Customer relationship management (CRM) is often thought of as a discrete software application used primarily by sales and marketing organizations. And as the first enterprise application to shift on a large scale to software-as-a-service delivery, it has also acquired a reputation for being easy to implement.
But before you dive in headlong, consider the caveats of CRM implementation. There is a big difference between choosing and launching a software application, and integrating it into your organizational workflow. CRM adoption has broad implications because it changes the ways you interact with your most important constituents: your customers.
CRM also isn't limited to sales and marketing. It touches customer support, call center operations, website personalization, e-commerce, order fulfillment and accounting. Because the scope of CRM is so wide, it is easy to overlook the potential landmines.
A successful CRM project means carefully coordinating people, processes and technology. Here are seven critical caveats of CRM implementation to consider.
1. Look before you leap
CRM implementation can have such a profound organizational impact that going all-in on a broad automation project can backfire. You will need a shared vision of what the project expects to accomplish and the value proposition to the company and to customers, but you will also need executive support. Getting buy-in on the front lines requires transparent responses to questions about how processes, responsibilities, quotas, reporting structures and compensation will change.
Establish a comprehensive training plan before any technology is introduced, and give employees clear information about expectations, metrics, rewards and penalties. Large organizations are usually better off unrolling staged, department-by-department implementation plans. For example, you could start with sales, notch some wins against key performance indicators, then start deploying CRM tools in marketing or customer service.
2. Consider the impact on workflows
Organizations develop habits over time, and disruption to regular routines could be met with resistance and grind processes to a halt. In most cases, CRM adoption makes organizations more efficient, but employees need to understand that they will endure temporary inconveniences until the new workflows have been put in place. Be honest about what they can expect, and offer incentives for sticking with the program.
3. Don't hand the project to IT
IT is a crucial part of any CRM implementation, but they shouldn't run the show. Implementing enterprise-wide CRM can involve assessing and modifying internal processes, organizational structures, and even enhancing employee skills. A change management program may be necessary to help your organization adapt to the new environment. IT is not equipped to bring stakeholders together across the company, and they shouldn't have to. Let your technology pros do what they do best: implement technology.
4. Consider the customer experience
It's easy to become overly focused on the bottom-line benefits of CRM and forget about the impact on customers. In a perfect world, implementing CRM tools is a win-win—it helps employees satisfy customer demands at the right moment with the right product or service, and it helps them do it with a personal touch.
But there will be glitches—and you need to be prepared. Don't take your new call center system live without a backup plan, for example—you don't want customers stuck on hold or on the wrong end of a dropped call.
5. Mind your money
CRM isn't just a simple one-time purchase. Basic plans are relatively inexpensive, but costs can quickly multiply. Most CRM providers offer subscription tiers based on functionality, number of users and support needs. These costs can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars per user—and that's before you factor in intangibles such as customization, employee training and integration with other operational systems.
6. Clean up your data
One of the most critical stages of implementing a CRM system is cleaning, standardizing and de-duplicating your existing data before plugging it into the new system. Don't underestimate the scope of this task, particularly if your data is spread across locations and databases. Pay particular attention to duplicates created by factors such as spelling errors. Automated tools can help you weed out dupes and irrelevant data, but the solution often requires good old-fashioned elbow grease.