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6 Steps to a Successful CRM Implementation

Jordan Beier
Jordan Beier

Learn how to implement CRM software with these six steps to have a successful launch for both your team and your customers.

  • The improved features of CRM software have increased both its complexity and necessity.
  • Nearly half of CRM implementation campaigns suffer from improper preparation and misaligned objectives among internal stakeholders.
  • A properly conceived CRM implementation strategy covers the breakdown of its goals, research, strategy, development and future.
  • This article is for small business owners who want to make sure they are taking the right steps when implementing a new CRM system.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software has evolved from a tool that helped sales teams store customer data into a multifaceted hub that drives the technology suite of an entire business. It can add tremendous value to your company, but how well you integrate it with your preexisting processes will dictate its effectiveness. The best implementation practices include focusing on your established goals, employing a dedicated team to lead the implementation, and offering training opportunities that help employees understand how to use the software when it launches.

How to implement a CRM system

A CRM platform is an overarching system overhaul, and the scale and detail of its implementation must match its intended reach. These six key concepts clarify the required investment and strategies businesses can follow for a successful CRM implementation process. 

1. Set realistic, actionable goals.

You should have a clear and simple vision for your CRM directly related to your most essential business functions. List your macro targets, write down your overall vision for the CRM's impact, and pinpoint which CRM features and tools provided will help you achieve them.

A common mistake in seeking out these systems is viewing the platforms as accessories – extensions, rather than integrations. CRM systems do add new processes and functionality, but those are perks, not goals. They may even distract from the primary mission. Ask yourself several guiding questions when considering whether CRM software is appropriate for your company: Will the new system match the way you do business? Are you trying to streamline a process, or change it altogether?

"Put the process into the technology," Barton Goldenberg, president of ISM and author of CRM in Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships, told Business News Daily. "The software is nothing more than a … tool that writes the story."

His golden rule? "Process first, people second, technology third."

2. Do your research to find the right CRM solution.

 As the fastest-growing business software, CRM offers an immense field of options. Your specific mission statement is the most helpful constraint, but cutting down the top three CRMs to your final choice is far more difficult than narrowing down an oversized list. There is no single right or wrong answer – this isn't a math test – but some answers are still more correct than others.

The most important factors in your decision could include pricing, the relevancy of the CRM's tools to your process, ease of use and available integrations. Keep the initial implementation simple while maintaining awareness of what future upgrades could entail. A basic but successful launch is more beneficial in both the short and long term than an overly ambitious implementation that expands past your scope.

 

Editor's note: Looking for CRM software? For help finding the right solution for your business, fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

 

3. Select a CRM team, with department champions. 

Once you have selected the CRM platform that most closely aligns with your company vision, you can mobilize the creation unit. This requires a specialized team to complete daily tasks and steer progress. The team should include these members:

  • Project manager (leader)
  • Systems developer (installation)
  • Data analyst (data migration)
  • QA engineer (testing)
  • Champions (representatives)

Depending on the scale of your business and CRM implementation, you may need more than one person filling each role.

Alex Haimann, partner and head of business development at Less Annoying CRM, recommends a team of champions to vouch for the product and act as intermediaries between upper management and its daily users.

"At least some representation on that small, exploratory team should be an end-of-the-line salesperson," he said.

Your champions are well-regarded leaders of each team that will primarily use the CRM. Haimann considers them one of your best assets in promoting adoption of the CRM among your full staff, some of whom may be reluctant to alter their daily habits and processes.

"It needs to be communicated that the CRM is a tool that will help all levels within the organization," Haimann said.

4. Forecast the costs and benefits.

Work with your various teams to forecast the specific effects this CRM will have on your business during the implementation process, the initial six months after launch as your team acclimates, and the following 12 months once the CRM is a fixed part of their daily use. 

Some of the most useful reports are cost-benefit analyses and implementation timelines. Be mindful that production may dip during various stages of the rollout. Resources will be focused on installation while employees learn new practices, and general expenses can increase depending on the training and consulting services you select.

These concrete numbers will provide you more exact expectations to help you modify your actionable goals and achieve buy-in from your executive team. Metrics that demonstrate how much you expect to improve customer retention and conversion rates will convince even the most skeptical. But don't dismiss their feedback – they may catch a hidden detail, and that reluctance could carry over to the other staff when inevitable pain points arise during the learning process.

