5 Points to Keep in Mind while Planning for a CRM Implementation

Understanding CRM Objectives
It is a well established fact that CRM implementations often fail in organizations big and small. Before one delves into the gory details of such failures and conducts an analysis of case studies, it is important to understand the basic causes. Chart out the general dos and don’ts that could help avoid failure. Several factors are responsible for unsuccessful CRM solutions and low ROI (return on investment). The most basic reasons are -
  • Inability to define a clear objective and end goal for the CRM program. If an organization cannot clearly envision the exact reason why they are walking the path of implementing a CRM program, the lack of vision will spread throughout the organization creating confusion and an improper application. 
  • Poor strategic planning in terms of deliverables and not correctly managing critical information necessary for the deployment and operation of the CRM system can lead to failure too. 
  • If the goal is clear but there is no specific roadmap as to how it will be implemented/ deployed, the CRM solution has little chances of succeeding. When a situation arises where there is both lack of goal clarity and an improper framework, the question that will arise is - it if you don’t know “why”, you will not understand “how”. If you don't understand your needs, you'll implement a solution that won't meet them. 
  • Some companies rush into launching their CRM solutions without complete focus and do not plan their strategy in totality, leading to hesitant adoption, and subsequently, poor implementation, and ultimately not meeting the organization’s CRM objectives.
Breaking the Silos
In larger organizations, due to the existence of several departments and the specific people in each domain, sometimes varying levels of interest and initiative is displayed by all departments, and people may have preconceived notions, biases, contrasting sets of priorities, different interests and immediate needs. All this leads to reduced overall enthusiasm. This is also where the vital need to identify, understand and break Silos comes in. Lack of understanding and co-ordination among the different departments of an organization leads to fragmented application of CRM solutions. Not having all the decision makers operating toward a common goal and pulling in one direction is one of the chief reasons for failure. If the challenge of organizational collaboration and overall integration in large organizations is met, there is a good chance for the CRM program to succeed and achieve the desired results.

Understanding what the CRM solution offers
Another hurdle is improper understanding - and the resultant poor application of CRM Solution. If an individual or department has trouble understanding the software in the first place, it could lead to an erroneous application, which may lead to increased inefficiency, errors and frustrations. On the other hand, if it is kept simple, clarity in understanding will be higher, and consequential application will be effective, thus avoiding errors. Another point concerning SaaS is the contrast between customization and flexibility.

In some cases, highly customized software leaves little room for it being flexible, and in others, extremely flexible software cannot be properly customized. This important relationship between customization and flexibility of CRM software should be identified and clearly understood. The key point to be kept in mind while trying to gain an insight into this challenge of balancing flexibility and customization is understanding very clearly what is forcing your business to implement a tailor made solution. Why modify and adapt the CRM to fit in with your operations and more importantly customer requirements, when this will lead to failure in achieving the basic goals of CRM?

Calculate TCO over next 3-5 Years
In certain large organizations, the Top Level views CRM as a mechanical program that has specific start and end dates whereas this is not the case. In fact, CRM implementation is not limited to restricted and pre-decided time limits, it is more of an ongoing process, it is about people and processes, analyzing and improving business rules, user and customer psychology, and even analyzing and improving social interaction; that is, interactions between the organization’s teams and most importantly between the entire organization and its customers.

A key point to consider is a discrepancy between vendors and vendor size, and their quotations. In this aspect, a very important factor is hidden costs. Implementation costs usually inflate to twice or thrice of what the vendor states in the beginning. The financial strain and a project that keeps dragging can lead an implementation to break down and collapse. Hence, it is essential to chalk out a financial plan, dedicate an approximate budget solely towards the planning and execution of the CRM program, and allocate resources accordingly. It would also be wise to have metrics for defining success and not letting the vendor entirely define the methodology.

Training is another important area of consideration in CRM programs. Many companies do not have proper training plans to support their application and proper implementation of the system. It is vital that the CRM implementation team should be assessed in the beginning for its capabilities in delivering the desired outcome, and trained accordingly.
Phases of Implementation
During the implementation of a CRM solution it is more advisable to ensure that the sensitive and important aspects of the solutions are implemented slowly or in a phased manner. Areas that are mandatory yet less sensitive and meant for the marketing and sales and customer support teams should therefore be implemented/activated first. This way the risk element is reduced to an extent. It should also be kept in mind that the system should constantly change, evolve and adjust to changing needs and times. For example, if the system cannot meet the evolving needs of salespeople, they will stop using it. Another key point to remember is ultimately, CRM is all about being customer-centric. However, some organizations fail to remember this ultimate goal. The processes, although meant to be designed for the customer are at times, being run to make it easier for the company staff. The irony here is that customers do value empowered staff, but at the same time they also place the final value on customer focus. This is where most CRM efforts fail to deliver.

Thus, to ensure successful CRM solution implementation, primarily, the CRM objectives and priorities should be well thought out, followed by a well streamlined execution plan and framework. If and where necessary, especially in case of larger organizations, breaking down the program into smaller and more manageable pieces would be a good idea. Involving all the relevant stakeholders inside as well as outside the organization in the most efficient manner, would definitely ensure success. A part of this effort would be integration of existing systems and clear, simple communication with all people involved. People also involves the CRM vendors – they should be thoroughly researched and there should be a clear aim and focus on the exact needs before taking any decisions about vendors and the systems they provide.

Once implementation begins after all the required research on the above mentioned areas, the system should be reviewed from time to time, always leaving room for flexibility and adaptability to changing requirements as well as current trends. Finally, never forget that CRM is always all about the Customer and maintains a Customer-Centric point of view.