Monday, May 9, 2011

Just the supporting act

I was asked the other day by a CEO when his organization's CRM system would "launch". Coming from a concert-producing world, I can see why he would expect our preparations to lead to one big switchover day, when all his staff logged in with lights blazing and music playing. It was hard to tell him that I didn't think we could have a launch like that, and here are three reasons why:

  • Not all of his staff will be ready to use the system on the same day
  • It won't be the end of my work with the organization (unlike the director of the show)
  • Installing the CRM is not the real story - it's just the supporting act for the stars that will follow.

There isn't going to be just one day on which all of his staff turn into regular users of the CRM system. Each team has different ways that they want to use CRM, and therefore have different demands from the system. Development have asked for additional contact fields to create a detailed picture of individual patrons. Marketing requested sophisticated reports by type of show for some big picture analysis. The Membership team requires custom functionality to serve patrons who pay for VIP privileges. As well as the varying requests, each team has a different timescale for implementation and training, and some are already using "their" features. Marketing have their reports and Development are logging new donations daily, so they've already "launched". Membership are still testing, but their customizations take the most time to build. Most organizations try to launch in stages, maybe development first, and then ticketing, so that both users and patrons have time to get used to the new features.

The CEO's expectation is that the "launch" will be the last day of work for me and my consulting colleagues, as the first night of a show is for the director or designers. Well, I don't have to log the extra hours, but experience has shown me that the day on which people move out of testing mode, abandon their Excel spreadsheets or backs of envelopes, and start trying to complete their tasks in the new system is just the beginning of the next phase of my work. I can try to anticipate the questions, and think ahead to create what they need, but it's impossible to predict everything that will occur to them when they do it "for real". There's also a confidence hurdle to overcome, as users learn that they can find the information for themselves or that they won't delete everything by mistake. The first few days of use generate a batch of new queries and fixes (and then, of course, as the users get more confident, come the next set of "now how do I do this?" questions).

Finally, and most importantly, I'm not convinced that the setup of a new CRM system in itself is something to make a fuss about. When I was learning to be a stage manager, people used to tell me that if my work was really good it wouldn't be noticed. Stage management isn't the show, it's just part of the framework that supports it. A performance can be memorable for the story being told, for the skill of the actors, or for the striking design. If it is memorable because of the stage management (or the lack of it) then it's a problem. I think the same way about a good CRM implementation: it's not about the brilliance or otherwise of the tool itself, it's about how it supports the real "show" in helping the staff raise more funds or bring in new audiences - in short - in serving the organization's mission. If the staff get to the end of the season and have fundamentally changed what they know about and how they respond to their audience, then the implementation has been a success.

So what would my alternative "launch" be? It would be the day when the organization can announce that new memberships have doubled in the last six months, or that they've received several multi-year gifts from first time donors. No-one would need to mention the CRM specifically, because they'd already know that it was helping them be more effective in their work every day. Now that would be worth making a song and dance about!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"CRM Wall-Breakers"

I've just been reading a new book by Eugene Carr and Michelle Paul called Breaking the Fifth Wall: Rethinking Arts Marketing for the 21st Century. (Alright, so I first read it cover to cover at 5am with a particularly bad bout of jetlag, but I'm looking forward to going back and working my way through in more detail!)

The book encourages us in arts marketing to stop thinking that our job is done once we've mailed the same printed brochure to everyone on our contact list, and followed up with a generic email the day before the show. Instead we should work out how to break the Fifth Wall, which Carr and Paul define as "the act of reconnecting with your patrons in a meaningful way after they have left your venue by creatively and regularly reminding them of everything your organization has to offer." With sections on Email, Online Ticketing, Social Media and CRM, the authors provide a wealth of creative advice about the range of new tools available to arts organizations of all sizes, and how to use these tools effectively to serve current and potential audiences.

The chapters on CRM have the most relevance to the work I'm currently doing, and I'm thinking of giving a copy of the book to all of my current clients! But first I owe Gene Carr a shout out for providing me with a jolt of inspiration when I was struggling a few weeks ago with a complex project. I'm going to talk a bit more about outcomes versus to-do lists in a future post, but it was his chapter: "Five CRM Wall-Breakers" that helped me past a roadblock. His first three points are:

  • focus on building patron loyalty (get first time attendees back to another performance),
  • treat every donor as a potential major giver, and
  • use segmentation in marketing and fundraising.

My developer colleague - the amazing Veronica Waters Beck at 907 Pine Consulting - and I had got bogged down in the minutiae of data importing - how were we mapping this account field? - and we were beginning to lose track of the end-result. Reading Gene's summary in this book reminded me to get back to visualizing the questions that my clients wanted to answer about their audience, and making sure that the appropriate data was available for their reports. The Marketing and Annual Fund Managers want to identify:
  • who are their most valuable patrons (ticket buyers or donors, or both)?
  • how far do they travel to attend performances?
  • which types of show do they prefer? (and so on)

After a busy Easter weekend of database restructuring, I'm pleased to say that we delivered a set of new reports that offer our clients the insight into their audience that they'd been hoping for.