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Why the last mile of CRM implementation is the hardest

David Taber | Sept. 12, 2013
In broadband networking, the last-mile problem is getting from the big pipes to the end user at a reasonable cost. The last mile in CRM is getting data from users' favorite application -- email -- into the CRM system without disrupting their beloved workflows.

Our planning assumption, then, is that the long-term email capture strategy will be either an email "listener service" offered by the CRM system or, say, a browser plug-in for interactive email selection. (If your CRM doesn't have email capture capability, it can be readily coded as an outside service that populates the CRM records via SOAP or REST calls.)

You Can Bring Key Info From Email to CRM
Going beyond simple email capture, most CRM systems have mechanisms to capturing customer case information and internal deal approvals. These make for much more natural interaction with customers and members of upper management, who probably don't have a system login.

These mechanisms focus on logging emails and associating them with leads, contacts, opportunities and cases, or with making simple status updates. That's helpful, but it's not hitting the core issues of the "last mile" to the user, who would like to do the following:

  • Create new lead, contact, account and opportunity records directly from emails
  • Associate emails with accounts, contracts and other objects such as billings
  • Populate and update field values in existing records such as contact phone number, deal close date or opportunity status

Doing all this within emails, without ever logging in to the CRM system, is within reach. But it requires two tricky changes: New parsing code in inbound email handlers and behavioral change on the part of users. Let's look at behavior change first, because if you can't get the users to add some structure to the emails they send, then there's not much point in writing the fancy parsing code.

With some of our clients, we have created a cheat-sheet for users to make the email markup easier to remember and use. In most cases, there are two levels of markup: The subject line and the email body.

In the subject line, you have to provide basic commands such as "create new" and "append to existing." An example syntax looks like this:

Subject: [[+Foo Company}} — creates a new company called "Foo"

Subject: [[+John Doe Lead]] — creates a new lead named "John Doe"

Subject: [[Bar Company]] — adds the mail as a task to the existing company "Bar"

Subject: [["du Pont" Company]] — adds the mail as a task to the existing company "du Pont"

Of course, you can dream up all kinds of wonderful subject-line commands, but our experience is that users are amazingly intolerant of that complication. Less is more.

In the email body, some sort of markup is required for the field-value mapping. As wonderful as XML is, forget it. Humans need things really simple, along the lines of this:

 

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