Government CRM Software

The Streamlined CRM Software Selection Approach and The Rule of 5's
customer relationship management

While there is no shortage of CRM software selection methodologies and opinions, there is a lack of community consensus in how these projects should be organized and conducted in the public sector. We've navigated through a number of private and public sector software selection approaches in an effort to discover the most critical factors and present them in a streamlined and easy to digest approach which has become known as the software selection "Rule of 5's."

5 CRM Software Prerequisites

  1. Mandated Security Certifications
    While a few agencies and bureaus have unique information security requirements, the minimum federal requirements include FIPS 199 and NIST C&A (Certification and Accreditation). The NIST C&A is an extremely thorough and voluminous certification that generally lasts 14 to 18 months. Therefore, unless you have available IT resources to lead a C&A project, a year and a half for the project duration and a very patient CRM vendor (who doesn't mind not billing for a significant security project), don't include vendors who don't already have this certification.
  2. Mandated Section 508 Compliance
    The section 508 amendment to the rehabilitation act is another minimum federal mandate that has also been adopted by a number of states and local governments. This law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure or use information technology and software applications. As part of section 508 (29 U.S.C. 794d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to all (non-disabled) other users. Most commercial business software vendors don't really understand the technical requirements for 508 compliance until they make the effort to modify their software applications to meet this law. Don't get caught in this trap after you're licensed or procured a business application. Make sure any CRM or business software system you consider is section 508 compliant early in the software selection process.
  3. Public Sector Experience
    While this sounds obvious, there is a long history of unsuccessful CRM implementations whereby both the vendor and the buyer underestimated the time, cost and effort to modify a commercial private sector CRM application for the needs of government. Don't get caught in this trap.
  4. Public Sector References
    The value of customer reference checks is debatable by many. It's no secret that the CRM vendors have a list of special client relationships that are routinely used as references. These references are clearly biased and will only ever proclaim positive statements for the vendor. However, references in the public sector tend to be more objective and therefore worthwhile.
  5. Uptime history and assurance
    This prerequisite applies only to software as a service (SaaS) CRM solutions. While the hosting industry has achieved very impressive uptime figures (in fact far more impressive than most in house IT shops can typically provide), a few of the more popular CRM systems have incurred repeated downtime. If you are considering an on-demand or hosted CRM application and continuous and uninterrupted system availability are required, review each vendor's uptime history early in your software selection process.

5 CRM Software Must Haves

  1. Integrated CRM
    A CRM software suite includes sales force automation (SFA), marketing and customer support software modules. While SFA doesn't apply to the public sector in the same way it does to private industry, the underlying concepts of account management, contact management and activity management do permeate quite nicely into government operations. To be effective, all three customer facing software applications must be integrated. For instance, if you perform a marketing campaign, is the history for each recipient in the SFA/Accounts module updated to reflect the campaign distribution? When a new prospect account is entered in the SFA or customer management module, is it linked back to the marketing campaign that spawned the prospect's interest to contact the organization?
  2. Balanced CRM
    Since the creation of CRM, software vendors have typically originated and focused in one of the three primary software capabilities and added the others when it became convenient. For instance, many CRM systems began with impressive sales force automation and then later added marketing and customer support, sometimes as little more than an afterthought, simply to fill out the CRM suite. Or from the other direction, several CRM software vendors started with customer support and then at some point, and generally with far less emphasis, included sales force automation and marketing. Marketing automation is the CRM software module that is seldom the first module and therefore is usually the weakest among popular CRM manufacturers. Many seasoned CRM experts actually begin their CRM software demonstrations with marketing in order to quickly determine if the suite is balanced or top heavy in one direction and inherently weak in other areas.
  3. Customizable CRM
    No commercial off the shelf (COTS) CRM system will meet all of an agency's business processes or requirements, therefore, a customization method that is manageable and cost effective is very important in achieving a system fit and user adoption. The better CRM systems in this regard offer graphical customization tools that can be operated by a business analyst or power user, offer roll-back capabilities, do not modify the vendor's software source code and do not impair new version upgrades. Historically, the software as a service (SaaS) CRM systems have not offered the same level of customization as the on-premise systems, however, in the last few years, hosted systems such as Salesforce.com, NetSuite and Aplicor have released customization tool kits which now leap frog most of the more traditional on-premise business systems.
  4. Ease of Use
    CRM systems must embrace intuitive navigation and ease of use in order to win user adoption. It's literally amazing how many screens, web pages, menus and tabs some CRM systems require a user to navigate to simply to insert or modify a complete business transaction. Veteran CRM project managers take the time to actually count and quantify the number of pages and keystrokes required for a user to enter transactions and extrapolate this calculation over an eight hour shift to bring visibility to differences in CRM systems and their tangible effects on user productivity.
  5. Information Analysis
    The collection and organized storage of citizen, constituent, customer or partner information provides the foundation for the much bigger benefit of access to information and improved decision making capabilities. It's unfortunately common for CRM manufacturers to provide only limited or basic reporting capabilities such as simple column lists and a small library of primitive reports. The more thoughtful CRM manufacturers however deliver powerful (but easy to use) query tools, ad hoc report writers, digital dashboards, data warehouses and Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) information analysis. These types of information analysis tools offer the single biggest impact to ROI.

