CRM system implementation isn't easy - but the rewards are large

CRM system implementation isn’t easy – but the rewards are large

Customer Relationship Management.  So much potential, so much promise.  But the reality is so often a very long way from the vision.  Sure the rewards downstream can be enormous, but implementing CRM is not for the faint-hearted.  

Be clear about the objectives of the CRM system

This sounds obvious, but it’s a step many people skip over thinking the objectives are clear.  But the objectives need defining, and a value associating with them.

How else can you be sure there is a shared vision throughout the organisation for what the CRM will do?  And how else can you justify financial expenditure, unless the projected financial benefits are understood?  And how can you know whether or not you’ve succeeded, without clear objectives?

Visible executive level support

For a CRM implementation to succeed, there needs to be clear support from the top.  As a marketing, sales or IT initiative, it won’t get the co-operation it needs from across the business.  Alternatively, when the CEO says this is the future and they start using the CRM personally, then adoption becomes fast and real.

Be clear who owns the project

A CRM system implementation touches IT, sales, marketing and probably other functions in the business.  As such, often there isn’t a clear owner of the implementation project.

I’ve seen a case where the project was owned by finance.  It was a disaster because all they cared about was getting an accurate business forecast, so the way the system was implemented had so many dependencies to force sales to forecast, that it became unusable.

In another case the project was owned by IT.  It was a disaster because they implemented every possible feature from day one.  It looked way too complex to the salespeople who were supposed to use it, so they ignored it.

In a third case, the project was owned by sales.  That was a disaster because they used it as a simple contact database only, so nothing like the full potential was achieved.

The best answer is leadership by a project team or board, led by representation from sales, IT and operations/finance.

Be clear about who will use the CRM, and for what?

The big danger in many CRM implementations is the CRM system ends up being an island used only by the marketing and sales functions, while the rest of the business uses something else.  That isn’t a good outcome because it results in data duplication in multiple systems, and possible overlaps or gaps between systems where error and confusion can creep in.

Yes it adds an enormous layer of complexity, but the CRM should be tightly integrated with the back office systems it works alongside, with particular reference to one underlying dataset.

Be clear about your sales process

If you try to implement a CRM system without a clear picture of the sales process the organisation uses, you have no map to guide the implementation, and so it won’t end up taking you where you want to go.  Not a good outcome…

And when thinking about the sales process, don’t just think about the ‘yes’ branches in the process, think about the ‘no’ branches too.  Just because somebody stops being an opportunity today, doesn’t mean they can’t be rekindled as an opportunity tomorrow.  And your CRM system should be a key tool to help you do that.

Bring together all existing data sources

Every organisation has its relationships with customers and prospects, old and new, often in many places, some official and recognised, some not so.  Existing mailing lists, customer lists in administration systems, boxes of business cards; these are all productive sources of raw contact data that should be consolidated and de-duplicated before uploading to the CRM system.

Clearly this brings up questions of data security – both from external and internal factors.  Sure external hacking is a factor, but so too are employees with agendas other than the organisation’s.  For example, salespeople departing the organisation for any reason may try to take data with them.

Baby steps

One of the issues with CRM is the CRM vendors themselves.  They bang on about the endless promise of CRM, but forget to mention the time and cost implicit in achieving the dreams they describe.

That time and cost has implications for implementation, because unless expectations are carefully managed, disappointment will set in long before any sort of benefit is achieved.

The solution is to set out a path of baby steps leading from today’s reality to the ultimate objective.  As each step is completed, the project moves on to the next.  The project’s current status and next actions then need to be communicated amongst everybody touched by the system to ensure expectations stay in line.

And a particular note to the organisation’s CEO.  I know you’ve just signed a large check for your CRM system, but expecting instant results without a huge amount of implementation work just isn’t realistic.  As a guide, the cost of buying the CRM licence is less than the cost of implementation.  Often much less…


CRM systems are complex beasts that stand or fall by whether or not they are actually used.  And if you want somebody to use something, you need to make it easy for them to do so.

That has implications at the implementation stage (Do you really need all those options now?), but also for training.  Expecting people to just use something without some guidance is a bit like giving a terrorist a bomb with the timer already running…

In summary

CRM system implementation is a minefield, and unless you tread very carefully, you’re going to get severely injured.

The benefits really can be both real and substantial, but they need careful planning to be realised.  This isn’t a project where you can wing it, so please save yourself the certain pain of trying to do so.

Here’s what to do next

If you’re interested in how this could help you, or feel I may be able to help you with some of the challenges you’re facing, please get in touch for an informal discussion.

There’s no commitment, we’ll just discuss your situation to see if working together might be a good fit.  Contact me now.

Best regards

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