5. Migrate and integrate data.

Cleaning your data and migrating it into the new CRM platform will be the longest element of the implementation. Even an ideal data set of your customers, finances, and messaging services that contains entirely correct and current information requires several weeks to transfer. Missing or incorrect data needs to be acquired and fixed, or it will reduce the effectiveness of your CRM.

Goldenberg says to first decide which data is necessary to migrate for you to minimize the costs and time of working with irrelevant information. He has found that too much data, especially at launch, becomes a burden on its users.

6. Train the team and test the system.

Once the CRM platform is operational, trust your champions to spearhead training initiatives with their general staff. By this point, the champions should be familiar with the system, its benefits, and how to use the tools.

Most CRM offerings include training and consulting programs to enable businesses to get the most out of their platforms. During this testing phase, assign your IT team to perform quality assurance tests. Some bugs are inevitable, but you don't want the opening launch to be marred by many urgent IT fixes while the system is live.

Key takeaway: Follow this six-step plan focused on realistic goals and actionable data to successfully launch your CRM software with full buy-in from your team.

Importance of CRM implementation

A new CRM system will overhaul many established processes for your team, so your plan must naturally integrate this new system with your current workflow to prepare employees for its launch. A proper implementation process minimizes the time needed for employees to become comfortable with its tools and also mitigates risk.

An unprepared team will be less productive as they juggle learning the system with completing their daily tasks. Compounding mistakes while employees use the software, such as losing data or miscommunicating with their team, could harm your revenue and customer relations.

The more segments of your business the CRM touches, the more extensive an implementation strategy you require. Nearly half of CRM implementations fail to meet expectations, and installing a CRM system without a detailed strategy can lead to confusion, corrupted data, unhappy staff, and crippled productivity as employees work backward to understand an unfamiliar system.

Key takeaway: Your team may use the CRM system incorrectly without the necessary training and resource investment to learn its features and practices, which limits the value of the entire purchase, if not outright damaging your bottom line.

How long does CRM implementation take?

The timeline for the implementation of a new CRM system depends on the size of the business and its various departments. However, most small businesses can expect implementation to last one to three months. Other key variables include which CRM solution you choose, whether you hire outside assistance in data migration and system testing, any training or consulting programs the CRM provider offers, and the quality and quantity of data you currently possess.

Resist the temptation to attempt the different tasks concurrently. CRM can bring sweeping changes to even the most basic processes of your business, and missing any steps could sabotage the entire process. Map out exactly when and how the steps and training should occur to hit the ground running at launch – after what will likely be a period of slower productivity as resources are spread.

Key takeaway: CRM implementation usually takes between one and three months. Complete each step individually, without rushing any aspects.

Common CRM implementation mistakes to avoid

Doing too much too soon

Overcomplication can alter the focus of a CRM so that it solves the wrong issue. Haimann suggests a narrow scope. "Put serious emphasis on your top three or top five significant priorities."

Don't attempt to achieve the primary goal of every department or user. There will always be opportunities to upgrade your system in the future if you start the right way. Changing course is much harder after losing time, resources, and potentially your team's trust after a difficult launch.

Losing team support

Although you see the bigger picture, you are probably less involved in the system's day-to-day use than your team is. Listen to feedback and appreciate it. Empathize with employees reluctant to change practices they may have used for years.

Goldenberg emphasizes a "3X factor" to show daily users the effectiveness of a CRM. Whenever a user inputs a piece of data, "that user must get three valuable pieces of information back to be motivated to use the system." A user who consistently sees the advantages of using the software will recognize its usefulness. 

Forgetting the purpose of a CRM

A CRM platform is a tool to help your team solve problems; it can't solve the problems itself. Remember that the purpose of a CRM is to empower the team, not for the team to empower the software. Adherence to that golden rule will keep your decisions throughout the process focused on the proper objectives. [Check out our recommendations for the best CRM systems for small businesses.]

Key takeaway: Avoid common mistakes such as overcomplicating a launch process and forgetting that the goal of CRM is to function as a solution for the team, not for the team to power the CRM.

Image Credit: shironosov / Getty Images
Jordan Beier
Jordan Beier
Business News Daily Staff
Jordan covers marketing, social, and technology for business.com and Business News Daily as a junior writer based in New York City. He graduated from Tulane University with a bachelor's in marketing, and he still misses that New Orleans cooking.