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The CRM List—Top 10 Steps to CRM Success

Near the turn of the century, CRM software solidified a bad reputation when Gartner reported that 50 to 70 percent of CRM software deployments failed. A decade later in 2009, Forrester reported a 47 percent failure rate among CRM implementations. Not much progress for a decade of CRM reviews, supposed learning and increasing software stability. Dig deeper, though, and you discover a minority of risks contribute to the majority of CRM software failures. Mitigate these causes, and your CRM software deployment and success rate jumps considerably.

  1. Plan for the long term, but implement in phases—Among successful CRM implementations, there is near uniform consistency that the most successful adopters planned long-term CRM solutions but phased their deployments into small and manageable phases which delivered incremental benefits over time. Most organizations struggle with the amount of change that accompanies a new CRM application as invariably business processes and employee culture must evolve in parallel to the new software technology. Phasing the deployment by software module, business unit, or geographic location enables the CRM implementation team to better focus and manage the challenges that are sure to occur. The key to a successful multi-phased implementation is to thoroughly understand the big picture and to link the design and configuration choices of each phase to the long term strategy. Once you have selected a CRM system, begin your planning by thinking about how to phase the roll-out in order to deliver the greatest value early and gain progressive momentum over a longer haul.

  2. Lock in your executive sponsor—Enterprise software deployments, especially CRM software deployments, require an active and visible executive leader; not a figurehead but a leader who enthusiastically promotes the business strategy and supporting CRM software and forcefully advocates its use across the business. Your executive champion should be a senior executive who can be counted on to commit top resources and garner widespread support from the executive ranks to operational management to the user communities. Without active, visible and vocal executive sponsorship, your CRM deployment may easily flounder or lose steam after the project gets started. CRM projects can be long, and they often exceed original timeframe estimates. A strong executive sponsor is your backstop to keep the momentum and achieve sustained success.

  3. Organize an A-List project team—There are few things more important than making sure your best people are accountable and incented for a successful CRM implementation. CRM provides the governance for all customer facing activities and injects a degree of process discipline on sales, marketing, and service so that customer facing processes occur with consistency and predictability. If the CRM strategy and supporting application software is the front line for customer acquisition and retention, it justifies the design and engineering from your most talented staff. And make no mistake, more often than not you don't want the staff that have the availability, you want the staff that are not available. There's a reason your best staff are unavailable. While there's a necessary role for IT participation, executive sponsorship should come from the business side and the design team should be loaded with business people. Seek out those staff who think systemically and understand the need for processes. The sales person who hits quota every year largely based on the depth of his client relationships may not be somebody who will see the need for CRM and process discipline, and therefore may not be the best person for the project team. However, that is not to say you should circumvent this person. Instead recognize his success and use him in a leveraged model where you get his input on the practices that make him effective and embed those techniques for the benefit of others. Remember, there is clear irony in that the people you need on the project team are the same people that have the least amount of time for the project.

  4. Enlist early and broad involvement—Employees across many departments, including marketing, service, sales, support and business development, will likely use the CRM software solution. And each line of business will have its own preferences, requirements and culture that will morph into a unique set of software expectations. It's imperative that all lines of business are proactively engaged and well-represented during the software selection phase. Recognize that nobody knows what sales management wants more than the sales manager or vice president of sales. The same holds true for marketing, customer service, IT and other customer facing roles at both the managerial level and the user level. Without these key participants input, your organization may inadvertently ignore necessary capabilities needed in the CRM system, fail to purchase the best fit application, and thereby put the implementation into a perpetual uphill climb. It is also not uncommon that when implementation time arrives, if staff feel snubbed or excluded from the software selection process, they can make the deployment project very challenging and cause delays. And even when they are engaged, if users don't see clear and measurable benefits, they can and often will put up barriers and avoid the CRM system to the maximum extent.

  5. Closely map the CRM technology to the business strategy—CRM strategy and supporting software can deliver a synergistic combination to achieve strategic objectives, tactical goals and improved customer facing business processes. But for sustained success with maximum payback, a CRM effort must first focus on, and be directly linked with the organization's most strategic imperatives. These top objectives may include top line revenues, market share, customer share, customer retention or anything else. It doesn't matter so much what they are just that the CRM strategy and CRM software directly aid their accomplishment. CRM must be an enterprise-wide effort that begins with customer strategies which are then automated with CRM software. You can't just concentrate on the technology and ignore the rest. The technology is an enabler, not the be-all or end-all.

