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CRM implementation: best practice guide

CRM software does more than contact management. It drives revenue growth, productivity, and customer satisfaction. By using a CRM system, many companies have achieved significant results, but some have not achieved all they had hoped for. Instead, they have encountered implementation issues including cost overruns, integration challenges, and poor user acceptance. The good news is that all these problems are avoidable—if the CRM implementation is well designed and executed.

When properly deployed, a customer relationship management (CRM) tool can produce a significant return on investment by streamlining sales processes, improving sales processes, and providing employees access to more complete customer information.

How to implement a CRM system

If you are involved in a CRM implementation process, here are ten steps that will help you avoid the common pitfalls and realize a significant return on your CRM investment.


Establish measurable business goals

Define the specific business benefits that you expect your implementation project to deliver. This might sound obvious, but many projects fail because this step is not completed. Clarify what exactly you want to achieve.

  • Increase average revenue per sale?
  • Improve customer loyalty and retention rates?
  • Get more sales leads?
  • Lower customer acquisition costs?
  • Improve sales forecasting accuracy?
  • Improve customer service response times?
  • Improve sales close rates?

CRM solutions address all sales, service, and marketing needs, so you should prioritize what you want to accomplish and select the best tool accordingly. The possibilities of what you can do are endless. The key is to understand which cloud CRM can do the most for your business.

Companies who are successful with their CRM implantations shop for their solutions with a list of detailed business requirements. They do not set generic goals, such as "improve customer service." Instead, they target concrete pain points to create their goals, such as "reducing customer service response times by 25 percent."


Align your business goals and IT department

CRM is driven by technology, but it's not about technology. CRM is about improving your customer-facing processes; the technology is simply a way to achieve that end. Everyone involved in building a successful CRM implementation plan understands this and creates the structures and processes to reinforce that.

Bring business and IT together, but make business the driver. Business goals that are focused on producing meaningful results drive CRM functionality. When IT and LOB managers are aligned behind a well-defined set of measurable objectives, they in turn can guide CRM design.

In successful CRM projects, responsibility for the design and implementation of the system rests with both business sponsors and IT personnel. Business needs and requirements should guide configuration decisions. Joint accountability is necessary, so many companies have a business project manager and a systems project manager working together to make functionally and technologically appropriate decisions.


Get executive support and sponsorship before the implementation project begins

CRM projects are strategic initiatives, so top management must actively support them. Without executive endorsement—including an explanation of how the new system will support business goals—a CRM initiative might be dismissed by the people meant to use it. If a CRM is critical to survival—which is increasingly the case—top executives must drive that message from the CEO down.


Let business goals drive functionality

Just as business goals should drive CRM configuration, every configuration decision must support a business need. So, if a feature doesn't directly help you better serve customers, you probably don't need it.

Every configuration must support at least one of five business goals:

  • Improve profitability
  • Enhance customer value
  • Simplify/streamline business/sales processes
  • Reduce technology costs
  • Improve systems performance

Companies can also use a CRM to expand the scope of (or even change) a job function if needed to support a business goal. For example, your sales team will use a CRM to manage customers better and sell more. But they can also use it to support current customers with customer support issues to boost customer lifetime value.


Minimize customizations by leveraging native functionality

Overcustomization is one of the most common reasons that CRM implementations go over budget and deadlines are missed. If a project team sets out to adopt a "vanilla" application, they will probably fall victim to "feature creep" and end up with a more specialized product than their business needs. Or the project team could fall into the trap of customizing the CRM software to mirror the customizations already made to the legacy systems. In both of these cases, project teams will struggle to stay within budget and on schedule.

Customizations are often the most costly, time-consuming, and complex aspect of a CRM implementation. So choosing a CRM application that meets your requirements natively can dramatically lower the total cost of ownership over the life of the solution.

You want to avoid imitating legacy solutions too closely. Instead, carefully select a CRM solution that provides the native functionality that meets your company's needs.

