Manufacturer Article: CRM But Not As We Know It

Here is March’s interview with James Crowter in The Manufacturer magazine…

Prepare to be surprised: CRM software can do a lot more than just CRM, finds Malcolm Wheatley.

By now, few people are unaware of the benefits of Customer Relationship Management (CRM)software. From inauspicious beginnings fifteen years ago as little more than a sales force automation tool, CRM has evolved into a mature capability that adds undoubted boost to a business’s bottom line.

And it’s done so by helping to automate processes that many people originally thought incapable of automation—so-called ‘non-linear’ processes, unlike the fixed steps involved in, say, order entry or manufacturing.

How can you ‘automate’ a customer’s product evaluation and buying decision, for instance? How can you ‘automate’ the process of establishing what other needs a customer might have, beyond those indicated by his or her present interaction with your business?

Quite readily, as it happens – with the result that CRM is routinely credited not only with helping businesses engage and connect with new customers, but also with selling more products to existing customers. Yet according to James Crowter, managing director of Midlands-based fast-growing IT consultancy and Microsoft Dynamics partner Technology Management, CRM is capable of delivering more. Much, much, much more.

And in doing so, it’s offering businesses a capability that simply isn’t available through their software tool of choice for dealing with every day ‘linear’ systems – the ubiquitous ERP system.

“In business, there are quite a lot of processes where what happens each time round doesn’t necessarily follow the precise steps that took place last time round,” he says.“And we find that CRM software is actually very good at handling those kinds of processes – because what’s important each time is that there are relationships to be managed, albeit not necessarily relationships with customers.”

Relationships with suppliers, for instance. Or internal collaborative relationships within the organisation. Or with development partners. In fact, almost any kind of relationship-prompting Crowter to argue that the acronym ‘CRM’ should instead read ‘XRM’, where the ‘X’ can imply ‘anything’.

“Let’s say you’re a manufacturer of ready meals, and one of the supermarket majors asks you to develop a meal priced at £3.99 for their consideration. Or you’re in the garment industry, and are putting together a new collection,” he says. “In each case, there are a whole range of processes and
actions that must be initiated – and which must be orchestrated together as they occur.”

Cooks and designers, for example, have to come up with the core concept. Sourcing people have to find suppliers at the right price point. Production people have to make sure that the initial concept can be efficiently turned into a product. And marketing people need to address issues such as packaging and presentation.

“Just as with customer interactions, the role of CRM – or XRM, if you will – is to make sure that processes happen according to the timetable, and escalate them for further action if they don’t,” says Crowter.

But the use of CRM in such situations delivers much more than just exception reporting. Just as with classic customer-centric CRM, the application of business logic can deliver huge gains in both productivity and consistent decision-making, notes Crowter.

“Often, what holds processes back is the presence of bottlenecks: people within the system who acts as constraints, simply because they are involved in so many decisions,” he says. “Build into the system the same business logic that these people are following, and you’re helping them to not only make those decisions, but also to make them more consistently, as well.”

In short, it’s about augmenting  people with computer power – and about not replacing them with
computer power.

“Computers can’t make decisions as to whether something tastes nice or looks good: they can’t make subjective judgements,” stresses Crowter. “But they can recognise the need for those judgements to have been made before any further progress can be made – and encourage
people to make those judgements consistently. In short, it’s all about speed, and consistency.”

Nor is all this mere conjecture. With an impressive client base to point to, Crowter isn’t short of practical examples.

One such concerns a manufacturer involved in installing machinery on customer premises. In order
to satisfy various regulatory and other requirements, a complex checklist needed to be gone through prior to each installation.

“And occasionally, an item would get missed – thus delaying installation and commissioning,” says Crowter. “CRM has solved the problem, while ERP didn’t even come close to doing so.”

Indeed, he adds, before attempting to customise an ERP system in order to deal with – say
– a complex order configuration process, he now advises manufacturers to consider installing CRM as a ‘front end’, instead.

“It leaves the ERP system as a standard one – which makes it cheaper to buy, quicker to implement, and easier to maintain,” he enthuses.

Out of the ordinary, maybe. But who said that excellence was always conventional?

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