A CRM Implementation Plan to Lower Time, Cost and Risk

The road to implementing customer relationship management software is fraught with risk and littered with failure. Ironically, reams have been written by industry practitioners extolling the reasons “Why CRM projects fail,” yet the same patterns repeat themselves over and over.

While there is no magic pill, there are lessons, insights and best practices that can be distilled into a proven and repeatable CRM Implementation Plan.

Based on research findings from The CRM Benchmark Report, mitigation strategies from The CRM Failure Report and more than three decades of implementing CRM software, the following 7 step plan provides clear and actionable techniques to reduce risk and maximize CRM implementation success.


Start with Design Thinking

When CRM deployments fail to identify and pursue the most important CRM outcomes, they meander in an aimless and uninspiring journey that achieves lackluster results at best, or more likely incurs user adoption challenges as users believe the effort exceeds the value.

CRM projects are most successful when project objectives are designed to satisfy the most important user, customer and company goals. And the method to surface these goals is Design Thinking.

Design Thinking for CRM

A Design Thinking workshop is typically a one-day exercise whereby cross functional staff determine the highest impact and most important CRM success criteria; measured in user, customer and business outcomes; and according to the people that will most use or benefit from the business software.

What makes this approach different and better is that it's fast and it shifts CRM objectives from being measured in software features and functions (which most users and managers don't care about) to being measured in user and customer business outcomes (which users and managers care deeply about).


Include Change Management

A new CRM system brings new processes, automation, information, roles, responsibilities, and control, or oftentimes an actual or perceived loss of control. That's a lot of change, and the problem with change is that it creates anxiety for many users.

Change Management User Anxiety

While change is endorsed by the few imposing it, it is not always so well accepted or is even contested by many receiving it. To facilitate that difference, apply a change management program to systemically shift individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a defined future state while mitigating productivity loss during the transition, creating an environment for sustained change, and realizing the benefits of change more quickly.

Unlike software, people are not so easily configurable. But early adoption of a change management program will directly impact implementation success and business transformation results.

The CRM Benchmark Report found that implementations with active change management programs achieved a 9% shorter deployment period, 19% higher user satisfaction and 17% higher average user adoption (86% compared to 69%) after the first 90 days

A change management programs is your best tool to ensure that resistance to change will not delay or derail CRM implementation objectives. Your change management program will also be the single greatest tool to determine whether CRM software user adoption is enthusiastic, sluggish or challenged.


Streamline Processes Before You Automate Them

CRM technology can automate business processes. However, that's only a benefit if the processes are effective. Bad processes that deliver inconsistent or poor user and customer experiences are not helped by technology. Nor do they permit the company to scale.

You cannot refine a process before the process is consistent. You can't systemically improve it until it's measurable. And you cannot automate it before it's streamlined. Otherwise, you are just automating a mess which exacerbates the inefficiencies.

"Eighty-five percent of the reasons for failure are deficiencies in the systems and process rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.” — W. Edwards Deming

Most companies have well defined and relatively consistent processes for Finance, Billing, Procurement and HR. That consistency often evades marketing and sales organizations and prevents both efficiency and effectiveness. Too often, marketing and sales processes are handled like one-time or ad-hoc events with insufficient planning and results based on hope (or trial and error) more so than data driven expectations.

Business process improvement or reengineering is a prerequisite to technology automation.

Customer facing processes should be designed for effectiveness, then streamlined, then made efficient and then automated with technology, in that order. When done right, streamlined processes not only deliver repeatable outcomes and quality results, but they also create confidence and trust.

Use a process driven technique to drive process definition. Module or function-based process design will deliver piecemeal results that fall short when extended to other areas. From our three decades of experience in CRM process design we find Agile Value Stream Mapping is the technique that best eliminates non-value-added activities and streamlines everything else.

Agile Value Stream Mapping

The combination of business process improvement and software automation will also provide a powerful offense in securing user adoption.


Implement with Agility

Agile methods provide the most flexibility and adaptability to CRM implementations.

Agile is a set of governing principals. Scrum is the most popular Agile framework and brings prescriptive and measurable execution to deployment projects. Scrum is particularly well suited to CRM implementations.

Most know agile as a sprint-based method which applies an adaptive and iterative deployment process to give users more control over the final solution as they can vision short term goals, quickly iterate and affect the solution's progress and direction from one sprint to the next.

Agile CRM implementations replace an all-encompassing build phase with several short build iterations that support just in time requirements definitions. Work is performed in smaller increments which define requirements in real-time and demonstrate value to stakeholders in shorter timeframes.

Agile Sprints

Agile projects embrace adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery and continuous improvement – making them nimble and highly adaptive to change. Agile deployments deliver value to the business early and often, and thereby increase performance visibility and decrease risk.


