What Constitutes a Technology Game Changer?

The Three “M” method to Recognize and Leverage New Technologies

The GraduateRemember in the movie The Graduate when Dustin Hoffman’s character was told: “One word: Plastics”.

Chevy Chase was in a movie called Fletch where he said “it’s all ball bearings these days”.

But these days it seems the phrase often heard and marketed is “Game Changer”. I searched the phrase “Game Changer” on the internet and filtered it to news stories. There were over 9,000 news stories that contained “Game Changer” (in quotes mind you). Really? Were there that many game changers this year? I must be living under a rock because I don’t recall my world or game be changed by that magnitude.

Could it be that the phrase might be overused?

What happens when a technology truly is a game changer? How would you recognize it? Below are the three M’s to help you recognize and leverage new technologies. I realize that most of these ideas are business 101 basics but they seem to still be worth a review.

  1. Meaning – Does it have meaning to you or your business? If you sell snow shovels, a game changer in beach towels might not affect you. Take time to drill into what is supposed to make the new technology a game changer and see how that would have an effect. For example, if businesses are all supposed to “go mobile” with their technology offerings because all things mobile is the latest game changer, how does that effect you and your business by either embracing or avoiding? Are you able to tie a specific business process to this new game changing technology? If so, what impact and meaning would that have. Focus on specific meaning to you and your business to recognize valuable game changing technology.
  2. Magnitude – Although a new technology may have meaning and will make a relevant change, what is the magnitude of the change? A technology that has meaning and a high level of change and impact to you and your business is a true game changer.
  3. Monetary – Does the game changing technology increase revenue? Does it reduce costs? When evaluating a game changer, it may have meaning and magnitude, but does it make you more money? The greater your ROI (return on investment), the greater the technology game changer.

I too am guilty of using the phrase “game changer”. I wrote a post called, Your Next AMS Might Not Be an AMS – Why an increasing number of associations are viewing Microsoft Dynamics CRM as an industry game changer. Feel free to read it as an example and see if you can recognize the 3 M’s.

When a new technology has relevant meaning to you and your business, high magnitude of impact, and solid monetary value, THAT would be your game changer.


Original Post:  http://willslade.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/what-is-a-game-changer/

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4 Steps to Improve Data Consolidation Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Data SilosWe often hear from business executives about their concerns with duplicate systems and multiple data silos. We also hear the desire to create or improve “a grand all-encompassing data warehouse” so executives can better understand performance trends as well as all sorts of business informatics. Mostly, there is a desire for one easy to use consolidated database – the one single database of truth for all relationship connections and associated information AND accessible across all devices – phone, tablet, laptop.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM logo2Here are four steps to improve data consolidation and get to that one database of truth using Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

  1. Understand why data consolidation is important
  2. Recognize reasons why data silos occur
  3. Catalog all the data sets
  4. Form a strategic plan on how CRM will be leveraged

STEP 1 – Understand Why Data Consolidation is Important

The first step is to understand the value of good customer/member data. Many executives would already agree that consolidating customer data is critical in business today but there are some that are hesitant to invest in the endeavor or they are unsure where to start. There are many valuable advantages to data consolidation, but in a nut shell, businesses are more effective, more competitive, and have greater insight when they can see one shared customer record that has a deep 360 degree view. This view could include all customer activities, purchases, visits to your website and where they went, accounting information from the ERP, real-time data from data aggregators, customer complaints and their resolutions, and yes, the customer’s correct email. That is at the record level. Good data then rolls up for quality analytics. Reporting on your key performance indicators and customer buying trends and even predictive buying just got a whole lot easier now that everything is in one place. Keep in mind, in your current state, you probably have most of this data already, but it is just spread out in too many duplicate databases and Excel files to be usable.

