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Murder at the SMB: The CRM Autopsy Report

March 21, 2008

The sheet is pulled back from the corpse on the gurney in the examination room. The CEO's stomach clamps up. "It's… it's him," he says as his knees buckle. "It's our CRM." His secretary has to help him to a chair.

"Is there an autopsy report?" the CEO croaks. "Can you figure out who did it?"

The pathologist stubs out his cigarette and glances at the clipboard in his hand. "There are a few things I picked up. Now might be a good time to go over them." He nods to the detective sitting in the room, who flips open a notepad.

"Hope you don't mind the lieutenant sitting in," the doctor says. "Figured we'd save ourselves some time."

"No, no. Lieutenant." The CEO nods to the detective, who nods back. "Anything to find the murderer. Well. Let's have it. What was the cause of death?"

"I'll start from the beginning," the doctor says. "And the officer might be able to fill in some of the missing pieces." The detective poises his pen over the notepad.

"First off, it looks to me like your firm was ignoring the big picture, and nobody there really had much of a clue how CRM fit in the overall business strategy," the doctor says. "In my line of work I see a lot of D.O.A. CRM projects, and nineteen times out of twenty, the company hasn't a clue what their competitive advantage over their competition is. They bring in CRM to try to turbo-charge a car with no steering wheel. Spend all that money, that time training people, rejigging the company's organizational structure, you wouldn't believe some of the things I've seen. Fistfights."

The CEO nods. "Our IT VP always hated the guy. I guess he had a pretty good motive."

The doctor smiles. "That's usually the case. CRM usually gets fobbed off on IT even though he's not an IT project, is he? And yes, it does play havoc with the IT department. He doesn't get many Christmas cards from IT. But I rarely see CRM killed by IT."

The CEO swallows. "Go on."

"Not to speak ill of the dead," the doctor continues, lighting another cigarette which he uses to point at the body under the sheet, "but CRM here wasn't the most likeable guy. When I opened him up I found him pretty inflexible. Had a hard time growing with your company and your customers, if I don't miss my guess. When you saw areas that needed more attention from him he wasn't always able to scale to that, was he?"

The secretary speaks up for the first time. "No, he wasn't. We got him because he worked really well for out partners, but they're a lot bigger, and… well, maybe he wasn't exactly what we needed. We changed as a company, we evolved, but he… didn't."

The doctor nods. The detective in the back is writing furiously.

"So he wasn't the most popular guy at the company. Sales people were feeling constrained, and for what he was costing the company he wasn't seen as pulling his weight, was he?"

"Our CFO really, really hated the guy," the CEO says. "Better ask him where he was on the night of August 12th."

The doctor snorts. "CFOs don't kill CRM near as often as other profiled suspects. May I continue?" The CEO spreads his arms as if to say the floor is yours.

"So we have a guy who was pretty expensive and not what everybody wanted. What happened, and correct me if I'm wrong here, is that after a while, employees thought this guy's just too hard to work with. Nobody used him, and they'd cross over to the other side of the corridor when they saw him coming. And can you blame them? He didn't come with his own training modules or easy to follow icons and windows. He was pretty difficult. Not the first guy picked for softball at the company picnic."

"There's something else that needs to be said here," the secretary says again. The CEO shoots her a you-better-be-careful look. "The system he replaced was pretty popular among the employees. We got rid of a comfortable, easy to use, familiar tool for… for…"

"Amanda," the CEO says. "If you have something to confess you'd better come clean."

"No," the doctor says, laying an avuncular hand on the secretary's shoulder. "We're not saying Amanda, or too many other people, warmed up to CRM. But she didn't kill him."

"Let's focus a bit on the training," the detective says. All heads turn his direction. "Were the employees given enough training so they felt comfortable working with the guy? We're talking about going from a tricycle to a Harley-Davidson when you hired him, was the company prepared in advance for that?"

"I told HR to get on it," the CEO explodes angrily. "They kept saying 'don't worry about it, we've got it all under control,' I bet they wanted him out of the way."

"Oh they did," the detective says. "But not enough to kill him. Sure he was costly and time-consuming, yours isn't the biggest operation in the world and he was eating a lot of resources, but the training officer did her best, given what she had to work with. But one thing I saw during the autopsy was that in your company, the actual fact is that only a few select teams and people were ever really fully introduced to him."

"Well… I… you can't stop what everyone's doing," the CEO says. "The rollout was gradual."

"A bit too gradual, if you ask me," the doctor says, pointing with his cigarette at the CEO. "I'll tell you what I saw when I had him opened up on my table: Nothing. That's right. Bupkis. No consensual buy-in among senior management. I couldn't find more than a handful of employees who were ever explained the reason for CRM, shown how the guy worked or told of the benefits you expected from him. I didn't find a single customer service rep in the detailed plans, and I found a strong lack of senior, C-level support."

"It's the CIO," the CEO says, sagging back in his chair. "He's always hated everything I've done. He was looking for a way to get back at me. I can't believe he'd stoop to this."

"He didn't," the detective says. "Let's discuss CRM's business requirements, shall we? There aren't two CRMs the same in the world. How'd you hire this guy?"

"I… he came well-recommended. He had lots of features, and people we'd talked to had good experiences working with him," the CEO says.

The doctor shoots questions at the CEO rapid-fire, stepping closer and jabbing with the cigarette each time. "Did you ever interview him on your particular corporate culture before hiring him?  Ever examine his product history? Define your requirements? Audition other CRMs? Fit him in your budget instead of fitting your budget around him? Work him into your corporate structure instead of letting him dictate structure? Did you ever think," asks the doctor, leaning into the CEO's face by now, "that maybe he just wasn't right for your company from the start? That maybe he belonged in a bigger firm with more resources, somewhere they knew how to use him?"

"All right, all right, I confess! Yes, I killed him! I killed him," the CEO bursts out, then collapses in the chair, sobbing. "I killed him."

The detective whips out a pair of handcuffs and snaps them on. The secretary jumps to her feet. "Larry, how… how could you?"

"Don't get too worked up," the doctor says. "That's how it goes in most of the autopsies I run on CRMs here. It's the CEO. Ultimately it's his baby to kill or nourish."

"So what was the cause of death?" she asks, whirling around to face the doctor. The CEO is bundled from the room, still blubbering about how nice and shiny CRM looked out of the box. The doctor waits until he's gone and the door closes.

"That's easy," he says, smiling. "Starvation and atrophy. Happens all the time."

-----------

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Don’t forget to check out TMCnet’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP Communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents which are free to registered users. Today’s featured white paper is The “BRAIN” Model of Intelligibility in Business Telephony, brought to you by Polycom (News - Alert).

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