Perform Training Early and Often

Experience shows that software training gets short shrift in most deployments. I’ll share with you the 4 reasons new software training generally disappoints.

  1. First, it’s typically approached with a car wash mentality: You're in, you're out, and you're on your way. But this isn't how real learning happens.
  2. Second, most implementations under-estimate the hours needed for training and that directly impacts your staff's ability to harness the new software.
  3. Third, most training is not contextualized for the users. Instead, too often, training is delivered by trainers that focus on software capabilities in a vacuum, and not on the capabilities that drive the objectives and processes most important to the users.
  4. And fourth, training is too often a one-time event. It's usually a single classroom style train-the-trainer process, followed by minimal trainer delivery to end-users.

We advocate a different path. Our training approach is evolution instead of revolution, which means it's a shift from a one-and-done event to a process of continuous learning performed during each sprint.

Cognitive science shows that to actually learn something, the brain must build upon existing knowledge. Progressive training delivered with each sprint creates bite-sized learning sessions and realizes true learning whereby the brain converts information from short-term memory to longer-term retention.

Bite sized training programs make training more focused, faster to consume and easier to remember.

Training Programs

This approach also shifts training from software instruction to achievement of the business outcomes identified in the Design Thinking workshop as well as the role based WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) capabilities identified in the Change Management program.

Remember two things. It's not about training, it's about learning. And users don't care about software, they care about what it can do for them.


Leverage Analytics

CRM systems capture plenty of data. But value isn't achieved by putting data into a system, it's attained by getting information out.

Fortunately, CRM decision support tools are effective at churning through large volumes of customer data and delivering insights and recommendations that are just not possible otherwise.

The goal of CRM decision support, often just called CRM analytics, is to get the right information to the right people at the right time, so they deliver improved customer experiences, make better decisions and make adjustments when performance doesn't go as planned.

That last point often leads to the most significant performance improvements. Timely variance notifications permit course corrections before problems exacerbate.

If your CRM analytics are not causing shifts in execution and other course corrections, you’re doing it wrong.
— Chuck Schaeffer, CEO of Johnny Grow

The upside opportunities for analytics are almost endless. For example, …

  • Salesforce analytics can uncover revenue opportunities, such as which clients, leads or sale opportunities are most likely to close. They identify variances in real-time, such as revenue leakage, which may include leads not being followed-up or sale opportunities not being followed-through. And they surface business process failures such as a quoting or order entry problem. Swift course corrections prevent the loss of short-term revenue.
  • Marketing analytics identify the most effective campaign component assemblies. They apply multivariate propensity models to show the combination of offers, content, channels, and call-to-actions by customer type or target audience to optimize lead conversions, lead acquisitions and sales pipeline growth.
  • Customer service analytics identify the high volume of low complexity calls well suited for customer self-service channels. They aid proactive customer support by resolving issues before they happen. They apply data patterns to detect correlations between new incidents and existing products, extrapolate to other customers with those products and proactively outreach with a solution before they incur the failure. Customer service decision support can detect customers at risk of defection and suggest retention levers to save them.

The above examples are just the starting point.

But to achieve these types of insights at scale, a mix of information reporting tools are needed.

CRM apps offer many reporting tools. But time and budget are limited so prioritizing the most effective decision support tools will lower investment and accelerate results. For most companies, customized role-based dashboards and predictive analytics will deliver the most value and financial uplift.

The most successful companies are defined by their ability to collect and curate the right data, use data to create differentiating customer experiences and apply analytics to make insights actionable at every customer interaction or customer decision point; that is, those points where customers choose whether to do business with your company (i.e., moments of truth).

CRM software is a tool. Information is an asset.


Insist on Governance

Everybody knows governance is needed to shepherd sophisticated technology projects. But not everybody knows what that means. Governance is really about 4 things.

Governance Tower
  1. Transparency, which shares the measures that most clearly show project status and progress, and whether the project is on track or not
  2. Inspection, which is a regular cadence to review the most essential measurements, vet progress and ensure understanding
  3. Adaptation, to implement changes when results show variances from plan, or to steer the project toward an outcome or implement a course correction, and
  4. Accountability, which ensures each person knows and delivers their commitments

There are many good tools and artifacts to support governance. They include things like roles and responsibilities documents, RACI schedules, RAID (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies) reports and steering committee reports. One tool that we routinely use is a success factors dashboard like the one shown below.

CRM Governance Dashboard

Good governance avoids confusing activity with progress and separates the urgent from the important. It brings clear eyed rationalization when confronted with competing priorities or emergency issues that seek to divert key resources from their planned roles and contributions.

Good governance is proactive to empower the steering committee and project team to view the project through the front windshield, and not just the rearview mirror, and is essential to steer the CRM project to a planned destination, and not just be along for the ride.