STEP 2 – Recognize the Reasons Why Users Create Data Silos

The next step is to try to stop data silo creation. There is usually a central system in place but then users remove the data they want to an Excel file and continue to update that Excel file outside the central system. Why? Why are users compelled to create Access databases and Excel files? There can be many reasons but usually it is because the central system is hard to use and it is just easier using Excel or their own Outlook. So how do you stop users from creating their own data sets? Improve the user interface is one way and that is where Microsoft Dynamics CRM can help. Although Microsoft CRM uses a powerful Microsoft SQL Server database to handle Big Data, it is the user interface of Microsoft CRM that will often help reduce data silo creation. Microsoft CRM has the potential to be designed putting the user first – meaning the interface is clean and purpose driven. It also helps that Microsoft Dynamics CRM can be accessed from within the very tools that frequently drive silo creation to begin with – in this case Excel and Outlook. All of CRM can be accessed from Outlook and there is one click in CRM to bring data to Excel.

STEP 3 – Identify and Catalog all the Data Sets

Next, start to identify all your data. Data you have and even the data you don’t have. Catalog all the in-house data like main central systems, the many rogue Access databases and Excel files, as well as website databases and SharePoint Lists and so on. Just focus on the data that is being managed and updated away from a central database. Think also about the data you may not have now but could get from an online subscription to a data aggregator to sync real time business, wealth, and social data or to validate and clean your data for total data quality.

STEP 4 – Form a Strategic Plan for Data Consolidation and How Best to Leverage CRM

The last and most important step is to form a long term strategic plan. This is where some companies may need assistance. Without going into too much detail, the plan should attempt to include what data will be migrated and what will be integrated.

· Migration: With data migration, this is the data that will be completely moved permanently to live in CRM. These aren’t just the rogue Excel files; this could potentially be retiring some completely separate business applications – meaning move the data along with the functionality and business process to CRM using the innovative xRM approach to duplicate functionality where logical.

· Integration: What data then gets integrated in and out of CRM? Is the integration one way (asynchronous) or two way (synchronous)? What data source will “own” the data. What are the outside data sources and services that will be utilized? What data integration tools such may be needed?

The strategic plan may also include new reporting needs, how data will be displayed across devices, and what users get to access and not access based on their security. As you can see, having a well thought out plan divided into logical phases will provide the long term blue print and framework for continued data success.

If you understand the value of one consolidated database and you know why users make data silos and you have cataloged all your data sets and then formed and documented a well thought out plan that leverages Microsoft Dynamics CRM, well then, you should be on your way to improved data consolidation.


see oiginal post on will.i.crm

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Your Next AMS Might Not Be An AMS

Why an increasing number of Association Executives are viewing CRM as an industry game changer.

Since the dawn of databases, companies have created AMS (Association Management Software) to serve the unique needs of the association world. Over the years, many AMS solutions have grown into large complex and heavy systems attempting to accommodate every association need there is. Basically, if an association has a task or business process, there is probably an AMS module for it.

Because of this trend, many AMS systems have become overly complex, challenging to use, difficult to maintain, expensive to buy, and expensive to keep. Increasingly, association executives are searching for alternatives to this traditional AMS technology path. There is a strong desire to break out of the never-ending cycle of having to get a new updated AMS system every few years and the inevitable AMS vendor demo parade that follows. Associations are looking for cleaner, easier, lighter, and more cost effective options.

It turns out that CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is filling this new role. It is an excellent non-AMS choice for a growing number of associations. It is understood that some CRM software right out of the box is not for every association, but if the association focuses on their core and high priority needs and extends CRM to meet their unique needs (such as committees, events, membership), then the out of the box offering is quite compelling.

