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Overcoming the Inherent Challenges of Multi-Country CRM Implementations

Ask any global company and they’ll tell you they rely on their entire organization–from day-to-day back office processing, to sales and marketing, customer service and beyond–to meet the increasing competitive demands of today’s international marketplace. Gone are the days where the headquarters was located in a major city and smaller field offices or a series of agents in foreign countries struggled to forge some level of local presence on behalf of the company. Now, multi-national companies are investing heavily in penetrating local markets by establishing “brick and mortar” facilities, hiring sales and support staff, and offering carefully researched products tailored to the needs of that country’s businesses and consumers.

This “end to end” global equation for success includes a heavy dependence on enterprise applications that enable the business to ensure rapid and accurate information delivery to far-flung operations. These same applications integrate with disparate systems and support a plethora of field-force hardware devices, such as laptops, PDAs, and Tablet PCs.

Customer relationship management (CRM) is one such enterprise application that is necessary to strengthen a company’s interaction with its customers, provide better visibility into sales and marketing performance, and save time and money. Yet, most multi-national companies have experienced more than their share of challenges trying to select and implement one CRM solution across multiple regions and countries. That’s because when it comes to CRM systems, not all products–or vendors, for that matter–are created equal.

Let’s look at an example. When the Web was coming into its own, and every company was looking to take advantage of the new “world” of business opportunities by launching a Web site, one would have thought that English was the native tongue of Planet Earth. Almost every web site was in English and it took some time before companies got wise to the realities (and market potential!) of the non-English speaking business world. Soon after, Web sites were translated into multiple languages, better addressing the multilingual requirements of a visitor whose location you didn’t actually know.

Language barriers are just one critical element to be overcome in a successful multi-country CRM rollout. After all, it stands to reason that a sales representative would be far more productive if he or she didn’t have to translate the data fields on their PC screen before they could enter business-critical data into the CRM system. Cultural hurdles, nuances in employer-employee relationships, and socioeconomic disparities are hard realties that vary significantly from region to region. Finding a CRM solution, from a vendor experienced in multinational issues, is essential to overcoming the inherent challenges.

Multi-national companies know that failing to create multilingual, flexible business processes supported by the appropriate technology applications and infrastructure creates interminable obstacles within their workforces. It’s incumbent upon the vendors serving these multi- national companies to design products and services that will readily adapt to existing workflows and cultures in all parts of the world–taking into consideration the way a country other than where the vendor’s headquarters is located does business!

Every “buyer”–whether business-to-business or business-to- consumer–has certain expectations about their customer experience. Whether located in Singapore or Washington, D.C., customers expect responsiveness, relevant information, and favorable pricing. While some companies have elevated the effectiveness of their sales processes to provide these basics, many still overlook the cultural differences that exist region-to-region and country-to- country.

That’s why a CRM system needs to work the way the organization already works. A vendor must be able to fit its products into the client’s existing processes and infrastructure. Trying to impose a very new workflow across an entire multi-national is neither cost effective nor time efficient. When a new CRM system is implemented, the last thing a company needs or wants is business disruption and a reduction in productivity due to incessant training, or, worse yet, lack of user adoption because it was “easier” to do it the old way.

Other than language, existing processes, and cultural gaps, there are other concerns to be addressed. For example, in Asia Pacific, there are enormous disparities from country to country in terms of economic “norms” and communications infrastructure. For example, in Korea, the sales representatives might all have laptops. Yet, in Indonesia, the price of a laptop equals half a year’s salary so the sales staff might be using paper-based processes instead of entering information directly into the CRM system–that role is reserved for one or two people in their office. Broadband is available in the Philippines, yet nonexistent in Viet Nam. Therefore, it’s vital that a CRM vendor be able to configure its solution to work the way a country’s business world operates, rather than to make assumptions that render the system impractical for the users it was intended.

In fact, a CRM system designed especially for multi-country rollouts has benefits beyond the system itself. Multilingual CRM software goes a long way towards not only saving money but also to building better employee communication and training processes. Employees are far more productive and “engaged” with their employer when they are being trained on a system that presents all their information in their native language. Moreover, they are far more likely to put the new procedures in place when they understand the totality of the system’s benefits. Additionally, there is no need to hire employees who only speak English to work on the system. No costly interpreters are needed to ensure a productive sales force.

The bottom line is what works in one country will likely not work – for many reasons both social and financial–in another. If you want improved communication, increased accuracy, productivity and efficiency, remember that one CRM system doesn’t fit all. Implementing a solution that is flexible, adaptable and cross-cultural will maximize efficiency and productivity and increase return on investment. Essential for business success–in any location and language!

Sam Barclay is vice president of business development for StayinFront Inc., located in Fairfield, N.J. (

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