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5 Steps to Take to Avoid CRM Implementation Failure

by Joy Powers on July 17, 2013

Sadly, if a case study were ever written about the first Customer Relationship Management (CRM) implementation I was involved with, it would read more like an example of what not to do than a model of success.  Thankfully, I’ve since learned my lessons about potential pitfalls when setting up a new CRM system. The tips below are from personal experience and from a great session led by Susan Clark of Cornerstone Solutions at a recent Zoho User Conference.

Step 1: Have conversations with the end users

Before you go about picking a CRM application or setting it up, talk to your staff first about what they would like from a CRM solution.  For the sales department, it might be important that they can access the CRM from their mobile devices.  For management, they might want the ability to easy pull various reports at any time.  IT might want a program that allows different levels access to the data based on one’s role in the company.

As you continue to go through the implementation process, it is important to not just keep your staff in loop, but actively involved in the setup process.  If the program doesn’t effectively meet their needs, they’re not going to use it.

Step 2: Do your homework when selecting a CRM program

Now that you have a list of requests, find out which CRM solutions are built to handle those functions and what is involved in setting them up.  Does your favorite program have easily understood documentation online?  How easy is it to get a hold of customer service?  And are there any charges involved?  Before jumping into any new solution, talk to users of the product to find out what their experience was in setting up and using the program.

Lastly, make sure that whatever solution you pick, you have the option to export your data in a standard format should you need to move to another solution down the road.  For more, see the article, How I Recovered from Choosing a Bad Technology and How to Protect Yourself.

Step 3: Define your workflow

A CRM that you only use as an address book isn’t going to do much for your company.  What happens after when you return from an industry conference with a stack of business cards?  How are you going to divide that group into sales leads, potential partners, potential vendors, etc?  Does everyone get added to your CRM?  And what steps do you take with each group to follow-up with them?  Will you set up alerts reminding you to ping the potential clients every so often? Which contacts do you need to hand over to another part of your company? And how does that transition happen?  It is important to clearly define your process and have ways to categorize the records into different groups.

While figuring out your workflow, this is a great time to start customizing your CRM.  What extra fields do you need to add to the records that are specific to your industry or business?  How are you going to capture your clients’ special interests or needs?  Use this as an opportunity to go back to the first step, and have conversations with the end users again.  How are they going to want to sort through the contacts?  What extra data do they need?

And on the other side of the coin, this is also the time to delete unnecessary fields from the CRM.  Be ruthless.  You want to minimize the screen clutter.  Take a second and third look at the custom fields you added in too.  Maybe you need to combine some fields, or change the data type.  After your CRM is up and running, you’ll want to periodically go back through and look through and weed your fields again.  Don’t have fax number for any of your customers?  One more field to delete.

Step 4: Train your staff

Training is a critical both in setting up your CRM and in its ongoing health.  The lessons need to include the thought process behind your workflow and why certain fields are there.  Show your staff how to pull reports, how to make custom views relevant to their individual jobs, and how their work affects the company as a whole.  Again, if your employees don’t fully understand the value of your CRM, they aren’t going to use it, or contribute as much data to it as they should.

As part of the training process, be sure to create easily accessible and consumable documentation for everything.  It is vital that anyone on your staff has access to these materials at any time.  If you create a wiki for this, your staff will be able to add in their own tips and tutorials.

Training is not a one-time thing.  Be sure to not only train new staff, but seasoned staff as well.  Check in with your staff a few days or weeks after the initial training.  Are they getting it?  Do they have questions?  Have they found processes that could be improved upon?

Step 5: Make it part of company culture

Make CRM reports a regular component of your weekly or monthly staff meetings.  How many leads were converted into customers that period?  How successful was the new marketing campaign at bringing in new customers?  Which staffer talked to the most clients this period?  At minimum, the staff gets a snap-shot of what is going on in the company from a manager’s perspective.

Depending on the metrics, these reports can also be used as the basis for an interoffice competition, or a starting point for an in-depth discussion on processes needing improvement.


Image of Leads to Sales Conversion courtesy of Bigstock.

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