You might ask, “Why would an association look at a CRM solution in the first place?” After all, CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and CRM systems have traditionally been used for tracking prospects and sales. The answer lies in the ability to easily extend the base CRM to meet the specific needs of the association. Extending CRM is a strategy called xRM. Before I get too deep in the weeds with CRM and xRM, let me provide some highlights for Microsoft Dynamics CRM:

Microsoft Dynamics CRM logo2

  • Clean and easy to use interface. If you like Outlook, then it looks and feels like Outlook.
  • Microsoft Office business productivity built in.  Microsoft to Microsoft integration for Outlook, Word, and Excel.
  • Industry’s Best Outlook Integration. The Microsoft Outlook team created the Outlook integration (not a 3rd party add-on).
  • Mobile connectivity for using CRM across many devices and screen sizes.
  • Easy to deploy in the cloud or on-premise.
  • Supported by a vast number of Microsoft Dynamics partners.

Microsoft Outlook – If an association already uses Microsoft Outlook, then Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides the ability for all staff to access one ‘database of truth’ across the entire organization through Microsoft Outlook. You don’t have to “get into the AMS to try and find an email”. CRM is one of the best ways to collect and manage data and communications throughout the organization.

crmBright for Associations(click on the above image for a larger view)

Game Changer – CRM is certainly positioned to be a game changer in the association industry. To help illustrate, here are a handful of other examples of industry game changers.

  • Accounting Systems separated from the AMS – At one point, most AMS systems included an accounting system with a general ledger, accounts payable, etc. Associations started demanding integration to their existing best of breed accounting packages like Great Plains (now called Microsoft Dynamics GP). As a result, most AMS vendors removed their own accounting systems from the AMS. That was a game changer for accounting systems as well as accounting departments that didn’t want all the staff having access to vital accounting data.
  • Microsoft .NET. Back in the 2002-2003 timeframe, associations were introduced to the concept of .NET with its promise of better system interoperability. Databases and applications could now easily talk to other systems with this new technology. Who remembers the AMS vendor panel discussion on .NET at ASAE hosted by DelCor and designData? Talk about a game changer. Seemingly overnight, associations started to include the requirement that their AMS solution be 100% .NET. The AMS vendors that had solutions that were not 100% .NET certainly struggled.
  • Google. The increasing size and complexity of the AMS reminds me of how the basic home page of a website has evolved. At first, the home page was basically a fancy business card. Over time though, each department wanted to stake claim to their piece of the home page real estate and before you knew it, the website home page looked very cluttered. It was difficult to find anything. Then along came Google. All it had was a search box and submit button with a whole lot of white space going on. It clearly and succinctly cut to the purpose of that website and made it easy to use. Google was a game changer. It inspired cleaner and more efficient design. It required people to think differently about the true purpose of their design. I think that is what we have here with CRM. CRM can finally inspire cleaner and more efficient use of the membership data.
  • xRM. The “x” in xRM stands for “Anything” – Anything Relationship Management or eXtended Relationship Management. xRM is not a product, it is a strategy that takes CRM one step further, focusing on managing all connections, transactions, communications, interactions. Specifically with Microsoft’s CRM, Microsoft has provided a rich foundation of powerful functionality. An association can then easily add to their system. If you need to track meeting attendance or committee management, Microsoft provides the ability to create that functionality. You don’t have to be a developer to add functionality to CRM. You use CRM to extend CRM. The tools Microsoft provides are straight forward with lots of free resources for “how to” and learning.

CRM with the xRM approach is the game changer. Now an association can have a clean and easy to use membership system that is robust for their unique needs.

Association executives can now take a look at a standard Microsoft product to see if there is a fit at their association. Who knows – your next AMS might not be an AMS after all.


Author’s note on this particular post – I first wrote this post in September of 2010. I posted it on the Microsoft Dynamics for NFP’s community blog.  Since that time, this post has been published with different titles by the various companies that employed me. To gain better control and ownership of the content, I published this post to my own blog in 2011, here

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Would a Surgeon use a Swiss Army Knife

Focusing on tools and software that excel at core business needs for improved returns

I guess depending on the surgery a surgeon could use a swiss army knife in a pinch. After all, didn’t Radar O’Reilly use his Tom Mix pocket knife to perform a tracheotomy in an episode of M.A.S.H.

