The first step into the cloud

Last week, I had a conversation with a CIO of a mid-sized firm. The organization has been struggling with incorporating the cloud into their technology plans. Our conversation was centered around the cloud and, specifically, how to use the cloud to replace the aging solutions and platforms currently used by this organization.

For a few years, the CIO has been looking at the cloud as a way to cut costs and increase service delivery to the organization. Due to the extremely sensitive nature of their business, he has not made the move to the cloud in any meaningful way. The IT group has used cloud based products for focused platforms like project management and certain marketing technology projects, but for the most part, they have stayed away from the cloud.

Like many organizations today, the CIO started looking at a new new customer relationship management (CRM) platform. The CRM system that had been in use was built and maintained in-house and had been on its last legs for a few years. The CIO had been pushing for a while to move to a new CRM platform but a decision hadn’t been made to ‘build or buy’.

The CIO put out a request for proposals from CRM vendors. Proposals came in from all corners of the CRM market from fully on-site solutions to fully cloud based solutions as well as hybrid solutions. After a long selection process, the organization chose a cloud-based CRM solution.

The implementation of the CRM solution was quick and straightforward due to its purely cloud based approach. Within two months, the entire organization had been migrated to the new system and most users are extremely happy. The new system is stable and provides for much more efficient use when compared to the in-house system that had been in use.

This move to a cloud-based CRM system has accomplished a few things for the organization. The most important was the solution to the “needing a new CRM platform” problem. The second most important accomplishment was bringing this organization into the cloud. This ‘first step’ for the organization has opened up the eyes of the IT group to the possibility of other cloud-based solutions

My conversation with the CIO was based around how well the move to the CRM solution has gone as well as the efficiencies gained from moving to a SaaS CRM product. The CIO has begun to feel much better about the cloud as a platform although he still has still concerns over data protection and security. While these concerns are valid, they shouldn’t keep an organization from considering cloud-based solutions.

With the success of the CRM platform migration and the comfort that the organization is starting to feel with the move to the cloud, the CIO is now looking at their next few projects. While the CIO couldn’t share the details of the organization’s next projects, he did mention that the top priority projects all have some aspect that uses the cloud.

With proper planning, a good selection process and a bit of luck this midsized organization was able to take their first step into the cloud with the implementation of a CRM platform and they are planning additional cloud projects in the future. How has your organization taken the step into the cloud?

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Links for August 29 2010

  • Social Software Needs to Be a Layer, Not a Feature, In the Enterprise by Eugene Lee on Enterprise Social Software Blog | Socialtext

    Quote: We believe we can avoid the fate of information silos by building a “Social Layer” in the enterprise architecture. The social layer will span all employees across all organizational boundaries, and connect them to key enterprise applications beneath it in the architectural stack. We recently introduced Socialtext Connect, which is the beginning of our approach to enabling this Social Layer.

  • Enterprise Social Media & SMB – One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other by Matt Ridings on techguerilla talk

    Quote: No one will dispute that there are huge differences between the way a large enterprise business operates versus that of a SMB (small or medium business).  All of the cliche’s about a large, plodding, politically motivated behemoth or a small, naive, financially handcuffed operation exist for a reason.  They all contain a grain of truth to varying degrees.  Yet, for all of their differences they share the same basic strategies when it comes to leveraging various mediums for the most part, just at different scales.  And that’s how it should be.

  • Beyond Social CRM: The Open Innovation Revolution by Hutch Carpenter on I’m Not Actually a Geek

    Quote: The idea of bringing customers into the process of defining the products and service of your organization is one that is gaining a lot of steam. One manifestation of that is the increased interest in Social CRM. In this scenario, companies engage their social customers for feedback and marketing purposes. Taking it a step further, Mark Tamis and Esteban Kolsky see the higher purpose as organizing the business around the newly social customers

  • The “Social” in Social Media by Skip Cohen on Marketing Essentials International

    Quote: I’ve spent so much time talking about social media as a marketing tool over the last year, that I honestly forgot about the word “social” in its name!   If you want to have some fun today, track down an old friend – there are few activities that could make your day richer

  • The Age of Disposable Software by Scott Brinker on Chief Marketing Technologist

    Quote: The market is evolving at breakneck pace, with new competitors springing out of bed every morning, with zero legacy hang-ups, eager to snap up your audience. The power of SaaS — and the age of disposable software — is that it makes it easier for you to harness the leading edge of innovation. But SaaS just helps with the plumbing and the economics — you still need to provide the activation energy to break free from the past and embrace the new.

CRM tools do not equal CRM

not equal
Image by holeymoon via Flickr

CRM tools do not equal CRM (yes…I know…I’ve said it twice…but it IS important).

For the geeks out there, let me spell it out for you too – CRM tools != CRM. Or perhaps if you know your FORTRAN 77 (I taught it for 3 years…ugh) – CRM tools .NE. CRM.

Ok…now that we’ve gotten that out there…let’s take a second to look at the world of CRM.

