Implementing a CRM – A Corporate Right of Passage

by: Kurt Weber (VP of Sales, North America)

Most young companies start off managing their customer interactions with Microsoft Outlook (or similar) as a contact database, a spreadsheet to track opportunities and revenue, plus document templates for quotations and correspondences.  Over time, they realize that this is not a scalable solution and that some form of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is needed.

It is easy to become bewildered by the slick features in the many modern CRMs available today.  Here are some pointers based on my experience that will help you make the right choice:

Document Your Objectives.  Your CRM has to match your business goals so document the expectations of the key executive stakeholders.  This include how Sales, Marketing, Customer Service and Finance plan to use the data, along with the executive team’s requirements for reports and dashboards.

Interview The Users.  If the system is not a good match for their workflow, or is clunky and unwieldy, it just won’t be used.  Reports should be easy to create and display and the user interface should be easy to navigate.  The CRM needs to help your users do their job, not be more administrative effort! 

Develop A Requirements List.  Based on your departmental and user interviews, separate the “Must Haves” from the “Nice to Haves”.  Your priority needs for the next several years can perhaps be met with a less expensive configuration than offered by the sophisticated enterprise-grade systems on the market.

Some specific requirements you should consider before approaching vendors include:

  • Hosted on-site or in the Cloud (SaaS) – Security and ease of customization and integration with other tools is the argument for hosting the CRM on local servers.  Moving to the Cloud provides the most flexibility on access and mobility with less reliance on your own IT hardware and staff.
  • Porting of data – when moving from spreadsheets or a legacy CRM, verify that the tools and support are available from the vendor to maintain your current data.
  • Hierarchy and security needs – Do you need to control access to information? You may have a very open organization now, but will that be true in the future?  Multiple sales teams addressing different products or markets may require data access to be segmented in the CRM system.
  • Integration into other IT tools – The CRM can become a lynchpin tool for many departments that touch the customer.  Ensure that the hooks and features are available to support different departmental functions and to integrate with their current automation systems.

Develop a Shortlist of Solutions.  Besides the technical features and pricing of the product, pay attention to the ongoing support available from vendors.  Will they be around in 5 years?  Can they assist with integration?  Do they understand your type of business? Prepare an ROI analysis for each short-list alternative. 

If your IT department has not been involved from the start, get them engaged now.  You’ll likely need their budget and expertise to support the implementation.

Plan For Challenges.  Besides the technical challenges of configuration and data porting, anticipate resistance from certain users.  Some ways to increase the acceptance of the new CRM are:

  • Schedule multiple training sessions well in advance to ensure good attendance.  Post PowerPoint and WebEx recordings of the training as reference material and for those who cannot attend.
  • Find a CRM champion within the user community – the “go-to” power user that will provide encouragement and ensure questions/concerns get addressed quickly.
  • Think of creative ways to motivate users to adopt the tool as part of their daily work.  Regularly publish a usage dashboard – nobody wants to be at the bottom of that list!
  • Ensure that the leadership team learns and uses the CRM on a daily basis themselves – nothing will do more to accelerate the adoption of the tool into your company’s culture.

The larger the organization and the more ingrained current workflows, the more effort will be required to implement a CRM.  However, it is a corporate “right of passage” that is definitely worth the effort!  Once in place, a quality CRM that is properly used will provide your company with fresh insights into customer status, more reliable forecasting and an improved ability to convert opportunities into revenues.

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