Friday, February 4, 2011

What are the Steps to a Successful CRM Implementation?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has proven its ability to enhance business performance time and time again. However, the path to effective implementation is not always easy — complexities often arise as a result of trying to align an entire company behind the concept.

You can find the success that comes from leveraging customer knowledge to the fullest measure by following these 10 steps:

Calculate the Value
Exactly how will CRM benefit your business? Strive to answer this question in terms of measurable ROI (Return on Investment). Don’t focus too much on how the software will help customers — what will really improve your bottom line is how CRM helps your employees use customer data more effectively.

Work Closely with Key Departments
Good planning is critical to your success. Use members of the call center, sales force and marketing departments as parts of your CRM planning team, because these departments can be affected to the greatest extent by a new solution. Let them tell you the business processes that need improvement. Then hammer out agreeable objectives mapped to new business processes. It’s often a good strategy to place some easy ones on top of the list so you can celebrate some victories early on.

Budget Realistically
Be a bit pessimistic when it comes to the budget to avoid the painful process of increasing cost estimates. CRM customization and integration with existing software present two big expenses. It can cost two to three times the price of software for implementation and ongoing maintenance. Make sure you factor in all of these expenses from the early stages of your CRM deployment.

Organize Customer Data
The underlying customer data is the backbone of a CRM solution. Most companies store duplicate and outdated data in multiple locations. Putting this data in a unified database, scrubbing it and making it available to the entire organization before implementation will make for a smooth rollout. If necessary, get help from vendors who offer data-cleansing software and deeper customer information.

Lead the Project from the Top Down
Experts agree that the no. 1 reason implementations do not work is that senior executives fail to lead. After all, if managers do not work hard to ensure CRM success, why should employees? It is not just about signing paperwork and attending meetings. Executives must adopt CRM as a corporate-level initiative, dedicate significant time and energy, motivate stakeholders and keep everyone on track.

Find a Reliable Vendor and Select Functionality Conservatively
Shop for a financially secure vendor with proven ability to expand the solution as your company grows. Beware of providers that rely heavily on partners for key functionality. When considering industry-specific software, make sure to find out if it really delivers on its promise. Talk to other corporate users in your field, try out the software and choose enough functionality to meet your business needs without sending your IT department on endless quests for the Holy Grail.

Implement Gradually
Change is never easy, especially for employees who may fear the accountability that comes with posting data that can expose their true performance. Start your CRM initiative in a single department that stands to benefit the most in the short term; then follow with a zealous, companywide CRM proponent. When others witness the initial success of that department, bringing them on board will be much easier.

Market CRM to Employees and Deliver Ongoing Training
It may sound obvious, but it’s important to remember that employees have to use the solution in order for it to work. Clearly communicate how it will help them succeed, and start CRM training early on. This way, you will chip away faster at the 18 to 24 months it typically takes employees to adopt new business processes.

Actively Manage the Implementation
Technical difficulties, management turnover, employee resistance and adjustments in company direction will happen. Managers need to stay on their toes and quickly address changes to maintain momentum.

Develop a Culture of Continuous Improvement
CRM solutions should be adjusted to deliver a sharper competitive edge as a company and its business evolve. Be sure to keep employees in the communication loop, and they will help supply the information needed to continuously improve the way the system leverages customer information. Not all companies will achieve CRM success because many fail to take into account the items listed above. Then again, for the ones who do succeed, the rewards are great. Stick to these steps, and you will rig the game in your favor.