Customer Relationship Management – CRM

According to the all-knowing wikipedia, Customer Relationship Management is defined as:

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a broadly recognized, widely-implemented strategy for managing and nurturing a company’s interactions with customers, clients and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support

Emphasis mine.

To put it more succinctly, CRM is a strategy for managing the relationship with customers using technology to automate & organize the interactions. Love it.

I’m a big fan of CRM. I think the idea has helped many organizations build stronger relationships…and CRM tools have helped drive customers away too.

A tool is a tool

Imagine you’re a project manager. Is the whole of your job wrapped up in the tool you use to manage projects? Can anyone grab a copy of Microsoft project and start managing projects?

Sure…they can build gantt charts and make schedules…but Microsoft Project is not Project Management.

The same is true for any organization using CRM tools. Sure, the tools are available and anyone can use them…but just because you use them, doesn’t mean you are actually ‘doing’ CRM.

True CRM is wrapped around strategic thought. True CRM is looking at methods to truly connect with your customer(s). True CRM requires a ‘think; do’ mentality (i.e.,  think about it first, then do it).

I’m always amazed when I see an organization using CRM without having put any real thought into the tool and the context in which the tool is used.

Let’s look at an example.

Using CRM – A Good & Bad (and worst?) Example

I’ve recently looked into getting a loan to refinance my mortgage. Our current mortgage is a 30 year fixed mortgage with a 5.875% rate. Not bad…but with rates as low as 4.5% these days, it makes sense to look at refinancing at a lower rate…and perhaps move from a 30 year note (with ~23 years left on the note) to a 15 year note. At current rates, the move to a 15 year note would keep my payments basically equivalent.

So…I decided to see what type of rates I could get. I contacted three mortgage brokers via email and got three completely different responses.

Initial Response

Broker #1 responded quickly to my initial request in a very personal and direct manner. He told me what information he would need from me and what the process would look like. He also said he’d be calling me later in the day to chat.

Broker #2 also responded quickly via phone. I happened to be busy when he called so he got my voicemail. He left a message stating that he’d call me back. I then received an email stating the same but in a very ‘automatic email’ voice. And then 5 minutes later I received another call from him. And another email similar in vein to the first. I emailed him back and told him I’d prefer that he call me later in the day. I received an automated response that was exactly the same as the first email I received. More on Broker #2 in a moment.

Broker #3 didn’t respond to my email.

Follow Up

Broker #1 called me when he said he would. We talked about my situation and what I was trying to do and he told me he’d get some quotes to me via email later in the day. About 20 minutes after the call, I received a nice email from the broker thanking me for the time on the phone and reiterating what we spoke about. This email was obviously from a CRM tool but was personalized to me and our conversation.

Broker #2 called me later in the day and put the full force sales pitch on me. This guy is the guy you think about when you think of a salesman. You know the guy…he doesn’t listen, cuts you off and just generally makes an ass of himself. After 15 minutes of him telling me how good he is, he told me he’d get me a few quotes for new loan options.

Broker #3 never called.

Follow Through

I received the quotes from Broker #1 and Broker #2. They were basically the same in terms of rates. I told them both that I’d need a few days to look them over and think about what I wanted to do.

Broker #1 responded to my email with a “thanks…let me know how you want to proceed.”

Broker #2 responded to my email with another canned response.

Over the next 2 days, I received 3 emails and 2 phone calls from Broker #2. Each email was the same and the phone calls were received at the same time of the day.

I finally called Broker #3. BTW – some background on this broker….they are all over the airwaves in Dallas about being DFW’s #1 mortgage broker. When I called them….I got a person on the phone who couldn’t answer any of my questions, didn’t seem interested in talking to me and when I asked if I could use a system online to fill out any forms he said yes…he would email me the info. I received an email from him the following day with a PDF attached asking me to fill out the information and fax it back.


Its been 2 weeks since that first email to the three brokers. I’ve decided not to do anything just yet (we are thinking about moving next year and it doesn’t make financial sense to spend the money to refinance right now).

Broker #1 took the news in stride and said ‘call me when you want me to help with the new mortgage’.

Broker #2 didn’t respond directly but continued to send me canned emails generated from his CRM tool. These emails tell me what a great service he offers, what low rates I can get and how much he values his customers.

Broker #3 just called me back. 4 phone calls in 4 hours. Yikes.

So…the point of my story?

Broker #1 used a CRM tool…but he had a strategy for using it. It was a tool to allow him to manage the relationship.  He will get my business in the future.  If you need a mortgage in Texas…definitely call Brian Palmer at Pinnacle Financial Group at 972-529-6845.

Broker #2 used a CRM tool…but he saw it more as an advertising and marketing tool to ‘blast’ his customers. He hasn’t figured out that CRM is concerned with the relationship.

Broker #3 is an idiot, obviously.

In Closing

CRM, like most other things in life, requires some thought be put into the approach.  Just because you are using a CRM tool, doesn’t mean you are managing the customer relationship…it could just mean you are pissing off your potential customers.

Take a page from Broker #1’s playbook…figure out how you want to interact with your customers then implement a CRM strategy & platform to meet your needs.

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