In an article recently posted on computerworld.com, SalesLogistix CEO, and customer relationship management (CRM) software expert David Taber shares his experience customizing a well-known CRM product to suit different industries. He compares the process to home renovations – and if you or anyone you know has ever done any remodeling, you know those projects always take more time and cost more than the designers tell you – often significantly more. That’s also the case with general purpose, one-size-fits-all CRM software customization. In fact, Taber points out that he’s seen a request for a customized, one-page report turn into a $20,000 exercise due to lack of focus! That’s an expensive report – and it’s just a tiny part of what’s required to customize a CRM to meet the needs of event managers.
Where do cost overruns happen?
The analogy makes sense because many sales teams believe that any CRM product will do because they all are designed to help increase sales. However, without doing research up front, many event focused organizations select a CRM product that’s designed to sell products with the belief that it can be customized for events.
The fact of the matter is that most CRM platforms are designed to work for transactional companies that sell products. Many of these CRM platforms define an event as an appointment – a 15-minute phone call with a prospect is an event. In the world of trade shows, exhibitions, and conferences, an event IS the product and it has multiple components. There’s a start date and time. There are multiple sessions in multiple rooms. There are exhibitors, sponsors, attendees, and presenters. Exhibitors and sponsors need to be assigned to a booth on a floor plan, and all the services they may need like Internet access, or electrical outlets need to be attached to their booth assignment. An exhibitor’s booth staff may be different from their attendees and their “bill to” contact. You get the picture. Now, imagine taking that single “event” field that is made to track a simple 15-minute phone call and adding all of the functionality listed above – because that’s what has to happen when you customize CRM products that are not made to sell events.
In the Harvard Business Review article Why Your IT Project May Be Riskier Than You Think, Bent Flyvbjerg and Alexander Budzier use the term “black swan” projects to describe “high-impact events that are rare and unpredictable but in retrospect seem not so improbable.” In the case of software, that can apply to customization projects with significant cost overruns, delays in implementations, and even complete project failure. Flyvbierg and Budzier point out that, “The average overrun was 27% - but that figure masks a far more alarming one. Graphing the projects’ budget overruns reveals a “fat tail” – a large number of gigantic overages. Fully one in six of the projects we studied was a black swan, with a cost overrun of 200%, on average, and a schedule overrun of almost 70%.” I don’t know about you, but if I had a project that had a 200% cost overrun, I’d likely be looking for a new job due to failure to manage resources.
A light in the darkness.
Starting out with the best tool for the job - a CRM system purpose-built with your specific industry in mind - allows you to start with all the functionality you need from day one. No need to figure a work around to connect an exhibitor to a booth on a floor plan. Going back to the analogy of the home remodel, there’s a reason that you don’t customize the foundation of your home. That’s the framework on which everything else sits and it’s built the way it is for a reason. You customize the fixtures and finishes, the things that are easier to change such as color palettes, things that go in and out of style. CRM software is much the same – you don’t want to customize around the core of your business – your events. You want to be able to simply configure the software to meet your workflows.