How to Implement, Select and Manage a CRM Solution

There are numerous issues to deal with when a company goes through the process of selecting, implementing and managing a customer relationship management system.

Consider some of these suggestions.

The long haul. Too many organizations try to implement a quick fix to hold them over until they have more time to devote to the project. But, of course, there is never enough time. And when it comes to prospects and customers, there is no such thing as collecting too much information too early in any cycle.

The software industry is fast paced. Nothing is a constant. The business climate changes daily, and organizations must react quickly to changes in their market segment. A CRM solution, if used correctly, will be an integral part of the company. If, however, the software cannot be used in a way that helps the senior management team make good business decisions, or if it does not have the ability to adapt to change easily, you have not made a good buying decision.

Therefore, two important aspects of the system should be:

• Highly extensible, flexible and able to adapt to changing business requirements.

• A nonproprietary database structure that allows for easy access to data in various formats.

Will the real users please stand up? The next step is to look at the people within the organization who either will use the system or access the data. Consider the departments and people who will be candidates for usage. Determine whether the departments would likely be read-only or actually inputting data as they interact with prospects and customers.

Do not let your involvement in so many departments scare you off. Once you step outside your realm of responsibility to get buy-in on a significant purchase, it can take an otherwise simple process and make it difficult. Make sure the other departments understand the rules. They can have input at requirements time, but the purchasing decision and implementation strategy is up to marketing.

As the marketing executive, you also should understand that the actual implementation can be completed in phases, so do not rule out the option of involving other departments in order to alleviate the complexity. If your company is successful and growing, then sooner or later the other departments will become involved. It will be more painful adapting to accommodate them later or converting to another system down the road.

Customer information: What good is it? Your CRM system is quickly becoming an enterprisewide application. Therefore, as you are designing the data model, think about not only the customer information you want to capture, but also how that information relates to your company and its future. Look at how your organization’s future product plans may play a part in your system requirements.

Software companies typically have a product strategy that stretches at least a year. As a representative is qualifying an account or dealing with an existing customer, she may uncover information that positions a customer as a viable prospect for a new product coming down the road.

It would be nice if the rep could simply capture that information in a field, and six months later, when a specific marketing program kicks in, this prospect is automatically sent product information with the appropriate call to action. Or, looking at it from another perspective, you can use the system as a market research tool to help decide future product development needs. Through automation, you are now able to do it as part of your everyday marketing effort.

Narrowing your options. If you are in the beginning stages of putting together your selection criteria, you may want to try to narrow your search because there are hundreds of products that could fall into the classification of CRM. Therefore, the greater your list of must-haves, the narrower the list of products you will need to compare.

Another consideration would be to determine your hardware/operating system requirements or restrictions. Few companies making the decision to automate are able to buy the product that meets their needs while setting up a new and unique environment to support their decisions. If this is the case, you will need to be very specific about which requirements are the most important. If your options are too wide open, the search can be almost too difficult.

Now what? Once a system has been selected and the vendor has left the premises, a decision must be made regarding who is in charge of the day-to-day management of the system and data. If you have more than five people working on the system, you will need a dedicated systems administrator who should report directly to the sales organization. This person will play a role in customizing the system to meet the organization’s needs and, during and after the implementation, will support the users.

Getting users up to speed is a challenge. They often do not use it the way it was intended. The reasons are varied. They stick with what has been working for them in the past. They do not buy into the new solution. They do not understand the value it can provide. These excuses have a common link. These users do not understand that if used correctly, a CRM solution can provide them with crucial information about prospects and customers, translating into a bigger pipeline and more revenue. It is best to stage a phased implementation, choosing a good representation of the user community for the pilot.

As you are thinking through the implementation strategy, think about how this system will change the organization’s day-to-day activities, including the interaction between management and sales personnel, the relationship between telemarketing and telesales and the relationship between marketing and sales.

CRM introduces new opportunities and changes the way the sales organization operates and interacts with other parts of the company. Do not take this change lightly. Take the appropriate steps during the pilot to watch the changes, document the new process and implement a standard methodology across the organization during final implementation.

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