CRM: More Than Just A Marketing Management Tool

Ron Siahpoosh, JJ Raoult

The article originally was published in on October 5, 2015

Customer relationship management (CRM) offers benefits across a range of business activities, including opportunity and performance management and sales forecasting. When used effectively, these initiatives can drive profitable revenue growth, which means CRM has great potential to drive impact.

Still, few companies actually receive this value from their CRM investments. Our recent survey found that sales leaders across industries--including health care, financial services, technology, manufacturing, software, and professional services--believe that substantial gaps exist in the value they get from CRM. It’s no wonder many prioritize improving sales and marketing processes and data as a means to recover from current CRM initiative mishaps.

That’s how marketing can help: to ensure process and data improvement priorities are tied to desired customer experiences and relationships. To do this effectively, marketers must not look at CRM strictly through their channel lens, but take a lead role in ensuring customers become the centerpieces of their companies’ CRM programs.

When CRM Investments Backfire
Surveying a group of Sales Management Association members for our study confirmed something we have known for a long time: There is significant dissatisfaction with the impact of CRM.

For example, while some respondents receive “high to extremely high” value in some capacities, few could say the same for internal processes, such as customer communication (13%), internal coordination (13%), and collateral and proposals (7%).

Many companies also find it difficult to derive accurate CRM data about existing customers, prospective customers, or future sales--especially in areas like sales results, opportunities, and prospect profiles. (Only 42%, 24%, and 19%, respectively, receive “high to extremely high” value in those areas.)

Companies could suffer direct losses from CRM initiatives if they continue to have these issues with data quality and processes. Unfortunately, many continue to struggle with these two areas because they focus on the tool--not the customer--when thinking about CRM. Leaders view it more as a mechanism for managing people (the 'M' of CRM), instead of as a strategy for driving enhanced customer relationships (the 'CR' of CRM).

Shifting From A Tool-Centric To Customer-Centric Mindset
All CRM systems have processes ingrained within them--yet most sales leaders (77%) point to improving processes as their top improvement area for CRM. However, many tend to focus on activity or opportunity flows, with relatively little consideration for the customer.

Marketing can take more of a lead here to ensure that the customer journey and experience are clearly defined and documented before the organization focuses on tactical activities (e.g., designing the sales process or the opportunity flow inside the CRM system). This will guarantee that CRM processes are not created in a vacuum, but instead are driven by decisions the company wants to influence and experiences the company should provide customers to shape those decisions.

For example, one global health care company’s past CRM implementation uniquely focused on the needs of the reps, yet barely mentioned the word “customer” in workshops that aimed to design the goal of putting in place new CRM platforms. Ironically, this led to significant dissatisfaction by the reps and others in the organization, who did not perceive CRM as helpful in driving improved customer results. However, marketing played an important role and encouraged the organization to start with the customer, map the different customer touch points, and assess how to improve the experience at those touch points.

Additionally, survey respondents (75%) cited data quality as their second top priority. In practice, though, this often takes the form of episodic CRM clean-ups, which fade away in time. Marketing can help companies take a more customer-centric view by getting them to understand what is critical about customers throughout the journey. This, in turn, can enhance customer engagements and results.

For example, the marketing team for one of the world’s largest technology companies has managed programs that focus on identifying the required customer metrics and developing and implementing tracking programs to regularly monitor those metrics. This ensures a clearer understanding of how sales and marketing activities impact customer experiences and results.

Marketers can and must play a leading role to improve CRM impact within their organizations. Working with other stakeholders as needed, we recommend that marketers:

  • Map out desired customer journeys and experiences and define a customer engagement process in CRM to help companies deliver these experiences.
  • Identify which key customer metrics should be regularly collected, use primary research to address data gaps, and conduct tracking programs to understand how CRM helps drive improvements in customer engagements, experiences, and relationships.
When done successfully, marketers will help shift companies’ perception of CRM as just a management tool. Instead, it will be a customer-centric strategy that enables organizations to get closer to their customers and drive greater customer experiences.

About the Expert

Ron Siahpoosh is a principal and the CRM practice lead at ZS, a global sales and marketing firm. He has experience helping companies in a variety of industries–including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, high-tech, financial services, and travel–improve their customer engagements and relationships. 

JJ Raoult is leading the customer experience practice at ZS. He has worked extensively in health care to improve engagement models with a variety of customers.