CRM Optimization Roadmap

Once CRM Goes Live, What's Next?

As companies in all industries increasingly orient and advance their businesses around customer interactions – and the data they generate – customer relationship management software is perhaps the single application that should deliver the most value to the business. But many times after the implementation, initiatives are judged to be "failures" in the short- or long-term because:

  • Users don't adopt and embrace the system
  • The initiative loses executive and popular support in the organization
  • The application delivers nominal benefits or poor value

There are a many reasons why CRM initiatives fail, but most stem from the poor calibration of three key elements: goals, processes and sponsorship. Goals need to be measurable – generally a straightforward task when implementing systems such as new accounting software or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, but more amorphous when dealing with the relatively unstructured processes that a CRM system captures. These processes must function well manually before they're automated. Finally, management involvement is key – an executive sponsor must be involved throughout the implementation, and on an ongoing basis.

Anatomy of CRM Failure

When analyzing CRM failures after they go live, a pattern emerges. Optimizing the performance of a system to extract maximum value requires specificity, resourcing and diligence.

  • Goals need to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time bound. These goals can encompass a range of variables, such as revenue enhancement, reduction in customer churn, business process efficiencies or head count reduction. For example, a CRM system can be judged a failure if the stated goal is simply "to improve the sales process." Rather, the goal should be restated along the lines of, "Reduce lead-to-closure time on sales of $500,000 to $1 million from four months to eight weeks, within six months post implementation of the new application, by using pipeline reporting to better allocate sales resources on closing winnable deals."
  • Business processes must work well manually before they are automated. For example, a manual notification function that is not well tuned can send a multitude of unnecessary emails when automated, causing users to tune out or ignore the emails – and the CRM system.
  • Management must maintain a leadership role in continuously reinforcing the vision and purpose. Even after deployment, an executive sponsor or a project director must remain involved and continue championing the application. When sponsors or directors leave a project after the system launches, it can send a strong signal within the organization that the initiative is no longer as important, or about to take a back seat to the next new project, and thus using the system is no longer an imperative.

Turn a Moderate Investment Into a Significant Return

Customer relationship management applications are molded around constant change, such as the daily pulse of a company's sales, marketing and service environments. Therefore, CRM software requires more ongoing care and feeding than other enterprise applications. But the business benefits that can be reaped far exceed the investment.

That said, benefits from deployments typically aren't immediately apparent; three, six and nine months are the standard short-term measurement points. In the short- to mid-term, a well-implemented system provides a superior, real-time view of the company's interactions and activities, and better visibility into how and why a company's sales, service and marketing efforts are performing.

Ultimately, over the long-term, an optimized CRM system can provide real-time visibility and actionable insight into critical success drivers, without sacrificing the efficiency of employees. This allows the overall business to be managed on a more proactive basis, and facilitates the company to become a 'learning organization' whereby it learns from its mistakes, makes data driven decisions, achieves predicted results and becomes responsive to the requests and demands of its customers and stakeholders.

In practice, care and feeding translates into ongoing stewardship of the CRM implementation, and a commitment to optimize the system to continuously derive new value from it. Below are some of the most influential drivers that directly effect program success, and CRM best practices that companies can adopt to receive sustained value from their investment.

Optmize CRM with People and Processes

There are several best practices that, if adhered to during and following the CRM implementation, will deliver a dramatic, positive impact on the system's performance and continued optimization. The first two involve people:

  • All enterprise software deployments require executive sponsorship. CRM is no exception. It requires representatives from the executive team, management, business, finance and IT. This is necessary to secure the required resources, address hurdles during the implementation and drive user adoption.
  • Also required: An overall project director, or high-profile manager. This person often is seconded to a project initiative for the duration and often becomes the Director of CRM to continue to support and measure the return on the solution investment over time.