Before you plan to start customizing your CRM, first consider the application's existing functionality. You might find that native functionality supports your business requirements much better than anticipated, eliminating the need for expensive customizations.

Before rolling out any CRM solution, run business scenarios for the people who will use it to determine where it is helpful and where there are gaps. Then, to address each gap, decide whether the software must be customized immediately or whether a later release can reconcile that gap.


Use trained, experienced consultants for the implementation

Software consultants frequently make bold claims regarding their ability to meet the CRM implementation requirements. To ensure that your CRM implementation is delivered on time and on budget, look for consultants who are thoroughly trained in the correct implementation methodologies and have real experience in deploying those applications. How do you know that a potential integration partner meets these criteria? Hire someone who has been certified by your CRM software vendor for its latest release.

When you use certified consultants, you know you're working with people who understand the software inside and out. They can translate business requirements into software configurations far more effectively than noncertified consultants. They can also provide a much more realistic forecast of your CRM implementation project in terms of time and resource requirements.


Actively involve CRM users

Incorporate the knowledge of frontline professionals into your system design. Unless you solicit and act on user input, you risk implementing a CRM that confuses and alienates the people it is meant to help. Once you show them the solution's native capabilities, they will tell you exactly what to do with the product to help them improve their effectiveness.

In interface design, for example, the goal is to make the user interface as intuitive and user friendly as possible. But the only people who can tell you what is intuitive are the people who will use the software. So run a prototype past your users and adjust the screens based on their recommendations. The result will be a better, more intuitive screen design that will have a high level of user acceptance. Even if the modifications made in response to their input are relatively minor, the sense of ownership generated by user involvement can significantly boost enthusiasm for the solution.


Invest in CRM user training

Providing adequate training to CRM users is critical to the success of your implementation project. Training should not be an afterthought, nor should it just focus on demonstrating how to use the software's features. Instead, training should teach your employees how to effectively execute the business processes enabled by the CRM system.

It should also focus on change management, given that a CRM implementation changes a company's business processes. Employees need to understand how the new processes and the CRM solution will help the company better serve customers. If employees understand how the system will make them more effective in the long run, they will eagerly adopt it.

But to garner that degree of support and buy-in, you must involve system users from the beginning—both in designing the CRM solution and developing the associated training. See Step 7.


Use a phased rollout schedule

Most successful CRM projects follow a phased deployment schedule, with each phase focused on a specific objective. Each successive phase leverages the work and learnings from prior phases to produce a significant business impact quickly (typically three to four months).

By breaking down a complex project into more easily manageable chunks that produce "quick wins," a phased approach generates enthusiasm for the new system, from the integration team through to the CRM's users.

Phased rollouts also provide the advantage of allowing you to learn along the way. You can test new ideas in a low-risk format, incorporate customer feedback into the developing design, and avoid repeating errors.

Phasing should not be confused with pushing a deadline back. Each phase of a multiphase project should have its own tight schedule, so that the overall rollout design still hits mandated deadlines. Most deployments should finish the initial phase in one quarter and be completely rolled out in less than a year. No rollout should exceed six to eight quarters, and the ROI should be visible even earlier.


Measure, monitor, and track

Once a CRM system goes live, you must measure, monitor, and track the system's effectiveness to continuously improve performance. Companies who benefit from a CRM benchmark their processes early on. They identify key performance metrics for those processes and measure how the newly implemented CRM system affects those metrics.

You should also periodically survey your customers' attitudes and behaviors to determine how the CRM impacts them. Use an independent service if conducting customer surveys. Such outsourcing will not only leverage specialized skills and provide access to industry benchmarks, but you will also be more likely to secure unfiltered customer responses, which are more reliable.

Finally, you should report your monitoring results to everyone who has a stake in your CRM system. This last step "closes the loop" and allows you to adjust as necessary.

Oracle for CRM

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