CRM Selection Best Practices – and Worst Practices

Countless pundits have opined near countless theories about best practices related to software selection, implementation, and management of CRM systems. Based on surveys, studies, and research, there is no lack of expert opinion for those about to embark on a CRM software selection project.

However, while theory and generalizations prevail, readers often seek practical and specific recommendations they can immediately apply to their CRM initiatives. Rather than contribute more of the same to the theoretical mass, this post takes a different approach – I asked CRM software vendors for their most practical advice and best practices with the highest impact. Here's their advice from the real world.

CRM Software Selection Best Practices


Make Sure Your Selection Team is the A Team

There are few things more important than making sure you get the right people on the CRM software selection and deployment teams. Customer relationship management provides the framework for all customer interactions and imposes a degree of process discipline on sales, marketing, and customer service staff so that business processes occur with consistency and predictability. If the customer management strategy and supporting application software are the front line for customer acquisition and retention, it warrants the design and engineering of your most talented staff.

While there is also a necessary role for IT representation, whether on premise or SaaS CRM systems, executive sponsorship should normally come from the business side and the design team must be stacked with business people. Seek out people who think systemically and understand the need for process. The sales person who achieves quota every year through the depth of his client relationships may not be someone who will appreciate the need for CRM software and may therefore not be much help in process design. That's not to say we circumvent this sales person, instead we use him in a highly leveraged model where we get his input on the business practices that make him effective and embed those techniques in the CRM system for all to benefit.


Select For The Long Haul But Implement For The Short Run

There was consistent feedback that the most successful adopters planned complete enterprise customer relationship management solutions but sequenced their projects into manageable phases and delivered incremental and measurable progress over time.

Many adopters struggle with the amount of change management that comes with new CRM software. Phasing the roll-out by CRM function, business unit, or geographic location provides the implementation team increased focus, manageability and predictability. The key to a successful phased project is to thoroughly understand the larger scope and to link the design and configuration decisions for each phase into the grand strategy.

So don't mortgage your future and settle for a system that has near-term fit but does not provide a long term solution. Once you have selected a CRM system, begin the project by thinking about how to phase the roll-out so that you deliver early value and gain continued momentum toward the long-term destination.


Build for Enterprise-Wide Automation and Information Reporting

Integrating CRM with ERP and other back-office systems is essential for for enterprise-wide process automation and information reporting. However, many CRM applications 'stop' customer process automation when a sale opportunity is won. But this is the point where the customer relationship actually begins.

Surprisingly few CRM systems offer built-in quote management or sales order processing, which is a natural extension into the accounting software or back office ERP system. This lack of front-to-back office system integration further deprives customer facing staff of useful information such as customer credit limit, credit availability, inventory stock levels, shipping status or a view of a customers purchase history.

Companies are then faced with incremental expenses to buy more "add on" software or to incur the time and cost of custom system integration. Still other CRM applications offer robust sales order management and visibility to sales history as part of their core offerings.

If back office integration is a must-have requirement, ensure that the front office product you select offers flexibility in configuration and a wide range of views to your customer data so you integrate only what is essential for seamless process flows. For organizations that want to promote up-selling, cross-selling, renewal selling or just arm sales staff with customer purchase visibility, ensuring you extend the sales loop from the sale opportunity to sales order processing will be appreciated by customer facing staff and contribute to a more enthusiastic user adoption.

CRM Software Selection Worst Practices


Buying For Features and Not Objectives

Getting enamored with bells, whistles and features you never knew existed during the software selection process is a recipe for veering off track and choosing the wrong customer relationship management application. Some CRM vendors excel at hype and lead their selling efforts with their latest new release, marketing campaign or advertising piece. Some suppliers emphasize their newest features in order to influence or change your decision making criteria in a not so subtle attempt to align with their latest product announcements.

This sales approach adds even more confusion and complexity to the already arduous task of selecting the optimal CRM software system which best resolves your biggest pain points, automates your customer facing business processes and aligns to your most strategic customer relationship objectives. Worse yet, force fitting new, never before considered features into an implementation effort may unnecessarily add time, risk and cost - for very little benefit. Focus your CRM software selection on the most important and prioritized criteria uncovered during your internal assessment and using measurable criteria which most directly support your company's most strategic business objectives.


Automating Poor Business Processes

Let's face it – few are satisfied that their sales, marketing, and customer service business processes are optimal. Implementing new customer management software does not in and of itself improve existing business processes. The industry's best CRM systems embed an enormous number of operational best practices that you can extend to your business if you're willing to reconsider your processes. Be willing to revisit and upgrade your workflow where it makes sense and resist the temptation to change the CRM software to accommodate business processes that could benefit from reengineering.

Let's take opportunity management as an example. Most sales force automation (SFA) applications can systemically manage a sale opportunity through closure and embed some discipline on the sales steps and probability to close thereby improving forecast visibility and accuracy. But what if your company is like so many others that have multiple types of sale opportunities? Or what happens if sale opportunities are closed and revenue is realized over multiple periods? It rarely makes sense to force fit sale opportunities into a lowest common denominator tracking mechanism as they move through different steps of the sales process. So, use the CRM system framework to define common processes while at the same time leveraging an application that is flexible enough to accommodate your multiple types of opportunities.

CRM Process Automation

Believing That Cloud CRM Systems Administer Themselves

The set it and forget it sales suggestion that once your cloud CRM is enabled, you relax and begin viewing color coded dashboards that summarize your sales, marketing and customer service operations is not credible. Cloud CRM systems are like any other business software applications in that they require system administration and continuous process improvement to achieve sustained business results. No on-premise or on-demand CRM system offers a self-automated response when companies are reorganized, territories are realigned, sales people are reassigned, new products are launched, business processes are reengineered or new information is needed.

Similarly, as more data is loaded in your information system, you can begin to leverage powerful business intelligence (BI) tools that are built into several CRM applications to better analyze your operations, construct hypothetical models or perform simple 'what if' analysis. For example, integrated online analytical processing (OLAP) or predictive analytics tools allow you to visually detect exceptions, spot trends and make course corrections to improve business performance. But these tools must be custom configured to align with your data architecture and information reporting goals.