To migrate these implementation best practices to the optimization phase, the leadership from the project team should remain intact, and continue to "own" the customer relationship management program. High-visibility leadership and vocal support for the system is critical after launch since, as previously noted, benefits from these systems often can't be seen or measured until three to nine months after the solution is put into production. The optimization project team should include:

  • An executive sponsor who communicates the successes of the implementation, in terms of original goals. S/he should also keep the organization focused on continually advancing those goals by constantly enhancing the system, improving processes and resetting expectations. The sponsor must be able to champion ongoing improvements in all areas that the application touches, such as "resolve customer support calls on the first contact 90% of the time within 60 days of system production." Otherwise, certain departments may stop embracing the system, revert back to shadow systems or prior processes, or find other workarounds to the CRM application.
  • A Program Manager who is not managing the system at the most strategic level, but instead is focused on translating business requirements into specific application enhancements the company can implement to continue improving the solution. This Manager is the organization's go-to person for getting definitive answers, measuring progress, making course corrections, planning next phases and staying abreast of new software releases.

Clearly, CRM software is a continuously evolving application; this technology environment is never static or complete. To leverage the resources that are invested, over time, into proportionately much larger business benefits, companies should:

  • Take a SMART approach to revising prior goals and defining new goals. From the lessons learned in the implementation and initial production period, original project goals may be increased or new complimentary objectives may be slated. It's critical that goals are closely aligned with the company's top business objectives and that all stakeholders buy in to the goals and their measurable benefits.
  • Exercise ongoing creativity in assessing how the application can improve the business. CRM process innovation comes from all levels of the organization. Staff on the front lines – handling sales and support interactions – can be a tremendous source of suggestions on how the system can be leveraged to improve business performance. At a strategic level, applying the dedicated mindshare, and organizational influence, of an executive sponsor and a Director or Manager helps to frame tactical suggestions into a larger context. By marrying strategic business impact with tactical business improvement, this CRM optimization best practice can yield a "multiplier effect," amplifying the benefits a company can receive from a nominal resource investment.

Optimize CRM with Technology Advancements

Sustained system adoption and business results require that the application deliver value when it's deployed, and on an ongoing basis. Accomplishing these goals in the optimization phase is far easier when companies continue following best practices established in the implementation phase.

  • Strategic vision: The executive sponsor and program director should periodically revisit the company's strategic vision for the system – and validate or revise how the system directly supports the company's most pressing business objectives. As previously described, these objectives change over time (increase sales conversions, improve support, etc.) and must be translated into SMART goals, prioritized, slated and well communicated throughout the enterprise.
  • High-impact deliverables: In mapping the goals to an optimization plan, they should be broken into manageable increments that can be delivered quickly, make a demonstrable business impact, and build momentum – thus sustaining broad and continued support for the system.
  • Ongoing execution: Over time, new capabilities should be rolled out on a steady, periodic basis, again linked to the strategic business objectives.

System Integration is a Key for CRM Optimization

Velocity and momentum are essential in any good CRM implementation plan, and beyond the cut-over. The challenge is to balance the highest impact choices and bring the most essential to the forefront. Optimizing a CRM system is therefore an extension of a "start small, deliver fast" implementation strategy.

During the initial implementation, the application is typically integrated with other primary systems such as the accounting system or ERP application. After the go-live event, integration with other legacy systems generally becomes a top priority for continued CRM optimization.

Software integration reduces manual processes, eliminates rekeying of data, streamlines business processes, reduces cycle times and make information more readily available for reports, analytics or business intelligence applications. Some legacy system integration examples may include the following.

  • Secondary enterprise systems such as Web-based Order Management or e-commerce, to eliminate the manual re-keying of sales orders.
  • Tertiary systems such as social networking tools (social listening tools or digital engagement tools), to help hone relationships with customer contacts, and to also continuously measure outside perception of a company's products or services.

Software integration can also enable additional functionality or processes, such as giving business partners access to the company's customer management system through an online partner portal. Across the board, system integration can deliver key benefits such as reducing waste, optimizing business processes and allowing head count to be deployed to more value-added activities.

