Our Recommended Solution Process

Most companies spend a tremendous amount of energy making the "right" decision about which customer relationship management (CRM) software to choose. Although every company has their own particular needs, most CRM solutions can help companies keep track of prospects and customers, and sales and marketing. It is of course important to find the CRM solution that best suits your company's needs. On the other hand, the software product itself, no matter how good it is, will not guarantee the success of the implementation. All too often, money is spent on software that is rolled out to a sales force, only to meet with a lukewarm reception. At best, a few power users will latch onto the software and use it very well, while the rest of the users put in what is minimally expected of them. At worst, the software is discarded after a year or two and the search for a "better" product follows.

The following are some key factors that have proven time and time again to ensure a successful CRM implementation, if they are put into place before the software is rolled out:

1. Management buy-in

If the higher-ups in the company don't care about the project and give it solid backing, then the general users can't be expected to care either. Management must have a clear understanding of how the software can support and enhance their current business process, and enforce the use of it. This doesn't mean that management needs to be breathing down the backs of their users; in fact, if a system is being used properly, management will be able to retrieve the reports they need in order to check on the activity level in the database without ever having to call a meeting.

2. Sales force buy-in

Sales people that are new to a shared database system may think of it as an intrusion of their privacy and that makes it too easy to be checked upon. Sometimes users are reluctant to put their data into a common database where others can potentially call upon their prospects. They may put the bare minimum of information in the shared database while maintaining a separate database on their own. Users also need to be assured that the CRM solution will make their life easier. For example, sharing data in a database provides a clear definition of who owns a record. This will help to define territories, which in turn reduces the chances that two people will call on the same company. In another example, creating call and activity reports, will become easier for them because it will be based on the notes and activities they enter into the database.

3. IT buy in and support

Your project will be doomed if your IT staff is not prepared to support the application with hardware, network and helpdesk resources. Slow performance will hinder the practical effectiveness of the database, and downtime for any reason will give the impression that the software is unreliable. Someone with strong technical skills should be given the responsibility of database administrator, and be prepared to handle all first level helpdesk support calls. There should be a long-term commitment from the IT staff to support the database technology, since turnover in personnel can tend to bring in new ideas of better technology despite a successful track record for a particular software.

4. Clear expectations of the capabilities of the software and its practical application to your existing business process

CRM software is designed to adapt to your already existing business process. While oftentimes it is purchased in the hope that it will give structure to a sales force, if good selling practices are not already in place, it will not magically create them for you.

Managers usually want to see clearly measurable results after making an investment in software, so be sure that the goals that are set are not so lofty that they can never be reached. Break your implementation down into phases, where "phase 1" might include creating a solid database and using basic contact management functionality such as notes, letters, calendar and simple sales forecasting; and "phase 2" might include customization, high level reports and implementation of strategies. Be sure that each phase has been successfully integrated into your existing business process before moving on.

5. Data integrity

Be careful when doing data imports or combining multiple data sources to create your main database. Starting out with a huge database of obsolete names and duplicate entries can be discouraging. It may be better to begin with a small amount of data and let users input new companies as needed. Or hire a professional to do the initial import and have the database administrator go over the entries with a fine tooth comb before rolling it out to the general public. It will take more time but be worth it in the end. Generally speaking, people do not take the time later to go back in and delete out junk records, thus making the database cumbersome.

6. Training

All too often, training is thought of as the expendable part of the project, "if there is time." Or someone figures that 5 people crouching around one PC while someone demonstrates the features will be sufficient. There is no replacement for hands-on training, where users are able to ask questions and try the features for themselves. Having a clearly written training guide as a handout is a good reinforcement for training as well. A good training program will give the users the base knowledge they need, so that they can focus on using the software effectively, rather than doing everything the hard way.

7. Hire professionals

The "do-it-yourself" mentality might work when doing home improvements, but in this case it is better to hire consultants who have expertise to help you get started. Make sure that they work hand in hand with your IT staff and database administrator during the implementation so that they get the training they need to support the system later on. Also, creating a good relationship with a reliable consultant now will ensure that if you have an critical problem in the future you will get better, faster resolution.

8. Give it time

Keep checking in with your users to see how they are doing as they begin implementing the new system to their daily lives. Listen to any issues that arise and work to resolve them. Offer follow up advanced level training. Be willing to hire someone to help you get past any technological bumps in the road before giving up. Upgrade your software to keep up with the latest improvements, especially those that may address any open issues you might have. And remember, you will get out of your implementation exactly what
you put into it.