CRM Selection and Implementation Made Easy

Updated: April 30, 2009

When it comes to selecting and implementing a CRM system, you need to do some advanced planning to determine your business's needs and what it hopes to achieve with the system. Only then can you match those needs to a vendor and begin the selection process . Finally, you have to create and follow a clearly defined implementation path in order to meet the needs that your company defined up front, and you have to get all the people that the system touches involved early in the process. Focus spoke to Brent Leary — a co-founder and partner at CRM Essentials LLC and someone who has been helping businesses implement CRM systems for years — to find out the key steps in the process.

Determine Your Business's Needs

The first thing that your company should do is perform a business-needs analysis.

"You can't even talk to about vendor selection until you really focus on what your challenges are and you take a real hard look where you are right now and where you want to go in terms of your business," Leary stated.

Select an Internal or External Partner

Next, your business needs to find people to help it step through the implementation process.

"If you have internal people who have gone through a successful CRM implementation , they will help you do what you need to do, but if you don't have that expertise, you need [outside help] from the start," said Leary.

"You might need an implementation partner ," Leary continued, ""and you need to make sure that you can work with them and that they have the right kind of expertise and have gone through similar situations to yours and can bring more than technical expertise."

Decide on a Hosted Versus an Installed Solution

Before selecting a vendor, your company must decide whether it wants to go with an on-demand or an installed solution .

"Let's face it: For smaller companies, installed software is not an option, because they don't have IT people," Leary stated. "They don't have and don't want IT people on staff. For smaller businesses, [it's about] how quickly they can get up to speed and how they can limit start-up and ongoing costs … they have to see ROI [return on investment] quicker. They need it to pay for itself much sooner than a bigger company that has more complex requirements and can give it more time."

For larger companies, Leary explained, it's a different story.

"As you grow, you are bringing in more people. They are probably more geographically dispersed. You are probably working with more partners. The sales process becomes more complex because you have more people involved, and that probably means more collaboration."

Select the Vendor

There are a couple of things that a company needs to focus on when choosing a CRM vendor.

"From a technology perspective, what package or solution is going to make it as easy and efficient as possible to implement the strategy that came out of the business-process review?" Leary asked. "The whole idea is not to map your business to the technology but to map technology to your strategy."

Leary continued, ""You are buying the vendor and not just the application. You need to make sure the vendor's culture and the way they do business is in line with the way you want to be treated and what you need from a vendor."

Develop a Rollout Plan That Meets Your Company's Needs

You need to set up a plan to roll out the system based on the size of your organization. Small companies with a few users can roll out the CRM solution and get started faster, but larger organizations should move more deliberately.

"The bigger the organization, the bigger the rollout, and the more targeted and focused the rollout," Leary said. "You want to focus on one or two areas in the company. You've identified your major challenges. Start with one of them and start with maybe one of the groups to push this out to baseline and see how things go, tweak, then look at results … when you have a big organization, you can't drop it out there all at once. You are really looking for small victories and some control, and you can't do that if you roll out the new system to 500 users all at once."

Prepare Data for the New System

Leary said that cleaning and preparing existing data for the new system is a critical step.

"You hear the old term 'junk in, junk out,'" Leary stated. "The new system can be just as bad as the old system if you put bad data in it. You really have to go through the process of scrubbing the data . That is typically done by someone internal who really knows the data, really knows what shape it's in, and what should go in and what needs to come out. This is critical, because you can have the greatest tool in the world, and if the data is bad, people are going to blame the system."

Get Buy-in from Key Stakeholders

There are several constituents whom you need to involve early in order to give them ownership of the CRM tool:

  • Customers: According to Leary, "You have to think of customers. Anything you do with CRM impacts the way you relate to the customers. Bring in your best customers. Pick their brains. Ask them how you can make things better. You want to keep them in the loop when changing strategies."
  • Partners: "Your partners who bring you deals are critically important," Leary said.
  • Customer-Service Reps: "You want people who talk to your customers involved," Leary offered.
  • Marketing: "Marketing is critical," said Leary "They are the ones drumming up the sales leads."

Involve the Sales Team Early

The biggest stakeholders are the sales reps who will be adding data to the system. Therefore, it is essential to get them involved early in the process and to give them ownership of the system.

"You need to start right from beginning when you are putting together the project team," Leary opined. "You want a representative from sales management and one of the top salespeople involved. You want them to feel like they own it and are part of it. If they feel it's just a system to track what they do, they won't go along . It won't be a successful implementation."

Set Up Effective Training Programs

The final piece of the puzzle is to make sure that you set up training programs and find ways to make it easy for people to update the CRM system.

"It [training] is critical, particularly if you are trying to make sure things go as smoothly as possible," Leary stated. "If you are in a business culture, where you have been doing the same thing for a long time, even though it's time for change, it's going to take people time to get used to change. Gear your training to how and why you want them to use it. This is how your life is going to get easier."

As with any enterprise software, moving to a CRM tool takes effort and planning. And if you want the CRM solution to work, you need to identify what isn't working and what your business goals are for the new system. If your company plans well, implements deliberately and includes all of the key players early in the process, the chances of a successful CRM implementation greatly increase.

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