As the software is optimized, it may assume more capabilities and become uncoupled from other systems downstream. For any integration activity, the important point is that as business processes change, the company needs to implement the necessary modifications in its technology to ensure continued automation and continuity in the way the process is fulfilled.

Streamline Processes Before Automating Them

Software integration plays a critical role in facilitating business process automation. As a best practice, companies should make sure that business processes function consistently and with predicted results, in their manual state, before automating them with new technology. Often companies' enthusiasm for the CRM software results in overly ambitious process automation during the initial optimization phase. This can have disastrous results, magnifying the process' flaws.

For example, as CRM systems are embraced by more and more users within an organization, customer support and help desk systems are popular continued adoption or integration choices. Sometimes cross-pollination of data and actions between these systems and CRM can have unexpected results.

Notifications may be set on a very sensitive level within the help desk, generating email updates at every step of a problem resolution. If the notification process is connected without modification to the CRM system, for example, sales representatives could be besieged with emails as multiple customers' support issues progress to resolution. This causes staff to tune out or ignore the system and can foster mistrust in a key constituency of the CRM system's user community.

Continued Technology Innovation

Cloud CRM systems delivered as subscription-based software as a service (SaaS) offer numerous advantages in the optimization phase. SaaS-based systems can more easily facilitate continuous improvements because:

  • Architecturally, SaaS systems are better enabled for cloud computing extensibility. They can be more easily linked with other business software applications. Beyond traditional enterprise systems such as accounting software, ERP applications, manufacturing systems or order management, SaaS implementations can also more readily accommodate integration with mobile and social applications. This allows companies to, for example, do customer broadcasts via Twitter, synch Outlook calendars with CRM data, use business intelligence (BI) tools to analyze customer data or link data to digital dashboards.
  • SaaS systems typically receive minor release updates about monthly and a more significant releases about semi-annually. The ease of upgrades stands in stark contrast to the prior era on-premise fork lift upgrades which were complex, laborious, very costly and often follow a process of "buy-install-patch-buy-upgrade and when necessary-forget," resulting in CRM systems that are not kept current and do not evolve with changing business needs.

Despite the easier approach to upgrades, customers need to evaluate the new features and capabilities available via SaaS releases and decide if they want to use them, which does have an internal resource cost associated with it.

CRM is a Journey

Optimizing a CRM software system to extract maximum, ongoing value requires a strategic way of thinking about the software. CRM is not just an application, it is a work environment that touches virtually every aspect of a company's interactions with its customers. As a result, optimizing the system necessitates thinking holistically about the way organizations use technology to operate and improve their business.

Due to the way it permeates operations and evolves over time, CRM success is not proclaimed upon the implementation cut-over or at a single point in time. As in the implementation phase, people, process and technology all factor prominently into continued CRM optimization phases. Related best practices can help.

  • Maintain executive sponsorship beyond implementation, creating ongoing stewardship.
  • Designate a Director, a high profile leader or manager who translates business requirements into specific enhancements the company can implement to continue improving its system and ROI.
  • Take a SMART approach to defining goals. They may be based on classic performance metrics such as improved staff productivity, head count reduction and revenue enhancement, or unique to a company's culture.
  • Show ongoing creativity in assessing how the application can continually improve business processes. Process innovation comes from all levels of the organization. By marrying strategic business impact with tactical business improvement, this CRM best practice can yield the "multiplier effect," amplifying the benefits a company can receive from nominal investments.
  • Maintain a strategic technology vision that is periodically revisited, revised and aligned as the company's business objectives change.
  • Map out high-impact deliverables that can be delivered quickly, make a demonstrable business impact, and build momentum – thus sustaining broad and continued support for the CRM software.

Remember, ongoing execution of new capabilities should be rolled out on a steady, periodic basis, again linked to strategic business objectives.