7 Steps to Ensure CRM Implementation Success

February 27, 2014 Greg Bohlen


Many organisations fail to gain the real value from their substantial CRM investments.

Despite mapping out current and to-be business processes, and then building the technology and data models to enable these processes, the desired results fail to materialise.

A common theme to such failure is a lack of change enablement. Placing the emphasis on process, technology and data without respecting the required shift in attitudes and behaviours of the user community and key business stakeholders is a fatal flaw.

Often it will result in a critical lack of adoption, which in turn leads to bad data, undermining your entire business transformation initiative…  “CRM doesn’t work”!

 So what is change enablement?

Isn’t it just about designing and implementing a rigorous training and reinforcement program and ensuring that users know how to access, enter data and extract information from CRM?

Whilst training and reinforcement are important, they are only a small piece of the required change plan.

Change enablement is the process of changing individual behaviors to increase readiness and productivity when implementing a process, technology or organizational change.  Put simply, the goal is to bring your desired processes to life and to make them standard work for the enterprise.

crm implementationThere are 7 key components on top of your training plan:

1)    An articulated vision for CRM, underpinned by common understanding and acceptance of the pain points or opportunities that your initiative is looking to solve. Treat this as a rallying cry, using simple and powerful language that will act as a unifying purpose.

2)    Definitions for key terms and standard processes.  These must be succinct, unambiguous and clearly define scope.  Avoid words such as “typically”, “usually”, “often” or “sometimes” as they only serve to muddy the water.  Don’t presume that people will just figure it out – you’ll be surprised at how the understanding of even the most basic concepts will have wide variation across your target audience.  (As a simple example, write a definition of a “chair” in 20 words or less.  Ask a colleague to do the same and compare your answers).

3)    Robust working practices and guidelines. Set expectations for the use of CRM, such as frequency of login, size/shape of the pipeline, acceptable standards for data entry (e.g. notes, logging of activities, contacts etc) and pinpoint how the information in the tool will be used.  If your CRM implementation includes mobility tools, be clear what work should be conducted “on the go” and what should be performed back in the home/office.  Expectations need to be set not only for grassroots users, but also the role that your leaders need to play.  Identify how line managers will coach, pressure test and teach their teams to embed changes in your sales and marketing processes. Then specify how (and how often) senior management will review, challenge and collaborate, and how CRM will underpin strategic decisions.

4)    A manageable set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure both inputs (efficiency metrics) and outputs (effectiveness metrics). Treat measurement as a journey. Take care when setting firm targets as you really need sound baseline data (which is intrinsically linked to process adoption) to properly determine your current state. Remember that measurement is a very sensitive area and is fraught with unintentional negative consequences.  For example, if your key success criteria include increasing pipeline velocity, or improving conversion rates, don’t be surprised if your Sales Execs find creative ways of hiding early or low probability deals from CRM.  So ensure you have sufficiently balanced metrics to prevent users from gaming the process.

5)    Carrots: tangible benefits for your organisation, users and stakeholders.  Create a benefits story for each target audience (e.g. Sales Execs, Marketing, Sales Management, Senior Leadership) that clearly describes the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) of adopting your new processes.  Ensure that benefits are realizable and are not too “future vision” oriented.  Over-promising is often worse than not promising anything at all!  Benefits should include how the users’ own standard work will become more efficient and more effective. Further, be transparent about how individual’s process adoption/improvement will link to your rewards and recognition program.

6)    Sticks: consequences of not adopting the new systems and processes. You need alignment on how your organisation will handle individuals that fail to adopt, or that actively work against the change (e.g. entering false data, or non-conformance to the defined working standards).  Engage with HR and legal at an early stage in your program development to ensure that your policies will have sufficient bite to promptly deter disruptive behaviour.  Remember that consequences and counter-measures need to be agreed for your leadership team too – if they fail to model the appropriate behaviour, it will send a clear message that your organisation is not totally committed to the initiative.

7)    Tailored communication program.  The outputs of steps 1-6 need to be thoroughly communicated and understood prior to go-live, and the key messages need to be robustly reinforced both during and post implementation.  Before you start, thoroughly research your key user groups and stakeholders.  Consider surveys and focus groups to understand frustrations and expectations, and to determine the most effective channels of communication (both formal and informal) for each target group.  Remember that people often need to hear the same story at least three times before it starts to stick.

Throughout the 7 steps, ensure that you have the right level of ownership and commitment from your users and stakeholders.  Nominate key opinion leaders at each level that will help evangelise the change.  Also, as there will be disparate views on each of the steps, define your decision-making cadence and establish strong governance to keep the project true to desired process change.

So, for those of you thinking that this is a ton of work…. you’re right!  As Figure 1 illustrates above, the “People” side of a successful CRM implementation can consume a full 50% of your time and resources.  Under-estimate it at your peril!

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