CRM is not a piece of software you can simply buy, plug in, and watch while it transforms your business for the better.
Manage it well and it will radically improve your business, boosting revenues, improving quality of service and customer experience, lowering operational costs, and enhancing visibility of key business information to inform and improve business decision-making. However, it will only bring those benefits if it is managed well.
Central to this effective management is recognising that it is more than a technology solution that you can plug in and leave to work its magic.
Think of it instead as a platform that enables change. In fact, CRM has far less in common with a piece of software than it does with an organisation-wide programme of change management. View it in that way and it is likely to be a success, and that begins with addressing the four Ps of CRM implementation: plan, processes, people and partner.
Your CRM implementation must begin with a clear mapping out of what you want to achieve. Spend time understanding the specific benefits that CRM can bring to your business, and in putting together a detailed business case for CRM. You can read our detailed guidance on how to do this here.
You will then begin your implementation with agreed and shared objectives across your organisation. There will be no hidden assumptions – for example the sales team expecting the focus of CRM to be on producing more leads, and the finance team expecting it to automate quoting and so free them up for more strategic work, while in fact the key objective is improving the customer experience and so improving retention. And you will know what success looks like, which will enable you to measure ROI and drive focus across the organisation.
A key benefit of CRM is that is encourages organisations to improve their processes. That is not the same, however, as automatically improving those processes. It still requires you and your colleagues to seize the opportunity to review underlying business processes and decide whether these need to be changed and improved and if so in what way.
It is essential that you do this. Be prepared to uproot even the most well-established process. Question why you do things that way and see if there is a better way you could be doing them. Your CRM implementation will expose many of the flawed processes, and guide you towards better ones, but it still requires you to adopt this review and rethink approach.
Data is essential at this stage. The decisions you make on your processes will to a large extent be driven by the information you have on what works well and less well in your organisation. For this reason the quality and ongoing governance of your data is of paramount importance. It should not be undervalued and it will serve you well once you have started your CRM journey.
People are critical to the success of any CRM implementation. In the first instance you need to gain proactive support at the most senior level of the organisation. This must be more than a willingness to sign the cheque. It must be a visible ongoing commitment to the CRM implementation.
After that you should aim to identify champions of the project. This is one person or a small group of people who realise the value of the project, understand the problems it will solve, and will dedicate time and energy to making it happen.
Finally, think through how you will communicate the implementation to your people. Be prepared to encounter resistance to the project. It is after all a major change, and people tend to resist change. So, pinpoint the benefits to specific groups and find ways of communicating them to those people. Get them involved early on in the project, get them to help in designing the processes etc.
Your choice of partner in your CRM endeavour is critical, but so is the way you work with them. Before making your choice be clear on the features you will need, the factors such as price, level of support, migration process, and user training which matter to you, and make your selection accordingly.
CRM is a mature market with many vendors, all of which with a slightly different offer and approach, so do your research and find the one with the best fit to your specific needs. Then work closely with them. They should be able to help you make your plan, offering the benefit of their experience in CRM implementations. They should be able to help in redesigning your processes and engaging your people. They should operate not as a vendor, but as a true partner.
There is much beyond technology to consider with CRM. A CRM software is a powerful tool which will enable business improvement, enhance your processes, inspire your people, and build effective, long-term relationships. But you need to be prepared to make decisions and take actions not just on technology but also on your business plan, on processes, data and people. And if you do, the rewards will be immense and transformational.