How To Get More Payback From Your CRM Software Investment

Even if you get the expected ROI from your new Customer Relationship Management system, it doesn't mean you've gotten the maximum out of it. By observing a few simple principles and pursuing a CRM optimization plan to fine-tune your processes you can make your the application even more productive, probably in ways that aren't immediately obvious. Here are some recommendations to get more payback from your CRM investment.

Increase Application Utilization

The biggest barrier to payback is lack of active and full user adoption. Over and over again, companies who did not achieve their investment goals report that the users either aren't fully or faithfully using the system. Far too many times users simply go through the motions, entering the bare minimum, and often maintaining information outside the CRM application—in email systems, paper documents, Excel spreadsheets or even redundant shadow systems.

Remember that fundamentally Customer Relationship Management is a cooperative effort between the staff, management and IT. All of them have to work together, and all of them have to enjoy benefits of the system, to make the application deliver on its goals.

This takes planning, continuous effort, systemic measurement and constant revisions. Above all, you've got to make sure staff are embracing the business system and not circumventing it. Part of that is making sure the system is easy to use and really helps the users. But part of it is also monitoring and making sure people are employing it.

"If you're not using the customer management reports, call people on it," says Barry Moltz, a writer, speaker and consultant on small business based in Chicago, IL. Moltz suggest taking it a step further. "If it's not recorded in the CRM system it didn't happen," he suggests. "Whatever happened in the system is the reality." In other words, the CRM system should be the master record that everything else depends on.

Seek Out New Capabilities

Implementing a CRM system is a learning process. As the software brings information into focus and gives you a broader view of your customers, it opens new opportunities to improve your business and your bottom line.

CRM systems suggest new opportunities by collating data that previously existed in separate silos. By interrogating that data and applying the information intelligently you can find new opportunities to improve internal business processes, serve customers and increase profits.

"Because of the data you have a much better sense of what each customer is looking for," says Robert Gorin, a senior director at Getzler Henrich and Associates, a New York City based consultancy. "It's about listening to what the customer is saying so you know what the customer needs before they tell you they need it."

Gorin cites the example of a company that sells printer ink cartridges. "You should be able to figure out how often I buy ink," he says. "Wouldn't it be great if two days before the ink runs out the supplier sends you an email saying 'by our records you should be about out of black ink—and fortunately we've got a great promotion on?" Combining that message with an easy to use order form would build business by leveraging the information in the CRM system.

Of course, as Gorin points out, in order to make use of the opportunities provided by the information in your application it is necessary to actually do something with it. That means analyzing the information to find opportunities and then acting on them.

Manage Scope and Expand by Plan

One of the keys to a high-ROI CRM project is relentless focus on project scope and knowing when you're done with each implementation phase. The application is an enormously flexible tool with a lot of potential and it's easy to keep adding things to the project as you go along.

But if not tightly managed pursuant to the CRM software implementation roadmap, scope creep puts an added strain on the budget and schedule and the project becomes swamped with additions that have little or less direct impact on company objectives and financial return.

Since these projects evolve as they roll out this tends to become a balancing act. You need to carefully separate the proposed "nice to haves" from the proposed "must-haves" and begin by implementing only those that are most essential. Managing scope, and preventing scope-creep, are critical to achieving the highest priority initiatives.

"Don't boil the ocean as they say," says Ray Simon, a principal of ENPIO, a San Francisco, CA, consultancy.

"Know when a project is over," advises Michael Krigsman, CEO of Asuret Inc., a Brookline, MA consultancy. "On some projects you end up with scope creep. You start with a clear business case and good implementation, but you keep adding features. So the final project doesn't resemble what you began with."

The other point is to understand that CRM is a journey of continuous improvements. "I like to say you'll never know less about technology than you do now because your CRM system is going to grow," Simon says. As you use your system you will learn the strengths and weaknesses and probably see better ways of doing things. When it comes time to upgrade, modify, iterate or replace your CRM system you can use that learning curve to understand what features drive the most important business outcomes and methodically advance your customer relationship management system and program.