Step 11: Customer relationship management

Customer relationship management (CRM) is the process that companies use to optimize client communication and ensure client satisfaction.

The following subsections describe ten key CRM activities and guidelines.

A. Know your stakeholders

B. Understand your contract

C. Be careful what your promise

D. Manage expectations

E. Don’t let your scope creep

F. Don’t take things for granted

G. Don’t surprise your client

H. Be proactive / offer solutions

I.  CRM guidelines

J. Grow your contract

A. Know your stakeholders

It’s hard to overstate the importance of relationships to the successful management of a project. It is critical that you identify the key individuals who are project decision makers or influencers. These individuals are not always readily apparent. For instance, many IT projects are actually funded by a client’s operational unit whose buy-in is needed both in the requirements phase and to obtain delivery acceptance.

In addition, internal your company support organizations play a critical role in ensuring your success. Your efforts to effectively communicate with them in a timely and responsive manner will pay huge dividends.

A stakeholder analysis matrix can be used to assess how much and what kind of attention you should pay to various stakeholders. More complicated programs with numerous stakeholders with conflicting interests can be further analyzed using an influence map, a diagram that shows the relationships between every key player.

B. Understand your contract

You should know your contract backwards and forwards. This is the only way to ensure that you deliver everything your company is contractually obligated to provide while you avoid doing work that is outside the scope of the contract.  Some of the key elements of your contract are:

  • “Shall” statements (what your Company must do)
  • Specific deliverables and special requirements
  • Tasks that are required to reach client’s stated goals
  • Ancillary tasks (acquiring special equipment; hiring specialists; training)
  • Reporting and communicating tasks to the customer and key Your company personnel
  • Refer to the project initiation and kick-off, Section II, of this Guide for additional information

C. Be careful what your promise

Almost all of our contracts have a defined scope of work. Your responsibility as a PM isn’t to deliver everything your clients want regardless of cost and schedule impact. That is why it is important to make sure you and your client have a clear understanding and agreement regarding what is in and out scope to the contract. This is clearly one of your biggest challenges.

D. Manage expectations

One way to make sure you can manage your client’s expectations is to confirm every agreement in writing.  This is the only way to minimize misunderstandings.

E. Don’t let your scope creep

While you should do your best to provide outstanding service and solutions, you shouldn’t strive for perfection. Rather, you should do your very best to fulfill the contract requirements in accordance with established company quality processes and procedures.

Scope creep is a common occurrence on IT projects and is perhaps the number one cause of cost overruns, schedule delays and poor customer relations. It is important that you bring any potential contract scope expansion to the attention of your client and, coordinating through your Contracts Administrator, process the necessary change proposal to accommodate additional contract requirements before initiating new work.

F. Don’t take things for granted

PMs can’t take things for granted. Too many things can go wrong without constant attention and oversight. Your client is assuming you will stay on top of the status of your project. This means regular status meetings and reports as well as the maintenance of the risk register discussed in the risk management section. Don’t assume that everything is on track just because no one has come to you with problems.

You should also coordinate with internal your company Information Services group regarding any changes in your project IT support needs.

G. Don’t surprise your client

No client or a company senior manager or contracts manager likes to be surprised with bad news. A key component of CRM is to identify and communicate potential project risks to your client before they become more serious issues. In other words, don’t wait until the day before a deliverable is due to tell your client you are going to miss the deadline. Instead, bring them a solution along with the problem. Being proactive means developing a work around plan to any project problem before it is too late and then getting approval from your client. This is an important component of managing client relations.

H. Be proactive/offer solutions

No one – your supervisor or your client – wants to just be handed a problem. Part of the key to being a successful PM is to research and present a solution or a set of alternatives. In more complex cases, the appropriate problem reporting communication includes giving your client a schedule of when you will complete the data gathering and analysis necessary to identify the optimum solution. In other words – be proactive. For further guidance on dealing with problems, see Section III – G, Issues Management.

I. CRM guidelines

Here are some guidance as to how to deal with some of the more common CRM challenges.

