CRM consolidation is unrealistic or more politically expensive than it's worth. What then?

Getting back to our 4th of July theme, what did the founding fathers do after the Revolutionary War? They didn't make one giant state — they federated the states that were already there. And they made it easy to add new states as the country expanded. Here's how to follow their example, federating your CRM systems:

Federating Outputs

The first (and perhaps most highly visible) thing to do with multiple CRM systems is to provide roll-up reports and executive dashboards that consolidate your organization's key success factors and metrics. Almost always, this is best done with a data mart that pulls needed data from each of the CRM systems.

In creating these consolidated views, the data analysts will discover problems in the data:

• Duplicate and phantom account records

• Double-counted deals

• Poor data quality and cleanliness

• Issues with naming, standards, and semantics

Of course, many of these problems would disappear — at least in theory — if everyone were using a customer master database and the CRM systems were synchronized with accounting. All too often, that theory is just an aspiration, and the data mart's new reports will instantly expose the above problems. This is nothing to fear: you should take this as an opportunity to educate your executive colleagues about the business value of a customer master and a data dictionary.

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