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Lessons learned from a CRM success story

published on January 13, 2003

With failure rates reportedly as high as 50 to 80 percent, it's a wonder any tech leader has the courage to promote a CRM project these days. Yet there are CRM success stories, such as the one at TidalWire , a Massachusetts-based provider of interconnectivity products for storage networks.

TidalWire installed Siebel Sales and eSales and used a variety of methods to encourage its sales staff to adopt CRM. In doing so, the company strategically hurdled what may be the biggest barrier to CRM project success— cultural resistance to change, according to Steve Bonadio, senior program director at Meta Group.

The solutions to choose from

TidalWire selected Siebel Sales and eSales in 2000, when Siebel had staked its claim as a leader in the sales opportunity and management space. Today, the landscape is a bit more competitive and includes products such as PeopleSoft's CRM, Oracle's E-Business Suite, SAP's mySAP CRM, and midmarket players such as E.piphany E.6, Onyx Software Inc.'s CRM, Pivotal Corporation's CRM, and Best Software's SalesLogix.

Solutions now run from $1,000 to $2,500 per seat for core baseline sales automation after typical license discounts, according to Bonadio. In addition, CIOs need to budget $3 in consulting and implementation services for every $1 spent on licensing expenses.

To save on startup costs, CIOs can also choose from a variety of CRM ASPs, including and These perpetual licensing agreements can run $60 to $125 per month per seat, added Bonadio.

Many of today's systems now have integrated CRM and e-sales components, a key to consolidating customer information across multiple sales channels and streamlining the process of updating a product catalog.

The lessons learned

Rather than going with a different vendor for Internet ordering— such as BroadVision— TidalWire elected to use both Siebel Sales for CRM and Siebel eSales for the Internet piece. Software and integration cost between $750,000 to $1 million, according to TidalWire. The product choices were made by a tech leader who is no longer at TidalWire.

According to Greg Augustine, VP of information systems and applications at TidalWire, who championed the project to success, TidalWire's needs were many: The company wanted to generate quotes and implement consistent pricing, capture all contact and account information, and feed marketing information back to customers and prospects.

Systems integrator Akibia ran the project initially, but now Augustine has a full-time administrator for Siebel and an architect to integrate Siebel with other systems.

The incremental rollout taken for the project provided the following five critical lessons for TidalWire.

Lesson 1: Careful planning

Determining metrics and getting benchmarks must be part of a CRM project's planning phase. CIOs should make sure staff identifies measurable performance metrics— things like sales cycle times, sales productivity increases, or pricing variability. Basically, any measures related to increasing revenue and/or saving money are fair game, explained Bonadio. Along with metrics, a company needs to have the same things benchmarked for a point of comparison before and after CRM.

Lesson 2: Project champions throughout the company

Tech leaders can use the planning phase to gather project requirements, but also to get wider spread project support.

"You have to champion it from the top," said Augustine. "It can't be just words. It has to be an actual commitment, not just 'rah, rah, rah, we're going to be doing this' and then forget about it."

Early in its CRM project, TidalWire got widespread project sponsorship, a relatively painless process, as the company had no customer data tracking software prior to CRM and no competing project priorities. The same is unlikely to be true at most companies, so CIOs should think through potential objections and demonstrate how the project can succeed from a cultural perspective, as lesson 3 demonstrates.

Lesson 3: Early involvement of users

One of the biggest objections is likely to come from a sales department, the very group the CRM is trying to support. So a CIO has to be ready to address the fear of change and unwelcome regimentation of the traditionally flexible sales process.

"Salespeople don't like to be managed or share information with other colleagues," Bonadio said. However, a great part of a CRM's success lies in the attitudes and the fingertips of the sales staff.

For starters, the CRM user interface has to be easy to navigate, or it'll simply scuttle the project. In addition, standards, such as inputting customer data when a call comes in, have to be set and adhered to— mandates that may cause discontent within the sales force.

To win over the user base, the CIO has to entice people to use the application. One approach is to show how, if used correctly, a CRM can make a salesperson appear sophisticated by providing real-time availability to customer data or allowing the salesperson to view product inventories. A sales team might equally appreciate timesaving devices such as speedier ways to file sales reports.

At TidalWire, Augustine showed them "The Promised Land."

By this phrase, Augustine means "you need to show them what they will gain for their efforts, what the benefits are to them— both indirect and direct." Once the sales team is won over, the CIO then has to deliver on the promises quickly.

Lesson 4: An incremental project rollout

Incremental rollouts contribute to the success of a CRM project and its acceptance. "If you take forever to do something, you lose accountability, credibility, and people lose faith," Augustine said.

First, start with the full list of business requirements and then begin to whittle it down to three manageable miniprojects that will deliver the biggest bang to the users and managers. Each of the miniprojects should take three to five months or less to complete. Then, explain to the project champions and the sales group what's going to be accomplished and when.

At TidalWire, the first phase— the Siebel Sales integration— lasted six weeks and delivered basic account, contact, opportunity, and quote management abilities, as well as pricing management.

The second phase, an extranet application for users via Siebel eSales, took three months. The third phase, which lasted four months, improved upon an Internet-based product catalog by providing a more effective interface and integration of online customer ordering functionality with the CRM. Subsequent rollouts have continued to add functionality, such as an EDI link to FedEx's logistics services, which took place in May 2002.

Lesson 5: Effective end-user training

Today, up to 80 percent of the company uses Siebel in some fashion, said Augustine. The system allows the sales team to manage sales leads, helps marketing pull down customer data to execute targeted marketing campaigns, and lets finance use data for customer credit reporting.

Business development staff can access the progress of new vendor programs, and the executive team can see what customers recently bought (or didn't buy), and the status of all quotes and orders, among other things.

To get people onboard, Augustine established a strong training program. Akibia initially developed a series of training manuals and curriculum that defined functionality and how to use it. TidalWire then converted a conference room into a training facility, complete with PCs that demonstrated functionality, and ran a group of sample exercises, such as how to create an account or complete an order.

An in-house support team was on hand to help users who had questions on how to use the system. When new employees were trained, they shadowed another employee and referred to a cheat sheet.

"They were up and running within a few days with some of the basics," said Augustine, who noted that the system is significantly easier to learn than mastering the value proposition of the company's products— something that should be true at many companies.

ROI can still be difficult to measure

With CRM, TidalWire has been able to:

  • Flatten out variability in product pricing.
  • Reduce the sales cycles via enhanced tracking and reporting of sales leads.
  • Increase visibility of things like product demand and accounts outstanding.
  • Improve marketing campaigns by pulling customer data to do target marketing.

TidalWire declined to state any ROI figures, however, partly because the company had little from which to benchmark. Even contact management tools were new to the sales team, explained Augustine.

And while the sales staff still grumbles a bit whenever the system gets enhanced, the tech leader takes it all in stride. For instance, one gripe had to do with the quote sheet and a request to include an additional piece of information. Yet, as Augustine noted, "two years ago, they didn't even have a quote sheet."

Going forward, Augustine plans to continue tweaking and enhancing the system. "We consistently seek ways to enhance the capabilities we provide to our internal staff as well as external customers and prospects," he said. Presently, Augustine's tech group is enhancing functionality to the company's extranet. In the future, they'll be migrating to Siebel 7.5.

"We'll never be done [with the rollout]— and that's the key."

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david southgate
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