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Before You Implement: Ready, Set, Stop and Think!
By Peter Callaghan, V.P. Sales & Marketing, Maximizer Software

When implementing a CRM solution think the plan through or you may find yourself in for a few surprises that could sabotage your CRM plan.

Is your organization really ready to implement a customer management strategy using customer relationship management (CRM) technology? In many cases an organization's motivation to move forward with a CRM initiative is based on an event or series of events that caused a negative impact on their business. Companies typically perform their due diligence by evaluating what their competition is doing, asking their end users what capabilities they need to solve the current business challenges and talking with industry experts. More often than not there are still many surprises in store that the CRM team needs to address before a CRM implementation can begin in earnest and be completed successfully.

For anyone who has been part of a systems implementation team, surprises are not a new concept. Much has been learned about CRM applications, sometimes painfully, since CRM systems were first introduced in the mid-1990s. However, the majority of small to medium-size businesses today are still using spreadsheets as their primary customer management technology.

According to a September 2004 report by industry research firm the Yankee Group called Financial Realities of CRM: A Guide to Best Practices, TCO and ROI, 77 percent of businesses with fewer than 250 employees are using spreadsheets to enable their CRM strategy. A growing number of these organizations are evaluating CRM systems, and their primary motivation is the promise of becoming a more competitive customer-centric company. The benefit of this promise is competitive advantage and increased profits.

Having learned from previous failed implementations, organizations can now minimize their risks by following a number of best practices (some of which are outlined below). When it comes to implementing new business processes, half-hearted efforts should be avoided at all costs. Before any significant change can happen, the people planning the CRM implementation must demonstrate stalwart courage by honestly assessing the current state of their organization. It is only when the company leaders clearly understand the company's unique problems that they can begin to fix them, set expectations for their CRM implementation and identify the commitment needed to ensure the maximum return on their CRM investment.

If you are considering a change to the way your organization works with employees, partners and customers, or even if you are in the middle of a CRM implementation, the following tips can help increase the probability of a successful CRM initiative.

Tip 1: Gain a clear understanding of your current situation. Recognize the unique change-management challenges that your company needs to address. Learn the required skill sets that are needed to function successfully within the new paradigm. Invest in bridging the skills gap of your personnel.

Tip 2: Clearly document the objectives you have in mind for how you want your team to perform after the CRM implementation and training takes place. Another "must-do" is gaining consensus with the key stakeholders who will be using the CRM system.

Tip 3: Communicate the objectives of the CRM system to each member of the team. Outline each department's commitment to the CRM initiative in terms of personnel, time and money required for success (each member should clearly understand the mission of the initiative and why this investment is critical to executing on the new customer management strategy).

Tip 4: Define value for your highly visible CRM initiative. Many organizations often miss this step because of the perception that it's difficult to define hard numbers for a CRM initiative. For example, quantifying the value is possible if you look at the challenge from the perspective of the following measurements: sales, including revenue per sales person and sales representative turnover rate; marketing, including lead-qualification rates, marketing dollars as a percent of revenue and average response rates; customer service, including call-abandon rates, average time spent handling a call, customer satisfaction and average call value. The actual measurements used will be based on the nature of the business problems faced by the organization.

Tip 5:
Closely align bonus programs or incentive compensation to the correct use of a new CRM system.

Tip 6:
Compile detailed cost information, including hardware, software, professional services, ongoing application maintenance, training, business process re-engineering and ongoing end-user support. Ensure the appropriate infrastructure is in place, including personnel, support process, hardware and networks.

Tip 7: Define the actionable insight created for your end users by combining quality data with technology.

Tip 8: All the measurements in the world won't provide you with anything unless a detailed plan is created, which helps to ensure that everyone is committed to implementing the business strategy. The business strategy must exhibit simple elegance so that employees, customers, partners and prospects will all benefit from the use of the new CRM system and the overall experience it creates.

Stop and think. Now GO!
These tips should help you to avoid a number of surprises that could delay or derail your CRM initiative. By taking the time to stop and think about the lessons learned by other organizations, your ability to implement a CRM system and "GO!" will be greatly enhanced.

Peter Callaghan is responsible for managing Maximizer's ( ) direct sales, channel sales, and marketing activities in the U.S. He has more than 17 years of sales experience in the software industry and has held senior sales and marketing positions at Pivotal, Computer Associates, Cognos, and Sybase. Peter helped Pivotal company grow its revenues from US $1 million to US $100 million over sixteen quarters. Peter is on CRM magazine's list of "Who's Who in CRM," and he is frequently quoted in a variety of business publications, including CRM Guru, VARBusiness, and Sales & Marketing Management magazine.

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