Take a pack of conservative, top-performing alpha sales reps and introduce them to new technology that lets them share client information, and you have a recipe for disaster. That is, unless you take a slow and cautious approach.
That was the thinking at Mellon Financial about 18 months ago when we embarked on a multiyear journey to transform our sales culture into one that's cross-functional and information-sharing.
The potential benefits were clear: We could strengthen our customer relationships and improve sales opportunities to create new business. But the path was full of challenges.
Like other financial-services companies, Mellon has had tremendous success building market share by selling and servicing each financial product, from cash management to sophisticated financial instruments such as derivatives, individually by line-of-business silo. With $592 billion in assets under management, Mellon is among the top 10 sellers in all of our major business lines. The hardest thing to change is something successful.
We needed to integrate and synthesize customer-relationship data across multiple lines of business without threatening the quality of service in each line-of-business silo, or the 1,500 Mellon Financial experts who sell the products and deliver that service.
We envisioned a three-to five-year project with a substantial investment in application development and other costs. We had to know early on that we were on the right track in building the tools that would change the way we did business, grow that business, and ultimately repay our investment with a healthier bottom line.
We needed a plan to aggregate the necessary data into our DB2 database so we could mine it with our Business Objects query tool. The data was scattered across vastly different systems: Oracle, DB2, ancient dinosaur systems, technology-du-jour systems that had sprung up over the years, and paper reports.
We also needed new, easy-to-use applications to deliver useful data to our sales managers so they could better prepare to serve their most discriminating clients.
Finally, we needed new sales and service processes that would encourage and enable true team playing by traditional lone rangers.
The plan was to proceed incrementally. Our target audience at Mellon was a specialized, expert, and highly compensated cadre of salespeople who might feel that their very way of life was being threatened.
The group of roughly 60 people whom we chose was very different from a group of salespeople at a call center, or a group you'd gather when implementing a CRM strategy in a consumer products or services company. We call our salespeople relationship managers because of the extremely customized and personalized nature of their work. So when we talk about changing information tools and the implicit next step-changing sales processes-there's an 800-pound gorilla named "Compensation" standing on the table.
We decided to work with two kinds of managers: unconventional but highly successful newcomers to the field; and, even more important, the established innovators with stellar track records. The core question was simple: "What information do you need to do your job with excellence at every stage of the sales process?" Gathering this information took only a month, but it took another four months to map it against our legacy systems and to identify gaps between what we had and what we needed.
We learned that all Mellon salespeople needed the same two pieces of information: a complete picture of the total Mellon relationship with any given client, and a list of who has been calling on the client. These surpassed all other requests.
In June 2001, it was time to road-test the new information resource throughout the corporation with a prototype database that provided an enterprisewide view of customer relationships and a powerful Business Objects query tool to mine that database. We had to show that two fundamentally simple informational tools could provide richer data, yield better sales calls, and cut sales cycles.
In a six-month pilot, we let relationship managers think about and use the tools. Then we encouraged them to be truthful about the usefulness of what we had provided.
The Business Objects-based query tool immediately offered proof of concept by providing a useful marketing and analytic platform. It allows queries of customer-information data sets and helps generate best-customer analysis, marketing analysis, sales lists, territory analysis, and what-if scenarios.
The next phase of Mellon's beta program, slated to start this quarter, will explore ways to revamp our contact-management processes to capture the unstructured data of customer relationships. While some facts exist in IT systems designed for contact-management or sales-force automation, we'll also explore paper-file scanning to capture data in the masses of paperwork that are still the legacy of corporate America.
We've been steadfast in not jollying our users with altruistic tales of IT solutions, careful not to go into much detail describing how the underlying technology works. Considering the credibility gap always present between field forces and technologists, we keep explanations simple and roll out applications that leverage customer relations in a proven way, one file drawer at a time.
KRISTINE REED is senior VP of customer information management in the E-commerce unit at Mellon Financial.