Today, we have several great CRM tools to choose from. As I mentioned in some of my other blogs, my experience and preference is with SalesForce. However, you still have the challenge of taking all the massive amounts of data collected and transforming it into meaningful information. The value of this transformation will be identifying critical action items that support the goal(s) in your organization.
Additionally, each area in your company will probably have different care-abouts. It’s important to understand the goals of each group and find the right balance of information to help them become more productive. The value of this effort will have a direct impact on improving productivity and reducing overhead costs.
To fully realize the benefits of using a CRM tool, several processes will need to be standardized and incorporated in the day-to-day activities. Here are some of the key components to consider:
Once the CRM tool has been tailored to your organization, the next step is to work on how to present the data in a meaningful way to support day-to-day operations and improve efficiency.
In meeting this challenge, I worked with each of the different areas (Business Development, Marketing, Sales, Support, Admin, etc.) to understand their needs and created a custom Dashboard in SalesForce that helped to identify problem areas.
For management, accurate forecasting and predictability is critical. With so many dynamic components, having access to the right information at the right level provides a weekly (or daily) view of the overall health of the business. Additionally, standardizing the Dashboards/Reports across all business units will simply and bring more clarity in understand the information.
For sales, the biggest challenge is multi-tasking and where to put their focus. Having a custom Dasboard for each member of your sales team will highlight their progress on achieving monthly sales goals, healthy pipeline, and expanding products/services into their install base.
From a marketing perspective, they are always looking at ways to keep your customers engaged and finding new customers. CRM data can be used for inbound/outbound campaigns, new product analysis, market segments, and many others. Having accurate information available to them will make an impact on making good decisions on how best to focus their resources.
For support, managing the overall customer satisfaction will have a direct impact on renewal sales. Resolving customer issues in a timely manner and maximizing the efficiency of the support team is critical. Some examples would be highlighting critical support issues or knowing average time to resolution.
For administration (or finance), their challenge may be to “clean up” issues in the database or customer activity. They are not on the front line working with customers on a day-to-day basis, but will definitely impact the customer experience on issues like order fulfillment, billing, and understanding the current install base.
The strategy and organization on how your data is stored will impact the efficiency on moving your data into meaningful information. From my experience, this is time well spent as the benefit from improved efficiency in your operations will far exceed the time/resources spent in setting up your CRM to work effectively for you.
It’s a lot of fun & excitement to be part of a product line that is growing at a rapid rate. Some of the challenges that come with growth are related to your ability to scale. From my experience, there are several factors that need to be addressed before a product line is ready for growth:
Product complexity: Customers need to understand the product value and features that meets their needs. Complex technologies can often map into complex or difficult to use products. There must be a balance between “knobs” or features and ease-of-use. Complex products as well as multiple product configurations usually have a longer sales cycle. This is due to the challenge of seeing the product value and ensuring that “realized value” exceeds the cost of the product. Product complexity is much easier addressed early on in the development process. Modifying the product on the back-end based on customer feedback can be challenging and result in more R&D cost than anticipated.
Order fulfillment: Getting a customer order is exciting (especially those of us motivated by money). However, this area can be a major headache for the people that work to get the correct product shipped to the customer. The more automation incorporated into the order fulfillment process, the simpler it becomes. The challenge can be multiple hardware or software configurations, having insufficient check lists in place, and other elements that have a negative impact the customers’ first impression when they receive their order.
Customer Support: Complex products generally need more support. However, there are many areas that can be done pro-actively to help reduce that burden. I’m a big advocate for including some level of customer training with the product. Their experience will ultimately determine how much of it is used and it they fully realize it’s value.
Infrastructure: This is an area that tends to be looked at only when it breaks down. What works for small volumes usually will not work for higher volumes, especially when the process involves a lot of your resources. I like to start with a unified process for each component. There are several good CRM tools in the market. I have found Saleforce (www.saleforce.com) to be a very powerful tool to implement a solid, reliable infrastructure. This CRM environment can simplify your organization to create a unified environment that provides accurate information for the Business Unit Manager, Sales Managers, Support AEs, and Admin. This environment can be customized to provide information relevant to each area. In other words, you need the infrastructure that can move data into information that drives the appropriate action items to keep the business running smoothly.
There are other areas in scaling operations, but these are the ones that I have seen to cause the most problems when not addressed up front.
Over my career, one of the trends emerging is the challenge between building quality products and company profits. Validation & Test has been treated as a necessary “evil”. From one end of the spectrum, companies that focus on quality will do their due diligence of creating a test strategy that ensures only quality products are shipped to customers. However, the cost of this due diligence has come under the scrutiny as an area that could help improve company profits. Reducing the cost of test is not a new area. With technology changes, test methodologies have to be re-evaluated periodically to keep up with validation/test challenges. However, validation & test must continue to be a priority. Ultimately, product quality will drive the success or failure of any organization.