For optimal results though, a surgeon knows which tools to use.

In a similar vein, let’s cut over to how this is similar when using business applications.

All too often, a software solution is developed to meet a specific business process and may perform that process quite well. Over time though, the original product has grown to try to meet far too many niche needs and is stretched to serve an ever growing audience. This often dilutes the products capabilities. The product becomes overly complex with seemingly a button or module or “bolt-on” for everything. In the end, the product might be able to serve more needs but often fails to do any one of them well.

Organizations that are looking to purchase new software need to be careful in their selection. Business applications that attempt to serve a large audience with many modules and many features are often mediocre at your most important business processes.

This also relates to usability, long term cost and support, and if the solution can grow with the organization. If a solution is deeply complex, how easy is it to use? If it is over engineered, how easy is it to support? Are you paying for modules and features that you will never need or use? How easy is it to get the data out of a complex system for business analytics? How easy is it to extend or change the solution to meet your needs over time?

After answering these questions, many organizations are now moving away from their traditional large complex multi-module systems and taking a serious look at CRM (customer relationship management) software to meet their core business needs. CRM solutions in general have matured over the years and they are often easy to deploy, use, and maintain. Hence, orgainzaitions, associations, and businesses are finding that they will use CRM more often for their core needs. This provides richer analytics on key performance indicators as well as better insight into a customer’s (or member’s) unique relationships including their social and business network.

CRM software such as Microsoft Dynamics CRMhas the ability to be set up to meet very specific needs and perform them quite well. Associations for example can not only track their members, they can manage their other core business drivers in CRM such as dues, meetings, donations. This allows an association to focus solely on their core business needs with a robust yet easy to use and familiar solution from Microsoft.

Organizations should focus on procuring solutions that not only meet the core business needs, but actually excel at meeting those needs. Like a surgeon that uses the right set of tools for the best possible outcome, this strategy sets you up for the highest possible return on your investment.


Original Post: http://willslade.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/no-swiss-army-knife-for-surgery/

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What if a Car Could Change its Own Oil? – a Cloud Analogy

Why should companies embrace the cloud? Here are two quick analogies to help explain the power of the cloud and the easy low maintenance benefits of cloud computing

Analogy 1 – The Car that Changed its own Oil: Do you change the engine oil in your vehicle or do you have someone else do it? What if the car just magically changed its own oil – you are not sure how it happens – it just happens. What would that mean? Other than the fact that you might miss the burnt coffee in the waiting area of Jiffy Lube, the car would be easier to own and maintain.

Let’s take this same analogy one step further. What if you woke up and your car had an upgraded engine and new features on the dashboard?

The analogy is similar to how business applications run in the cloud. “The Cloud” or cloud computing allows businesses to pay a predictable monthly fee to have access to their line of business applications (example: CRM) over the internet with little to no maintenance. Organizations no longer have to buy software licenses, pay annual software maintenance, buy servers to install software, buy supporting software for the servers, pay someone to install, look after, maintain, upgrade, trouble shoot the server, or support all the software. Most if not all of the monitoring, maintenance, upgrades, and tune ups are done in the cloud. Hence, cloud solutions provide low (or no) maintenance options.

What about new features and new technology? Technology in general always seems to be changing. It is difficult for organizations to stay on top of and leverage new technology as it becomes available. A system upgrade is stilled viewed as a very big deal – as they tend to be costly, time-consuming, and disruptive. The cloud is changing much or all of this old way of thinking. Businesses can have their systems in the cloud upgraded automatically and the cost is usually included in their monthly cloud fee.

Analogy 2 – Escalator: The cloud is like being on a technology escalator. As technology changes and improves over time, you simply ride each new advancement and wave and you are not left behind. In the cloud, you get upgrades, new features, and new technology with little or no effort, little or no additional cost, and little or no disruption. You are on the technology escalator.

