More Than A Fling

Choosing The Right CRM Program

To get a good return on your CRM project isn't easy. Winners improve the odds by doing considerable advance research. This should involve more than comparing features of competing software packages. Focusing solely on the software is a mistake, says Tinjum, because most programs on the market can do what most businesses want. Instead, he says, concentrate on implementation. That means committing to see the project through, making customer focus part of your business strategy and following up with training.

Implementing CRM usually involves a major change in a business's culture. This can be frustrating, Curry says. CRM can give sales managers convincing reasons to persuade salespeople to call on accounts that may be difficult or intimidating but likely to produce results. CRM efforts also run aground because of conflicts, typically between the information technology and marketing departments. Data processing types may be unwilling to take on the sometimes daunting technological challenges of full-bore CRM. Marketers, on the other hand, may feel threatened by what they see as technologists encroaching on their turf.

Many other CRM programs simply run out of steam before showing results. "There are a lot of companies out there that have spent millions of dollars on systems that were never used because it was never part of their strategy," says Tinjum. "They ended up just buying software."

Smaller firms can count on budgeting anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars for each marketing person, including salespeople, who will work on the CRM system. That's just for software. Computer upgrades are often necessary. Training provided by the software vendor or so-lutions provider will also take a bite. Ongoing support for the often complex programs is costly, too.

But CRM can be well worth it. And we may be only at the beginning of the CRM boom. Tinjum says educational systems are adapting CRM ideas for student-relationship management systems, and he sees many similar evolutions ahead.

No matter whose relationships you're managing, using computers and the Internet to help do it can mean that everyone in your organization always knows just what to say or do to keep relationships on track, says Bonfigli. "That's the difference between moving at a thousand miles an hour and 90 miles an hour," he says. "Right now, it's providing us a huge advantage."

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This article was originally published in the September 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: More Than A Fling.

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