5 CRM Implementation Mandates

  1. Executive Sponsorship
    Government CRM software implementations trail the private sector in terms of leveraging effective executive sponsors. CRM users take their queues from government leaders. If those leaders fail to publicly endorse and evangelize the importance of the software application, user adoption will wane or become a change management issue and the risk of implementation failure dramatically increases.
  2. Concrete Goals, Baseline Metrics and a Measurement System
    Declaring implementation success must be relative to the prior environment and be quantitative in order to achieve credibility with sponsors and users. Concrete benchmarks are also required to show trending and continuous progress over time.
  3. A Tenured Project Manager
    I wish I had a dinner coupon for every self proclaimed expert project manager that thought he or she could figure out CRM on the fly. There is a direct correlation between troubled CRM implementation projects and inexperienced or weak CRM project managers. Enough said.
  4. Seasoned Vendor Consultants
    Every CRM vendor only has a small number of their best consultants - and these valuable resources are either allocated to the most profitable engagements or the customers that demand them. Review consultant resumes before you buy, request the most experienced consulting resources and avoid the vendor's young and inexperienced consultants at all costs.
  5. A Project Management Office
    A well designed and implemented project management office (PMO) brings much needed organization and structure to CRM projects. PMO's should be both physical and virtual. Many of the more mature CRM vendors offer virtual PMO's in the form of web sites and portals that are very effective in providing an online resource that keeps all project team members well connected.

5 CRM Post-Implementation Critical Success Factors

  1. All Inclusive Vendor Support Plans
    Ironically, several CRM vendors who claim to practice CRM in all its glory use their customer support departments as an additional revenue tool in which to up-sell more responsive support plans and relegate the majority of their customers to inferior support. While the practice of requiring more money after the software sale seems contrary to building and growing customer relationships, on-demand and competent customer support is critical following the go-live event and well into the production period. Verify early whether your CRM vendor uses the up-sell strategy for support or provides comparable and quality support to all customers who need support.
  2. Self Service Portal
    A remarkably small number of CRM vendors offer their customers self service web site portals. These web sites are particularly helpful for power users who prefer to research and resolve their own issues as well as users needing help during off business hours.
  3. Dedicated Account Managers and Access to Back Line Support
    Two increasingly popular and effective support options are designated (named) customer service representatives (sometimes called account managers) for each client and access to back line or tier 2 resources for certain types of non-traditional support cases. Immediate access to back line customer support dramatically lowers the case resolution time and improves the customer experience.
  4. Continued Training
    User training is not suppose to be a one time event. To gain comfort with new systems and leverage the systems to their fullest capability, recurring training programs are essential. Look for online tutorials, computer based training and webinars to continue user learning as well as provide initial learning for new hires.
  5. Integration to Legacy Systems
    CRM data should not exist as an island of information. Citizen, constituent or customer information is used throughout the entity and therefore CRM systems should be integrated to other legacy systems in order maximize the customer information value and minimize the laborious and error prone efforts associated with rekeying data.