Let’s take Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online as an example of robust cloud computing with easy maintenance that gets you on that escalator. There is no software license to buy or own. It is simply $44 per user per month. The fee includes all the hosting on powerful servers along with technical support and upgrades. You truly are on a technology escalator as you leverage new CRM features and advanced technology with each automatic upgrade (upgrades are scheduled so you are well aware in advance). It is easy to use and you don’t have to think about changing the oil.

If your organization is tired of maintaining systems in-house or struggling with costly upgrades, the cloud is worth considering.


Original Post: http://willslade.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/cloud-analogy/

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Social Tools Allow You to Know All Your Customers Like Your Best Customers

Add Vital Data to Your Customer Database from Social Networking Sources

“What’s the husband’s name again?”, I ask my wife on our way to a dinner party. “Give me a minute”, she says as she quickly goes to Facebook from her phone. “It is Bill.”, she says in a tone as if she knew it all along.

I often tell that story and its worth repeating as an example of immediate accessibility to information. That is a good thing because truth be told, I can at times be pretty bad with names and related personal data. That is why when I meet someone and get their business card, I try to write their basic information and hopefully some personal information on the back of the card. If I have time, I enter a quick note directly into my CRM via my smartphone (yes there is an app for that).

Over time, you probably add more and more information about your customers. Your best customers are the ones you know very well. You know their needs and how best to deliver against those needs. Your customers probably appreciate that fact as well and hence you have a good working business relationship.

Knowing Your Customers Too Well Maybe?So what if you knew ALL your customers the way you know your very best customers?You probably would get a lot more business. You already know the detailed personal information of your best customers from the relationships you have built over a long period of time. Beyond their business needs, you might know their hobbies, interests, the college they went to and maybe even the college their kids went to.

Do you have the same deep level of personal knowledge for all customers and prospective customers? Maybe. Maybe not. Keep in mind that just because you know a prospective customer graduated from the same school as you doesn’t mean that you will win their business, but knowledge like that can provide better insight and the opportunity to connect and build a stronger business relationship.

Enter the age of social media.

Leverage LinkedIn and Twitter into Your CRM – Social networking tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter can add and validate vital data to your CRM thus creating the opportunity to build a better business relationship. These social tools allow you to:

  • Validate and keep your own customer data accurate.
  • Track additional demographic and personal information.
  • Know when a key contact moved to a new company.
  • Add additional contacts at a customer company to your CRM.
  • Track and manage specific Twitter conversations about your company or your product directly in CRM. In Microsoft Dynamics CRM, this is done via the built-in integration to Twitter.
  • Create a holistic view of your own data mixed with “public data”. For example, in Microsoft Outlook, you can access the customer’s Microsoft Dynamics CRM contact record and blend that information directly with LinkedIn and Facebook using the Outlook Social Connector. The below screenshot is Microsoft Outlook 2010 that is accessing a CRM contact record and displays in the lower right the live social updates and information.

And below is a close up view of just the lower right portion of the above full screenshot. Notice that Outlook has pulled in the job title from LinkedIn. Even if you are not connected to a person on LinkedIn, their title, picture, and other public information will still display if you know their email address.

  • Activity Feeds in Microsoft Dynamics CRM (see below example). Microsoft Dynamics CRM with a “Facebook-style” interface. You can follow activity feeds, teams, accounts, opportunities, contacts, custom CRM records directly in CRM and hence directly from Microsoft Outlook.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM directly inside Microsoft Outlook with Social Tools

What about Facebook? – There certainly are other social tools to leverage for business beyond LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook can sometimes be a bit more tricky from a business perspective. Facebook (and to some degree Google+) work very well for some business purposes and falls flat for others. Beyond Facebook, you can also look up other social networks such as a company’s YouTube channel to view their videos. You can even see if some of your customers have blogs and then actually go read them.

