Be a Customer Champion: Manage Customer Integration Projects With the Champion Model
Chuck Romans, Senior Consultant to MDR — Friday, September 09, 2011
Few business executives would argue that one of the most important assets of any company is its customer database. This is especially true in the highly competitive educational marketplace where many education marketers are either planning to migrate to a new customer information platform or are in the process of implementation. These new systems include sales force automation systems, email platforms, or complete customer relationship management systems.
Managing the development and implementation of a complete new system or upgrade is complex and requires resources for selecting, designing, and implementing these systems. Successful implementation of these projects begins with establishing clear leadership roles and responsibilities comprised of key stakeholders within the organization—sales, sales support, marketing, product, finance, technology, and senior managers—all of whom are users of customer information systems. Involvement, input, and participation from these units are critical to a successful outcome for all parties.
What is the best way to manage all of the needs of the various stakeholders whose priorities frequently conflict? My advice is to go with a team approach that incorporates expertise from all of the functional areas. One effective solution is to use the “Champion Model,” which is comprised of a few key roles. The roles are an Executive Sponsor, a Champion, and a few Operating Owners. When effectively implemented, these distinct roles can bring can bring a project in on time and on budget. The major responsibilities for each role include:
- Executive Sponsor: This role can be an individual or a few individuals who set the overall goals, establish the timeline, and empower the Champion and Operating Owners. This function is often filled by a senior manager to a few senior managers with a direct interest in a successful implementation.
- Champion: This is the most important role that will ultimately determine how successful the project will be viewed. The Champion reports to the Executive Sponsor, whose primary responsibility is to coordinate all the plans and activity generated by the Operating Owners. This person does not necessarily have to be the chief technology leader or expert and arguably should not be in most cases. Ideally, the Champion would have a vested interest in all aspects of the organization and should fully understand all critical business needs. In addition, the Champion must have good organizational, interpersonal, and communication skills. The Champion could be from an outside source, but the position usually works better if it is staffed internally.
- Operating Owners: These are the experts from the different functional areas of the company. Usually Operating Owners are from marketing, product, sales/sales support, technology, and finance. Operating Owners need to be content area experts but do not necessarily have to be the leaders of the group. For example, the marketing expert is responsible to know the various customer information sources, how the information is gathered, and be able to convey marketing’s key requirements. Operating Owners create the plan for tier areas of responsibility and report the status of the major milestones to the Champion.
The planning process can begin in earnest once the roles are filled and the Executive Sponsor has kicked off the process by communicating the overarching goals and timelines. The Champion becomes the key in establishing the project, reporting requirements and the workflow that each Operating Owner will use to manage the project. The Champion will typically follow these general steps initially:
- The Champion will work closely with each Operating Owner and perhaps some team members to set workflow and the appropriate detail level of the reporting process. It is a very collaborative process that establishes the major milestones and tasks and highlights known dependencies for each functional unit that has an Operating Owner.
- They will establish a standardized reporting tool and process so that each Operating Owner’s status report can easily be read and compared. This is a critical step, so the issues become apparent quickly and the team can work to resolve them. The tool can be something as sophisticated as Microsoft Project or can be done in Excel. The report must highlight the status of each milestone so that everyone on the team can quickly recognize the trouble areas. In addition, the reporting timetable will be set so the Champion will have the information to distribute when required.
- Also the Champion will schedule the frequency of meetings where the Champion and Operating Owners meet to review status. Initially it may be as frequent as three times a week, and if progress dictates, it could be reduced to twice or even once a week. Prior to each meeting, the Champion will distribute a status report that combines all of the Operating Owners’ reports with an overall assessment so the meetings can be focused only on the areas that need to be discussed and addressed.
- The Executive Sponsor is generally updated once or twice a week and also assists the Champion on issues that the Champion feels cannot be resolved among the team. However, that should be a rare occurrence if the project has clear objectives from the onset.
Understanding the overall priorities and the organizational goals includes having a detailed grasp of the budget and how costs will be shared among the users. For an effective implementation, the budget needs to be properly funded. The Champion works with finance to be sure the system accommodates the needs of the finance group, as well as ensuring that the project costs are under control and on plan.
The Champion needs to harness the power of the collective knowledge of the team. By providing the right leadership, the Champion of the team effort will maximize the results and deliver on time. When developing a new or enhanced sales and marketing system, it is important to remember that a strategy has to be communicated to all parties with a vested interest. The single most critical element of success is the team running the development and implementation of the system.
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Chuck has over 25 years of database marketing experience in the education marketplace and was MDR’s Vice President of Product Development, responsible for planning and development of MDR’s comprehensive product suite, including list solutions, e-marketing solutions, and sales solutions until his retirement in May 2011. He continues to work with MDR customers in a consultant role. Chuck has launched many innovative and leading-edge products—Education MarketView; Buyers at School response files; the Educators at Home database; and industry-leading analytical products, including development of sophisticated predictive indicators using database mining and modeling techniques. Chuck’s experience in customer database management has proved valuable in assisting many education marketers in leveraging their customer information to develop marketing strategies for increased profitability.
Prior to joining MDR, Chuck managed direct marketing initiatives at McGraw-Hill’s American School Publishers; the Random House School Division; and Educational Dimensions Group, a leading instructional video publisher.