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CRM for SME ; doing it right

As the going gets tough, the tough gets going.  In the today’s open and highly competitive market which has been stifled even further by the constant global economical tidal waves and local political instabilities, businesses are looking for ways to survive, let alone edge out the next competitor.  As costs continue to rise, cost-cutting can only take these businesses so far, hence, managements are turning their attention to the next re-buzz in the market, CRM or Customer Relationship Management.  This is not a new buzz in the market place, in fact, the CRM buzz has been around overseas for many years but today, there is a new CRM buzz.

CRM in many ways has transformed itself to be much more feasible for the SME’s of the world.  Service providers and IT consultancy houses have had to adapt their implementation approaches to become much more pragmatic and to realize benefits much quicker for their clients.  Traditionally, CRM was targeted only for large enterprises with large volumes of customer transactions that could justify the large investments in CRM platform which could take over 12 months to implement.  In the end, alarming statistics can be cited for rate of failures of these CRM implementations.

The Butler Group, for example, cited a 70 percent failure rate for CRM, while other reports from the Gartner Group and the Meta Group have suggested failure rates of 55 to 70 percent.  In yet another example, a Merrill Lynch survey of chief information officers at large companies reported that 45 percent of those surveyed were not satisfied with CRM installations.’

 These failures are simply due to the fact that the market is a dynamic ecosystem that will not allow for such long implementation cycle and traditionally, relatively rigid CRM platforms.

Today, technological advancement in software designs together with a much thorough understanding of business requirements have allowed CRM platforms to be much more practical, quicker to implement and flexible enough to adapt to changing needs quicker with less efforts.  It is found that an implementation of a CRM platform longer than 4 to 6 months would diminish the potential of the expected value significantly especially in an SME environment where the market and competitors are much more dynamic.  In this ecosystem, relatively small changes have a much more significant and magnified effects on the businesses.  Therefore, it is more important than ever for SME’s looking to get into the CRM game, to learn to adopt and to adapt CRM quickly in order to most effectively maintain and grow its highest valued customers while efficiently acquiring new strategic ones, just to survive.

The problem most often seen with SMEs’ today is that managers and staff at these organizations have only high level and often time incomplete concepts of CRM and most cases limited to only certain areas of the business e.g. marketing, or sales or just customer service.  This is a crucial point in CRM as customers need to be managed over the entire customer life cycle consistently and effectively.  Therefore, CRM needs to be understood as an integrated platform that can be leveraged across the entire organization from front office all the way to the back office where all the stages of the customer life cycle are managed.

Just as one would not take a trip without a plan, a map and/or a guide, CRM is a journey not to be taken without good planning and preparation.

How should an SME’s with limited resources and business issues that are just as complex as large multinationals go about taking on CRM?  Are there right steps in approaching CRM?

When considering CRM, the following check list should be use as a guide for CRM managers and project sponsors:

1.       Ensure that your organization has a good understanding of the capabilities and scope of CRM, how it can help your organization in all areas from PR/Marketing to Sales to Service to back office.

2.       Ensure that your business processes are well defined and understood within your organization in order to be able to elaborate where customer interactions can have the most impact on your costs and revenue opportunities.

3.       Assess and define a well planned CRM strategy which could include implementation road map and process improvement plans to ensure that you achieve maximum benefits as quickly as possible in areas that have most impacts to your business first.  This will ensure optimization of your investments through value driven approach.

4.       Work your plan and implement your strategy as quickly as possible but more importantly, in smaller steps.

5.       Select the right CRM technology for your organization, one that will easily change and adapt with your organization as you grow.  And do NOT take on a CRM initiative that is more than 4-6 months at a time, optimally 3-4 months.  Remember, CRM is a journey that thrives on momentums of successes, not a one shot, “Big Bang” and your CRM universe is created.

6.       Hire outside experts or “a guide” for your CRM journey if you do not have or cannot afford to have anyone on your line functions to dedicate sufficient time to this initiative.  As in all strategic initiatives, CRM requires your full attention and careful management in order to reap its full benefits.

In conclusion, CRM can be for everyone especially SMEs’ of the world but CRM is a journey not to be taken lightly or without a solid strategy and plan of execution that is right for your organization and market situations.  Where you are in your organizational and ICT maturity plays a major role in how you should plan for your CRM journey.  The few steps above will help guide a fruitful journey but as top management of your organization, you must be able to take an accurate count of your internal capabilities and level of readiness before undertaking any strategic initiative.


By Asanee Isarowong

Director at DMJC Group (Thailand)



*) Statistics recited from Article from Butler’s Group

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