How To Assemble a CRM Selection Team

Making a unilateral or IT-driven decision to acquire any particular customer relationship management (CRM) solution has a tendency to backfire, as users and mangers then grapple with managing their routines and tasks in a system they never vetted.

A better approach is for business executives, IT leaders and departmental managers to proactively seek a cross representation of stakeholders and an evangelist, that is a high-ranking business executive who will champion the enterprise-wide benefits of CRM to everyone from the sales department to the corner office.

By seeking input from all affected constituents and departments, with consideration of each individual's and business unit's needs, wants, dislikes and concerns, management can be better-assured of company-wide buy-in that leads to a successful CRM software implementation and forecasted ROI. After all, without careful consideration a company could be stuck with an expensive technology investment that does not provide improved selling, marketing or customer service, nor an improved customer relationship or the reduction of overhead and enhanced productivity.

Once an organization has determined it could benefit from CRM strategy and supporting customer management software, the first step must be creation of a selection team to explore the business needs, the technology, the benefits, the vendors and the service providers. This multi-disciplined team should include several roles, such as the following.

Steering Committee
First, create a steering committee made up of top executives, departmental managers, subject matter experts (SMEs), IT managers, CRM experts if you have them (or consider outside consultants if you don’t) and those who will regularly use the CRM software system. This group should collectively create the CRM vision, and be the go-to sponsors and advocates throughout the company. The steering committee also ensures adequate resourcing and financing for the project, resolves policy decisions and marries the corporation's business direction to the CRM solution.

This committee's goals are to ensure the company aligns their CRM software with the customer relationship management business strategy, identifies and prioritizes the company’s business processes, finds the preferred CRM solution, validates the business case and forecasted ROI, approves the implementation approach and reviews the post-implementation benefits on a periodic basis.

Executive Champion
Buy-in and sponsorship from a top executive are key to increasing the project's visibility, securing proper funding, and imparting an immeasurable feeling of importance among the selection team and the user community. This should encourage all affected participants to take the CRM project seriously and add value to their membership in the team.

In some cases, this senior level executive is the President, VP of Sales or CFO. In others, it is the CIO or head of the customer service department. The choice hinges on an organization's structure and each executive's clout, commitment and personal interest. To accomplish the strategic goals of CRM, the lead executive's schedule is less important than his or her interest in heading the initiative. In fact, more often than not, the best executive sponsor is the one with the least amount of available time. If you need something done right, give it to a busy person.

This top executive will be the focal point between the steering committee and the project team and the person tapped to prioritize, advise and counsel the team on top-level decisions. The executive also will regularly communicate with line of business leaders such as discussing the financial aspects with chief financial officer (CFO), customer service matters with the contact center manager or technology implications with the IT Director.

In addition, the executive can ensure the availability of personnel, as needed, and help assess existing business practices from a strategy perspective. The executive sponsor should closely monitor the project plan, schedule, budget, risks and projected benefits.

Department Managers
Divisions such as sales, marketing and customer service must have direct and continuous input into the CRM selection process. After all, employees within these departments have the most to gain from the proper solution – or the most to lose if the project falls short. Notwithstanding the need to make cost effective business decisions, heeding their wish-list of features goes a long way toward encouraging their user adoption and buy-in.

It also may be advantageous to tap so-called super users, those who typically embrace technology that supports their duties. Managers - and, perhaps, IT - can identify these prospective participants. Getting super users on board early goes a long way in securing the buy-in from the rest of the staff.

Project Manager
With a history of strong project management and communication skills, the project manager is the hands-on tactical leader of CRM selection and adoption. After all, this person oversees all day-to-day tasks by tweaking the plan as needed, reporting to the project's executive sponsor and managing the vendor-customer relationship.

In addition to managing scope, time, budget and quality, and the inter-relationships among these four primary variables, the project manager will periodically review risk, maintain a keen eye for change management obstacles, constantly review technical and scheduling items, resolve open issues or questions, and oversee the company's resources to make the best use of personnel, funding and time.

CRM Pros
An organization may want a customer-friendly, easy to use CRM solution but sophisticated software requires business and technical expertise. As such, CRM technology experts should be part of any team.

No matter whether they are also subject matter experts, functional champions or team leads, these employees are expert in CRM technology, able to configure CRM software, propose system integration and determine areas of potential business process improvement or extended software utilization. But the technical experts also must bridge the IT-to-user gap, and bridge users' wants with CRM's realities and the company’s budget.

System Administrator
The system administrator is tasked with massaging existing data into the new CRM solution, configuring the application, troubleshooting and monitoring usage to continually improve the system and increase ROI. Other ongoing responsibilities include keeping the user list current, administering the necessary security procedures and tools, modifying data list fields, delivering end-user training, managing software upgrades and creating custom views, queries or reports for users.

CRM Consultants
Depending on the organization, it may be wise to hire an outside consultant to recommend potential CRM software solutions. These experts often provide CRM selection best practices and plenty of real-world evidence - both anecdotal and statistical - based on their clients' real world experiences. And a vendor-neutral partner may well have useful expertise within a given vertical market or product suite.

While it may seem time-consuming to proactively pursue input from so many people, the time expended at the front of a CRM project will provide dividends during and following the implementation. After all, implementing a CRM solution that no one or only a few people use is a real threat, one only abated by ensuring mass buy-in from all affected employees and managers.