Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The CRM Journey: Choosing and Implementing CRM

Like most business strategies, CRM is a journey and not a destination. For this journey to be successful, it requires unwavering executive sponsorship, solid objectives backed with key performance indicators, streamlining of multi-disciplinary business processes, constant measurement with trend reviews and continuous process improvement. CRM does not end with a software implementation go-live, and in fact, the go-live is actually the start of the CRM strategy achievement.

Before setting out on the CRM journey, today’s C-level executive or manager must ask him or herself why. Why are we doing this and what do we hope to accomplish? The journey must begin with clearly defined goals and expectations. Common goals often begin in the realm to identify and improve company business operations or customer facing processes, compare them to the business model and then integrate the entire system into something more automated, streamlined, responsive and productive. These types of grand goals are great starting point, however, must be more specifically defined in order to apply measurement and analysis.

While there are a myriad of alternative starting points, step one is often to look at the company itself. How operations were intended to run, how they are being run, what are the strengths, weaknesses, needs, goals and, most importantly – the personnel (who are they, what do they bring to the table, what would make them more productive?)

Step two is to do some research into CRM software vendors and solution providers. Software manufacturers offer varied solutions in terms of industry focus, market focus, geographic representation as well as major differences in features sets, flexibility and ease of use. If dealing with Value Added Resellers (VARS), find out who provides what in your area and then focus on how they deliver their solutions. Find one to three that offer the type of CRM solution you may be seeking and then begin exploration meetings which focus on implementation approaches, training curriculum's and methods to achieve maximum software utilization. Some VARS will offer very well planned and comprehensive solutions. Others may offer cafeteria type solutions and some will offer unique specializations such as CRM software as a service (SAAS) or sometimes referred to as a “hosted” solution where the provider remotely supplies the hardware and software and you use it via the internet. A few meetings should be expected with each before you find enough of a comfort zone to decide whom you will utilize. I personally find the VARS reputation to be the greatest tell-tale of predicted performance.

A significant part of your CRM decision may involve the state of your existing network. Some CRM solutions may require upgrades up to and including completely new servers and related hardware. If you are unwilling or unable to incur these type of investments, make sure the CRM solution can work within the limits of your current IT infrastructure. Much will depend on how robust a CRM solution you company can benefit from. If you have a website that includes customer information gathering, lead generation or e-commerce components, system integration will have to be included.

Step three starts once a provider or implementation advisor is selected. You should expect representatives from your new “partner” to meet with everyone in your company except the janitor. If you have an IT staff, most of their time will be taken for this project for the duration of the engagement. The time for these initial meetings will vary depending upon your corporate structure. For instance, the sales manager will spend as much time as is needed to explain, in detail, all of the processes his or her staff goes through. Knowledge workers and data processors will also spend a good amount of time in this stage explaining how things are done. Accounting will be involved more in the manner of reports and the form of the reports they need for the accounting system. This is a very hands-on part of the CRM journey.

Step four will be the actual configuration and integration of the CRM solution with your network. Implementation tasks will be staff facing and significantly detract from staff’s normal job activities throughout the project. Many technical tasks such as data conversion, system integration and testing can be handled in off hours or over weekends. Testing will be ongoing but should not impact daily work. However, there are bound to be kinks in the system that will only be made apparent through real time use.

Step five is training. This is something that should start before the actual integration. Obviously the real time training cannot begin until the system is configured. However, for the sake of productivity, everyone involved should be trained on the basics of the CRM solution as early and as thoroughly as possible. A major aspect of this live state training is employee feedback. This will aid the provider in making whatever final adjustments are needed in order to make the solution as responsive as possible.

The last step is using the configured system in a production environment. This step by nature is where you realize the benefits of all of the hard work and effort that goes into a quality CRM project. No business is static, nor does any business operate in a vacuum. Because of this adjustments will always be needed for the CRM solution. Expect it and make sure any solution you choose is flexible and will accommodate business process changes. In addition, this is where your relationship with the CRM solution provider is of particular importance. Prompt feedback and adjustments can be a key element to your continued growth. That and the ability to work with the provider to get the support needed to make sure your employees are using the CRM system to its fullest capacity.

Thanks to the CRM guy for this article