Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a seemingly straight forward concept around taking care of your customer . Given the evolution of service management best practices and big data , today’s CRM systems are anything but simple, providing a vast range of services, platforms and techniques.  Adding to the complexity are newer technologies to consider that are continually being added such as Big Data with Social Media Integration and Predictive Analytics using Machine Learning.

Fortunately, the work of implementing a CRM solution is not unlike many other projects and the same success factors apply: clear goals, clear understanding of what’s required, a smart path to get there, support by the right resources, and a keen appreciation of the information used. There are, however, a few twists that should be taken into account when implementing CRM.

  • What are the CRM goals to consider?
  • Requirements that will ultimately decide the level of customization vs. out-of-the box implementation.
  • A Plan that allows for a phased approach.
  • What are the internal and external resources available for support?
  • And of course, don’t forget the data!

Defining the Goals

Like any project, start with defining the goals. As CRM can focus on Sales, Marketing, Management, and Customer Service there is a need to identify where exactly the focus will be. Maybe the goal is first and foremost to sell more? Perhaps it’s to create a consistent, well managed sales processes across the organization? Or enable your marketing department to perform targeted campaigns?  Perhaps all of these in varying degrees.

Another area to focus is CRMs fit within the enterprise and what systems will it integrate into or directly communicate with. Will it pull data from legacy sources to present a single view of the customer? Will sold business trigger commission payments and financials? Once you identify your goals a key next step is to tackle adoption. Will using the new system be required or recommended?

Level of Customization

Many of today’s CRM solutions are highly configurable but how much customization is truly needed and at what cost? A lighter touch, leveraging the vanilla out-of-the-box functionality will help lower costs and reduce the time to go live. But the vanilla approach could leave you with a system that, while aligned to general best processes, is not aligned to your specific needs. A highly customized user experience supports streamlined data entry and helps with adoption, but can be costly in terms of development, testing, and ongoing support. Also, the more you specialize, the more you might be painting yourself into a corner as future needs arise that require either a Band-Aid work around or expensive re-architecting. If you find yourself going the custom route an experienced administrator is invaluable in helping to navigate the pros/cons of implementation, and with multiple paths to a solution, ensure that you use the right approach to your goals.

A Phased Approach

Big bang implementations typically struggle to be successful, instead try for a phased approach. Look for opportunities to bring a division, product line, or other segmented book of work on the system. Try to address an area that covers most of what is needed. Follow the 80/20 rule, the pilot group should include 80% of overall needed functionality but not be bogged down in edge cases. A primary business line is usually a great contender but not a smaller exception product line.

Available Resources 

If needing resource support outside your organization, choose the right partners, sometimes this means starting with strategy consulting, leveraging management consulting, and driving with technical consulting. Some organizations churn through many suppliers striving to find a mix that delivers the whole. A strategy consulting firm excels at drawing the big picture direction but may struggle with tactical implementation. A large outsource provider might excel at tactical deliver but need management and leadership direction. The right internal partners are also key. Of course you’re looking for Champions. Someone who will get it done, be in the trenches, and do what it takes to make the implementation successful.

The Data

Information is key so don’t forget about the data. How will you provide a cohesive company-wide view that supports drill down by business unit and product. Consider that different users will have different needs from the salesman to the CEO.

Many CRM implementations perform some level of data migration and typically from more than one source including legacy CRM solutions, Excel spreadsheets, even handwritten paper. When importing the data, consider the level of validation required. Will you quickly bring in anything? Will there be agreement on what each piece of data needs and what is required before being loaded? You can look back to the goals for guidance, if it’s supporting sales and collaboration, loading everything might be a valid approach. If the goal is consistent management and reporting across the enterprise then you likely need to ensure you have a gold standard.

CRM systems are flexible with a broad range of features that you can quickly dive into and adapt, but success is often achieved through charting your strategic course led by clear goals and implemented by a sound plan.

Jonathan Licis

About Jonathan Licis