Customer Relationship Management Strategies Part One: Changing Your Approach

  • Written By: Trinh Abrell
  • Published: February 14 2005


When most people think of enterprise systems they imagine huge racks of server, large memory banks, and an IT department of hundreds of employees or they picture project plans that can fill a three-ring binder and has implementation time that spans years. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are thought to be the domain of large international corporations and considered overkill for mid-market companies.

Nothing can be more wrong. Enterprise systems are only as complicated as the enterprises they serve. Mid-market companies can especially benefit from a CRM system because they have the agility of a small business and are resource-rich enough to tackle sweeping changes. Take advantage of all the assets a mid-sized company has and implement your CRM systems now, when you have less people to train, less data to convert, have less challenges to deal with, and more to gain.

CRM is not just a system. It is a total business strategy that recognizes the value of customer relationship and engages the entire company in improving profitability. It helps growing companies manage their customers, promote their products, and service their client base. Most importantly, CRM systems prepare companies for growth, aid in customer retention, and build brand. Midsize companies cannot afford to ignore investing in a CRM system. A properly implemented system can achieve all this and more by consolidating customer information, standardizing data collection, and centralizing customer intelligence. By better understanding customer behavior patterns, companies can facilitate front-office processes, and integrate all the touch points in customer relationships.

This is Part One of a four-part note.

Part Two will discuss implementation strategies, and Part Three will describe achieving and maintaining the competitive edge.

Part Four will conclude with specific CRM strategies and a hypothetical case study.

Creating Your Strategy

According to a 2002 report from the META Group, since 2000, more than 80% of CRM programs are initially run as ad hoc operations rather than formally constructed corporate agendas. Rising economic pressure could force mid-market organizations into embarking on quick-win initiatives, but enterprise-wide investments are seen as unnecessary expenditures and seem inappropriate given the strained economic conditions.

Therefore, comprehensive planning and organization-wide strategy is key to realizing a better return on your CRM investment. Ask yourself, what are my company's goals for this year? For the next five years? How do we get there? What steps needs to be taken? What are the sales targets? What are the target markets? How much should be invested now to save later? How should growth be dealt with? No one company can be everything for everyone. Is your goal to increase sales or reduce call volume? Do you want to produce quality products or sell more units per deal? After setting your goals and objectives create a strategy to meet or exceed them.

A successful strategy has three attributes:

  • Support and communication
  • Realism
  • Definable success and failure

Support and Communication

Customer-related activities must gain top preference in prioritization discussions. When planning a CRM system, include the whole company and create buy-in from your organization. Management must be convinced of the value proposition of your strategy. Also promote your strategy continuously throughout your project. Update senior management on your progress or setbacks. Make sure the rest of the company understands that the leadership supports your initiative because management might have to reinforce the company's goals. Set up regular meetings with select users to discuss issues, gather requirements, and get feedback. Engage the users in the planning stage. Employees need to have ownership or feel like they are stakeholders. This will ensure commitment to the project and will later facilitate the transition and implementation phases.

Of the 500 companies examined by InfoWorld CRM, 49 percent cited lack of widespread cooperation as "a major bump in the road to CRM".


Your strategy must be realistic. Clearly identify and outline the steps that your organizations must go through to achieve its goals. Make sure you have the resources, time, and money to accomplish what you set out to do and create realistic timelines. Don't rush a project because of some arbitrary timeline. Consider the speed of technology but don't give in to pressure to deliver band-aids solutions At the same time, make sure you do not allow too much time and freedom for your project. Ideas get stale if bounced around too many times.

Next check the market climate. In the late 1990s, IT personnel were more precious than gold. The US had such a labor crunch that the Immigration Department exceeded its H-1B visa capacity for the 1999 fiscal year by 115,000. However, in 2003, the US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) decreased the number of H-1B visa by half. Ultimately, these moves affected many companies in their decision to build or buy.

In 1999, Enron set its goal to be the world's largest energy company and by spring of 2002, Enron stocks were trading at over $90 (USD) a share. Ensuing scandal and the downfall of other giants such as World Com and Health South caused the public to lose faith in large corporate organizations. In the end, the economic landscape changed drastically.

Define Success and Failure

Define success or failure by establishing metrics. Calculate your return on investment (ROI). Your metrics could be monetary, market share, or productivity. Measure your strategy through milestones or when certain deliverables are accomplished. Use multiple metrics to gauge success and define and quantify your objectives. Let's say your goal is to increase sales: determine by what percent, state the threshold for failure, and give yourself a range to shoot for. Track your CRM performance not just through the project lifecycle but also over an extended period of time and give the process a chance to mature and bear fruit.

Only 30 percent of companies that implement CRM systems have a measurement strategy, while 15 percent don't have any type of plan.

Be sure to separate your CRM metrics from other company initiatives. That is to say, try to differentiate the effect of your CRM program from other influences, such as new technology or market conditions. How much of the 45 percent increase in sales is due to customer relationship management as opposed to the holiday season? Coordinate your efforts. Integrate your systems and look for reusability. More value can be added when you prepare how you are going to use your CRM system. Let it work for you by design not by accident. Set attainable objectives. Set metrics and checkpoints. Companies succeed because of achieved goals.

This concludes Part One of a four-part note.

Part One discussed new approaches to CRM implementation, Part Two will discuss implementation strategies, and Part Three will describe achieving and maintaining the competitive edge.

Part Four will conclude with specific CRM strategies and a hypothetical case study.

About the Authors

Mike Holland is president of Management Advisory Systems Corporation, which he founded in 1993 with a group of former "Big Six" managers and industry experts. He has managed and participated in hundreds of business-based technology projects over the past twenty years including projects for Arthur Andersen and PriceWaterhouse/Coopers. Holland is also the co-author of the Guide to PC-Based Software for the Manufacturing Industry and Requirements Analyst. In addition, he has developed and taught seminars for more than a thousand participants in the methodology for selecting and implementing business and technology infrastructure solutions, e-commerce, and web-based solutions. He can be reached at

Trinh Abrell is vice president of Management Advisory Systems, Corporation. She has been responsible for strategizing, selecting and implementing a wide range of technology solutions for diverse clients over the past ten years. Abrell has worked for Enron as a CRM senior specialist and for Retriever Payment Systems as the lead project manager on ERP and CRM implementations. She is a Siebel Certified Consultant, as well as a member of the Society for Technical Communicators and the Project Management Institute. She can be reached at

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