What makes CRM projects successful?

Customer Management


Consistent customer-centric approach - Better customer understanding through a change in perspective (A)

When we talk about "customer perspective", we primarily address the necessary change in perspective that market-oriented companies should adopt. The perspective shifts from an "inside-out" to an "outside-in" view - we look at ourselves and our market activities as if we were external stakeholders.

We put ourselves in the shoes of our target group from both a product and process perspective and address them accordingly. By doing so, we learn to understand our customers - but also "the customers of our customers" - and align our entire thinking and actions with them.

It is important to note that this customer-centric approach is relevant for every industry - from artisanal businesses to financial service providers, telecommunications providers, and public administration bodies such as energy suppliers or authorities. It is important to remember that this aspect is relevant in B2C and B2B contexts.

Conducting focus group workshops that test new products and processes in real-life situations before their market launch will repeatedly reveal useful feedback that can assess the actual "customer experience" and regularly generate inputs for its optimization. The involvement of relevant customers and customer groups, the early execution of these surveys, and an unbiased approach are prerequisites. The results should not be viewed as a tool for error detection ("Who suggested that again?"), but instead as a source of improvement that should be actively sought and utilized.

Last but not least, valuable insights can also be gained from the accumulation of certain support requests or poor customer ratings. Why not simply ask the customers? Do not hesitate to reach out to them directly, either in a formalized format, such as through regularly used standardized questionnaires, or event-based during actual customer events, such as complaints, performance inquiries, or service cases. Or you can organize this in an informal way through regularly scheduled customer meetings to learn about their satisfaction, needs, and feelings and to use this information company-wide to optimize customer management.

"No Silos" - More efficient and effective with integrated core customer processes.

In many CRM projects, internal barriers are considered more serious in terms of competitive impediments than the competition activities encountered in the market. Boundaries between marketing and sales, sales and customer service, or at a higher level between marketing and research and development (R&D) are often identified as the cause of ineffective cross-selling or even prevention of it. The reasons for this are cited as friction losses due to lack of or inadequate communication, and conflicts that occur covertly or openly when it comes to resource allocation or assignment of success in market activities.

The absence of cross-functional and cross-level objectives is equally significant and needs to be eliminated (in many cases even combated). Only by creating an overarching goal structure that ensures common company goals both at the operational and strategic levels, with a particular focus on customer management, can a consistent alignment with customer segment- or market-specific requirements and expectations be achieved.

A shared understanding among employees and decision-makers must be established by a correspondingly structured coordination and definition process. This applies to the relevant content and the actions and behavioral principles derived from them.

Furthermore, the customer functions of acquisition (acquiring new customers), development (expanding customer relationships through cross-selling and upselling, and extending contractual obligations), and retention (customer service, ongoing customer support), create increased customer satisfaction and lead to solid customer loyalty, should also be considered. As they can repeatedly form an important basis for further operational steps in conjunction with the corresponding CRM data, CRM users should have knowledge of the internal availability of relevant ERP data (or data from similar operational applications).

For every company, the prerequisite is to clarify the question of "Who owns the customer?" In whose responsibility within the organization lies the concrete definition of relevant target customer segments, and which organizational unit or role is responsible for providing the required products and services within the company.

At the same time, a uniform understanding of the "key customers" relevant to the entire company must be created across all areas and hierarchy levels. These must be equipped with special conditions (such as price lists, discounts, and warranty services) and specifically designed customer processes (service levels, response times, and goodwill policies). This should apply to sales processes (such as annual talks, account planning, and prioritized access to product innovations), but must also be clearly identifiable in the design of all service and support processes of the company. Thus, the true significance of "Key Account Management" receives the importance it should have in any customer-oriented organization.

Customer data quality - a prerequisite for optimal customer management and a differentiation factor in the market (D)

The analysis of the status and development perspectives of customer management will focus on our final creed: only systematic collection and preparation, as well as conscientious and continuous maintenance (including updating and cleansing) of all data within the scope of the postulated 360-degree view of available customer data, make the core philosophy of advanced and future-proof customer management (CRM) - understood as a leadership and organizational principle - possible.

In addition to the meticulous management of complete customer master data, both personal and company data, the movement data of customer management has gained significant importance in recent times. While customer master data primarily relates to previously addressed transactions (such as address data, orders, payments, storage, production, and logistics), CRM activities for movement data are essential. These relate to the collection and use of data collected within customer processes as well as their historicization and statistical analysis (such as customer contacts, support routines, and data from customer processes of marketing, sales, and customer service).

The core task of actual customer data management does not primarily involve data maintenance in the narrow sense or technically supported duplicate cleansing. Rather, it must be developed from a customer perspective (customer experience/customer journeys) which data and information are needed for effective customer processes, regardless of their actual source, and how they can be modeled in terms of their technical and system-based representation. Only then can customer needs be largely captured and understood, and fulfilled within the scope of operational fulfillment, in line with a data-driven CRM that maintains this data up-to-date and of high quality, and uses relevant information as well as information required at the respective touchpoints via data integration in real-time. The "Quality over quantity," this rule always applies to data within successful customer management.

Last but not least: In the early planning phases of comprehensive CRM initiatives, we often encounter the statement that data cleansing will be carried out in later project phases. Experience has shown that this phase is often not implemented, or it is only half-hearted and, in any case, too late. The determination and consistent adherence to uniform data quality rules and measures that apply throughout the company (CRM-wide) are one of the central success factors that must be addressed within the scope of initiating and implementing a long-term successful and effective


Dr. Martin Stadelmann

Dr. Martin Stadelmann is the Head of Business Consulting at Qualysoft GmbH in Switzerland. For over 20 years, he has been accompanying companies from all industries on their way toward a holistic CRM approach. He is a lecturer at the University of St. Gallen and co-founder of the Executive Program "Master of Advanced Studies in CRM" at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).