  • You and your supervisor should establish a rapport with the key client stakeholders. This means visiting your client on a regular basis and your supervisor visiting the next level client management on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to seek feedback on project performance and to help the client identify new opportunities for your company support.
  • Also, make sure to conduct thorough kick-off meetings both internal and then with your customer.
  • Establish and document project objectives in your PM Plan.
  • Make sure your client buys into your technical approach.
  • Don’t let your PM Plan gather dust. Instead refer to it on a regular basis.
  • Measure your project progress against the plan and modify it where necessary to reflect project baseline changes.
  • Establish a collaborative win-win partnership with your client.
  • Help your client understand that your company is a services and solutions delivery company as opposed to a personal services company.
  • You deliver high quality services and products and, for instance, want to avoid your client managing your staff’s timecards and sending your staff on personal errands.
  • Help your client focus on contract deliverables and milestones instead.
  • Understand your client’s success criteria and establish corresponding project success measures (like a balanced scorecard).
  • You and your client should know what constitutes success. If you don’t, you’ll never be done! This is especially important on fixed price tasks.
  • Try to set expectations that you can meet or exceed.
  • Read your contract – especially the statement of work and refer back to it before agreeing to additional tasking.
  • You are responsible for controlling the scope of work and changes to it! Ignore the contract at your peril.
  • Regularly review with your stakeholders the project technical, cost and schedule status compared to client expectations.
  • Actively seek client feedback regarding what is going well and not well. Also, listen to your teammates regarding project status and concerns. You can’t fix it if you don’t know about it.
  • The problem you ignore or refuse to hear will often surface later to torpedo your project.
  • Communicate workarounds or assumptions to your client in writing.
  • You need to be willing to say no to your client:
  • When something the client wants is out of scope
  • When a request is unreasonable or unethical
  • When something is not in their best interest, you can say, “Our experience has shown us that…”
  • When you must say no, try to offer a more attractive alternative to solve client’s problem
  • When all else fails…talk to your manager!
  • The truth is easier to remember a month later than the lie you told yesterday!
  • Don’t always give the client everything they ask for or want. This will require you to build a strong rapport and mutual trust.
  • Document disagreements, especially regarding financial and accounting issues. Alert upper management promptly to any unresolved issues or client dissatisfaction.
  • The quality of your relationship with your client can be an excellent barometer of the status of your project. Make sure not to avoid your client. Even bad news needs to be communicated in a timely manner to avoid doing serious damage to your credibility and relationship.

To get your project out of trouble:

  • Meet with your clients to understand their concerns – this means really listen to what they have to say.
  • Bring a director or VP to show commitment or when you have to deliver bad news (like you can’t spend more of your company money on fixing a problem that isn’t your company’s fault).
  • When necessary, work with your client to re-define project closure. Make sure to include your contract administrator in this process and then make sure any baseline changes are documented.

Every company employee is expected to behave in an ethical manner. There is absolutely no exception to this. If in doubt, seek guidance. If you are uncertain about your client’s business practices, talk to your Contracts Administrator or upper management.

J. Grow your contract

Once you have successfully kicked off your project, you should be on the lookout for additional tasking both with your existing client and other key client managers. You should also look for opportunities to introduce other Your company capabilities and solutions to your client.

The other major business development activity every PM needs to be aware of is the need to perform early re-compete capture activities. Of course, maintaining customer satisfaction is a major element of winning a re-compete. But, waiting until the last minute to prepare and execute a capture plan is a recipe for disaster.

At least several months before your contract is to be re-competed, you should define and implement the winning capture strategy.  Be a champion for necessary capture and proposal resources.  Understand the client’s needs and biases.  For instance, is someone in the client’s organization or a small business contractor pushing to have your work set-aside for small business competition? And, if so, can you or a company representative make a convincing argument why this acquisition change would jeopardize contract performance? As the PM, it is your responsibility to keep the business unit focused on the capture of your re-compete.

Every re-compete should have some level of capture plan. This plan should include:

  • Acquisition strategy
  • Competitive analysis
  • Project improvement actions
  • Positioning
  • Customer requirements changes
  • Design to cost
  • Teaming/subcontract changes
  • Pricing strategy including Price to Win

This process is described in detail in the Academy Business Development & Capture Management section. In general, it involves understanding the client’s acquisition strategy, the potential competition including who is teaming together, their strengths and weaknesses. Also, as the incumbent, how can we correct any of our weaknesses prior to the acquisition process start?  Depending on the size and complexity of a project, the capture manager for your re-compete might be the current PM, an assigned capture manager or a company executive.

Every re-compete should follow your company’s bid decision process in accordance with the lead tracking system. In addition, you should consider the following questions:

  • Do we want to continue to perform this work?
  • Has it been profitable?
  • Is the work doable? Is the customer too difficult to work with?
  • Does the client want us to win again (are they satisfied with our support)?
  • Does it take too much management attention to oversee the project for the realized revenue and profit?
  • If a very small task, does it have sufficient expansion potential to justify bidding again or would we better off subcontracting or handing off the work to a small business partner?

Some key recompete capture positioning questions you should consider are:

  • Is it time to replace any key staff (does the client like them)?
  • Do you still have the right subcontractors?
  • Are there any weaknesses that need to be corrected?
  • Can you make these changes prior to the proposal period?
  • What are the key themes and discriminators?

Too often, PMs assume because the client is satisfied with their performance, that they will give the company high proposal scores. However, this assumes these key clients are on the proposal evaluation team. This is not always the case. Make sure you describe the features and benefits of your technical approach even if the client knows this already. Give them the information they need to be able to score your company highly in the proposal evaluation.

Describe your management approach including staffing, organization and task management. Include a management risk assessment and mitigation discussion to demonstrate your understanding of the job.

Regarding pricing, consider whether you need to be more aggressive in the pricing of the offer. Sometimes this means replacing some personnel and hiring more junior staff (except for key personnel the client loves). Don’t just assume the client will pay a premium to keep you around. Also, do you know what this $ delta is? In other words, avoid drinking your own bath water! Complacent contractors rarely win new business.

– Mike Lisagor

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