Outsourcing the manufacturing to the highly competitive Asia market has resulted in minimal profit margins realized from this market. The goal to reduce overheard has pushed a “good enough” strategy for validation and testing of products before they’re shipped to customers. This strategy is based on the minimal efforts required to get a product shipped and accepted by a customer.
The challenge of inferior products is when is it discovered and who pays the cost. The Original Engineering Manufacturer (OEM) is focused on a good design and functionality of an initial prototype. The Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) is focused on getting the design at an acceptable level to be ready for manufacturing. Since manufacturing is where vendors are paid, the expression “boards out the door” is used to emphasize that shipping products for the manufacturer is key to profitability. The Contract Manufacturer (CM) is focused on building high volumes of the product at a minimal cost. Each of these entities sometimes has apposing care-abouts or priorities and product quality takes a hit.
With multiple companies involved in getting our products to market, it’s not always clear who owns the problem of building an inferior product and what is the resolution. In some cases, each entity (OEM/ODM/CM) can achieve their individual objectives without achieving the ultimate goal of building a good product.
I agree that the cost of validation and test should be scrutinized. “Over-testing” can drive up the cost of building a product. When engineering focuses too much on identifying rare faults in production, the result is additional testing that is unnecessary the majority of the time. However, what I have seen is the pendulum swinging to the extreme of “good enough” validation & test strategy which impacts product quality.
One idea to consider: is there a need in the industry for Product Quality Mediation? Have we fully explored the balance between “good enough” and “over-testing” to find the optimal strategy for delivering good quality products to customers at an acceptable cost? This balance will ultimately determine the product brand and customer satisfaction. Outsourcing is here to stay. However, as with all collaborations or partnerships, it must be win-win. There is a balance between profit and quality, but ultimately, quality must be a priority over profits for a sustaining long-term business success.
From my experience, I have found five elements that are essential to creating successful partnerships:
Trust: This is the foundation for a long successful relationship. Basically, it is about integrity and meeting each other’s expectations. To set the stage for success, it is essential to have realistic expectations and common goals. It’s not unusual for each partner to have different agendas/motivations that are diving the partnership. However, it is essential to have both parties agree on the common goals/expectations. Having the foundation of the partnership documented in some way (whether it is in a contract, MOU, or email) will give both parties a baseline to review over the life of the partnership. As with any long term successful relationship, it my evolve over time and need to be re-evaluated and possible re-defined.
Communication: This may seem obvious, but I have seen this become the element that erodes a good partnership. One tool that I have found helpful is active listening. It is simply echoing back my understanding. It can be either in conversation or written in emails (or contracts) but help build a solid foundation to that we can both build on. The three rules that I use to evaluate the communication between partners: (1) ask for what you want, (2) monitor what you receive, and (3) celebrate “No”.
Joint use model: Working together to create a joint use model of how your customers will benefit from the partnership is an essential element on understanding the value of the partnership. From a product perspective, it helps to layout the process flow from start to finish on how a customer would use products from both companies and how the handoff is managed.
“One Voice” Messaging: When communicating the value of the partnership, it is helpful to have both parties build a unified message that gets communicated both internally and externally. This messaging will be the foundation on how customers will see the value of the new partnership.
Customer success(es): This is where the “rubber hit the road”. Joint customers must see the “promise” of why the partnership was created and achieve their own success results. Without a real customer success experience, the partnership is only a story that is not realized (or validated).
Each of these elements must be re-evaluated over time and when necessary, updated to reflect the dynamic changes in the partnership.
It's not a question of if it's a great idea or not, but can your idea be transformed into revenue for the company. The "build it and they will come" strategy is really based on hope. Hope that you have found a unique solution that the market will respond to.
When exploring new ideas, doing your homework is critical. From my experience, the most valuable commodity you have is your resources. It's not just the cost of time and talent from exploring the idea, but also the missed opportunity cost from having your resources tied up and unavailable for other ideas/projects that would be more cost effective.
When exploring new ideas, I have found exploring the following topics can be invaluable in making a solid informed business decision about whether to move forward and dedicate resources to the idea.
The challenge wth some of these topics is they will be based on your best guess. When performing your initial analysis, I feel it is best to review the information with a diverse team of key persons in the organization. Working with a small "tiger team" with help keep the discussions productive. Different areas of the company should be represented: business, financial, development, support, and order fulfillment, etc.
As with any great idea, the road to success is not only based on the need in the market place, but how it is executed and realized in the company. The more work done up front will make a direct impact on choosing the right area or idea to invest in your organization.