Anatomy of a Successful CRM Implementation

After several years of limited growth, most industry analysts are predicting significant expansion in the customer relationship management (CRM) software and services marketplace through at least 2008.

This growth will result in an increase in the number of CRM package software implementation projects that address the functional areas of sales, marketing, and customer service. Additionally, there will be significant growth in the areas of customer data integration and customer analytics.

The growth of CRM parallels organization-wide initiatives across all industries to efficiently manage all aspects of the customer relationship, deliver the best experience, and optimize sales and marketing opportunities.

Given the varied and complex needs of each organization, there are many factors that influence the success of any CRM software deployment. Based on my experience of implementing more than 90 CRM systems, here are the five key criteria that every organization should address to ensure project success:

Start commitment from the top. Executive project sponsorship and participation is critical to identify goals and objectives.

It is important to create a cross-functional CRM steering committee and to appoint an overall CRM executive sponsor. The executive sponsor and the steering committee must actively participate throughout the project lifecycle with specific involvement at key milestones.

The project sponsor should stay visible to the user community throughout the project.

Go thin. It is very important to set a project scope that can be delivered in a relatively short timeframe with measurable business benefit.

If coupled with an effective communication strategy, it is better to deliver a series of “thin” roll-outs to build on the initial deployment — versus one, monolithic project that may take a long time to complete and realize success.

Throughout the process, it is important to manage user expectations with respect to the initial scope and also to make sure that the functionality delivered will provide a measurable return on the capital invested.

Emphasize communication, marketing, and assimilation at least as much as the technology. In most cases the technology will have less to do with the success of the project than the effort spent on communication, solution marketing to the user group, training, and assimilation.

It is important to involve business leadership at several levels and the project executive sponsor at key communication milestones throughout the project. If these items receive a level of focus comparable to the technical system configuration and development, the likelihood of project success increases exponentially.

Involve representatives of the user community throughout the project. This may be difficult to do as users for these projects are typically in customer facing roles and need to focus on maintaining the normal course of business.

Getting user feedback will glean valuable information to drive the CRM implementation’s requirements definition, functional design, user acceptance testing, and implementation pilot.

Stay with the package. Does application dictate process or process dictate application? These two philosophies are continuously debated and each have their pros and cons.

Package software from the leading CRM vendors has been developed over many years incorporating cross-industry best practices. Where possible, an effort should be made to limit the amount of configuration and customization, as this impacts the deployment time and cost.

A reasonable level of effort should be made to take advantage of the best practices represented in these packages, while leveraging their flexibility to accommodate your business processes.

Whether you are considering a CRM deployment or already in process with one, the aforementioned factors will help level expectations with all project stakeholders and ensure a smooth project roll-out.

CRM software is a strategic tool for any business and doing it right will help your organization manage all aspects of the customer relationship lifecycle, maintain competitiveness, and boost sales and marketing opportunities.

Bill Donlan is the Managing Officer of Adjoined’s CRM practice, responsible for all technology solutions delivered to our CRM clients.