  6. Allow for change—New business systems supporting new strategies must allow for change. Too many software deployments mimic how things have been done in the past, and not how they can best be done going forward. The most successful CRM implementations include the improvement or re-engineering of business processes which are then integrated with the CRM software in order to make them efficient, consistent, predictable and timely. New customer strategies, business process improvements and supporting software implementation require a willingness to change any aspect of the way your business engages its customers.

  7. Plan for system integration—CRM software doesn't live in a vacuum. To achieve business process automation that extends beyond the customer facing processes, and to achieve a 360 degree customer view which includes data in accounting systems, ERP systems and other legacy systems, CRM software must integrate and share data with other applications. System integration is an implementation success factor when planning and deploying a new CRM system. It's imperative to make sure that all business applications which share business processes, customer data or transaction data can be seamlessly integrated, that data is not siloed or isolated, and that data is automatically updated simultaneously across apps. For these reasons, it can often make sense to standardize on a single CRM application rather than deal with multiple systems from different vendors.

  8. Anticipate and prepare for user adoption challenges—Getting sales people and other employees to adopt CRM software can be accomplished with a three-fold approach. First, you must give them a usable system that helps them accomplish those tasks for which they are held accountable. The new system must meet their business needs and aid them with tangible productivity and access to information. Second, listen to the employees during the implementation and fine-tune the CRM software to meet their real needs. This may require system integration or software customization, but may be vital in actually delivering a productive application. Third, get user buy-in by selling the benefits to the staff early and often. You cannot just rely on the staff to discover the advantages and benefits the CRM system will offer any more than you can expect customers to discover the advantages of your products. Successful software adoption is accomplished with a guided, comprehensive effort to proactively show the staff the most helpful benefits.

  9. Whatever your CRM software training budget is, increase it—Most deployments skimp on user training. There's a tendency to treat staff training as an afterthought or assume that a few hours of training which demonstrates to staff which keys to press is sufficient. It's not. The key to software fluency is thorough training on all material aspects of the system that staff will use. This goes well beyond a couple of hours showing what data goes in which fields on a screen. The goal is understanding and comprehension, not just rote actions. Employees should not only understand how to use the new application, they should also understand the anticipated benefits and how their participation fits in with the rest of the business. This is important for their comprehension as well as to understand why they are being asked to enter the data the system calls for. It can also help in reducing incorrect or incomplete data being entered into the application. Extensive training builds familiarity with the application and confidence for the staff. That not only makes employees more productive in the first instance, it also encourages them to develop their own routines and shortcuts. By sharing these user-developed techniques you can improve user adoption across the board and make your business more productive.

  10. Calculate your ROI—As the old adage quite wisely says, "What gets measured gets done". Immediately after your implementation go-live event, begin measuring your Return on Investment. To do this effectively, the business should have assigned resources and identified methodologies to measure quantifiable benchmarks, periodic progress with milestones and ROI. Previously measured baseline metrics should also have been recorded to set the baseline, show payback and allow future trending. ROI calculations should be done on a periodic basis, often quarterly, in order to understand what is working, what is not working and quickly implement course corrections where necessary in order to maximize software technology payback.

And as a bonus, here's two more for good measure.

  1. Don't forget the "C" in CRM stands for customer—All too many well-intentioned customer relationship management deployments focus on internal goals and processes and fail to serve the most important stakeholder—the customer. Executive sponsors and project team managers need to drive an outside-in focus into their CRM strategies and deployments by understanding and then defining the desired customer experience. They must understand the customers' behaviors and needs, and focus on building a customer-centric culture rather than data, transactions and systems.

  2. Try it before you buy it—Many times CRM application vendors are guilty of over-hyping their products, over-promising the capabilities and dodging weaknesses that can come back to challenge customers. Experiencing the CRM software in action is the best method to verify top requirements can be met. Almost all CRM software vendors will permit a trial or pilot system in advance of a purchase.

 

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