November 2008, CRM needs to start at home

From the time I started in the IT profession in 1973 the Business Units in corporations have complained about the unresponsive many times quirky nature of the IT departments. I have seen the name of the IT departments change in each decade from Data Processing, to Management Information Systems, to Information Technology. Each time we have tried to re-invent ourselves to solve the problems of the past and each time the problems seem to re-surface.

My experience has shown me that the root cause of the tension between IT and the Business Units is that we speak two or more different languages and have trouble communicating with each other. In the late 1970’s a book called “The Psychology of Computer Programmers” highlighted the fact the IT professionals in many cases are not the most social of creatures on the planet. I remember as a child my father making jokes and calling me Mr. Anti-Social illustrating my own challenges in this area.

The irony of this predicament is that many IT professionals I meet dislike this label thrust upon us, even as we give credibility to the use of such labels. As an example, in my Siebel Classes, I frequently ask students about their companies and the products they sell, and I am amazed when they have no knowledge of the business or products they seek to automate. How can I hope to communicate and understand a user’s requirements when I do not understand the business of the company? I typically ask my students how late deliveries of projects create user acceptance issues, and rarely hear anyone discuss how a late delivery affects the calendar of the users.

In the early part of this decade Siebel realized that User Adoption/Acceptance of the CRM solution was a key success factor of the implementation project. Improving User Adoption requires that the Development Team improve the Communications it has with the Users/Business Units. Before the Development Team can improve its communications with the Users it must improve its communications internally.

In order to assist IT Departments improve their communications with the Business Units Siebel started a User Adoptions Services team offering user rather than technical services. I personally believe very strongly in such activities. Prior to joining Siebel I was implementing a new solution for my companies Sales Representatives. They did not want to be automated, they did not want to be tracked, and they did not want to hear me beg them to keep their customer data synchronized. This may be a problem familiar to many readers out there. I quickly realized that I had an up hill battle. I knew what I developed met severe User Adoption Issues. By the way, I had to implement this solution in 20 countries.

I am more fortunate than many of my peers in IT, having had a major Burn Out after running my own consulting company for 10 years, I had enough of IT and the stress, and the complaints by users, and the tight project time lines. I decided to change careers and became an Industry Marketing Specialist. As I said, I am very lucky. The first thing my new employer did was send me to a solution selling methodologies course. They taught me how to sell, which I see as how to communicate and persuade others. This class also taught me about how sales people work. It taught me the Business of Sales. When my company was looking for someone to head the Sales IT team, I decided to go back into IT and use the skills I learned of the business and integrate it with the IT skills I had maintained. It gave me the language to communicate with my users and understand their business challenges.

When I had to implement a new Sales Application Solution, I took elements of the solution selling methodology which taught me that you can not solve anyone’s problems, you can only aid others in solving their own problems. I built my buying team and requirements and design team from Sales Representatives, Administrators, and Managers who would be my end users. They took ownership of the solution. I advised them of the IT implications of their decisions and we negotiated together and with the vendor to implement a solution that worked for all of us.

I used this peer group to not only pick and design the solution but to also help sell the solution to the rest of the sales teams. In other words, we communicated. I knew and understood their products, which is important, as some products were bundled products. Some products had dependencies on other products. They gave me the insight on what they needed when quoting prices and discounting for products they sold.

Without this understanding and communications, it is no surprise why many projects fail to meet user expectations or needs. I have been encouraged by the move of many customers to focus Business Analysts on key segments of their business. Having the tools to talk to users and IT staff they act as the glue bringing together the knowledge needed to implement CRM solutions.

From my own situation, it was a bit of luck combined with the curiosity of a cat that combined IT and Business knowledge, for others, this can be accomplished through training. Teaching Users how they can participate more fully with the implementation team and training of the IT staff on business and communications skills. A recent student was lamenting on how the business people he meets when smoking look at him strange and avoided interacting with him. This came up as I encouraged him to interact more with his users and not assume that he understands what they request of him. He wished his communication was better but not aware of how to improve it. A well-educated person, he never thought to investigate the soft skills classes available in his and many of our companies designed to improve communications, negotiation, and team building skills.

I believe that Customer Relationship Management starts internally; it is a culture that needs to be nurtured and exemplified by our Senior Managers. Even training cannot help when a culture of unilateral decision-making exists.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to teach a 1-day class combining IT and Business Sector staff of the same company. The class covered in the morning how the 2 groups could more affectively communicate requirements by using Business Process Workshops to capture requirements. In the afternoon we took a real world Business Issue and I hosted the workshop. When my workshop attendees quickened the conversation by discussing issues in their native language, I waited, and then asked them in English what the consensus was, documented it and moved on. It was a wonderful success as the two different groups interacted with each other. Unfortunately falling into old habits, IT took the results of the meeting, which required a management decision on the multiple options we identified, and instead of communicating and discussing what managements decision was, IT implemented the decision. A few months later the Business staff when presented with the finished solution, felt that the entire effort was a waste of their time as the were never told what managements decision was and felt estranged from the process and resumed their antagonistic relationship with IT.

Bottom line, Technology alone cannot solve problems. Combine technology with good business practices, good communications skills, and a culture of service and you can change the world. In order to improve our relationship with our customers we must first have a good relationship with our internal staff from the sales, service, marketing, and technology departments. As the economy challenges all our businesses a culture of service internally and externally will improve the loyalty our customers give us and improve our productivity, which will help, contain costs. Training combined with policies and processes can improve our communications and help retain our customers.

To all my readers, may you have a happy and healthy new year

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