Keep Up with Increasing Expectations – In summary, with all the information available on the internet, specifically with social networks, it is no surprise that customers expect more. Keep up with customer demands by leveraging information found with social networking directly in your own CRM. When it comes to customer buying decisions, I think people still buy from people – and these tools might just help with that.


Other Recent Articles of Interest Related to Social Media:


*Above cartoon is from http://www.modernanalyst.com

**Above screenshot with social activity feed (“What’s New”) is from Microsoft. See the press release: here.


Original Post: http://willslade.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/social-tools-to-know-your-customers/

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Ask Why

Why are you shopping for a new system? Why now?

We know these questions are important for an organization to ask their users and leaders. We have learned that asking the “why” questions often uncover the real business drivers and reasons for wanting to leverage new features and new technology. Let’s face it though; selecting a new enterprise class business application for an organization is not that easy. It involves risk, investment costs, and usually lots of precious time.

My Shopping Story

I have a quick shopping story to share. Although I wasn’t shopping for a new sophisticated business application, it was for a new home stereo, the stories have similarities. Let me explain. My current home stereo system sounds great and I have had it for many years. How many years you ask? Let’s just say that a main feature includes two “phono” inputs for two turntables (and dare I say a microphone). Remember vinyl record albums?

Enter the smartphone. I now have hours and hours of music including playlists, songs, and video. I like my smartphone and its features. I like the way my home stereo sounds. I wanted to plug my smartphone into my old home stereo but there was no plug for it. I could bridge the two with a cable adapter or I could invest in a new home stereo that simply includes features for a smartphone. Long story short, I went with the new home stereo. The new home stereo systems on the market (media centers if you will) have greatly matured and the costs are less than I paid for my old stereo system.

Yes, buying a new business application is different than buying a new home stereo, but probably not by much. It comes down to aligning the right technology to the business drivers. Getting to the business drivers might be as easy as asking “Why?”

Top 3 ‘Why’ Questions to Ask

There will come a time when investing in new technology is the right thing to do. But first, you may want to ask these “why” questions.

WHY #1 – Why not just keep the current system?

All too often organizations want to quickly abandon their current system that “just won’t work right” for a new one without first uncovering the business drivers, their possible root causes, and evaluating fixes. Without clear business drivers, an organization may find that they got a new system but still have the same issues.

Typical business drivers usually revolve around:

  • Money. A new system provides significant cost savings or increased revenue or increased profit.
  • Time. There are efficiencies gained with a new system including less time to complete tasks, staff efficiencies, or operating efficiencies.
  • Growth. Increased growth and increased market share may only be possible with a new system or an organization may have simply outgrown their old system.
  • Competition. Keeping up with the competition as well as market demands often drive the need for new technology and new solutions.
  • Compliance. A new solution may be the only way to keep up with new regulations and compliance.

WHY #2 – Why not bridge our current system to new technology?

An organization might be able to address their business drivers by integrating (linking, bridging, etc.) their current system to new technology. Some additional questions to ask are:

  • What are the long term costs including support costs compared with putting that same amount toward a brand new solution?
  • How difficult will it be to support two separate systems compared with one?
  • Does buying a new solution offer any additional advantages?
  • Is there a business driver than obliges an organization to keep their current system?

WHY #3 – Why now?

An organization should ask why they want to take on this new investment now. Considerations and questions on the timing of a new system include:

  • How much is it costing you by waiting? Costs in terms of missed opportunities, increased costs, lower revenue, competition taking market share, etc.
  • Is there a mandate or compliance deadline?
  • Would the organization be considered an “early adopter” with this new technology? Are there other client references that are successfully utilizing this new technology?

Ask why

Organizations can reduce risk by asking why and by identifying the compelling business drivers for acquiring a new technology solution.

Ask for help

Have a qualified technology company or expert help your organization. They can help uncover complex business challenges and provide recommendations for smart technology solutions based on quality thinking, extensive business expertise and innovative problem-solving.


Original Post: http://willslade.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/ask-why

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