CRM system Selection – Have You Answered These Questions?

In our work with many different kinds of firms, we encounter many software or internet–based systems that our clients consider to be mission-critical. These are usually business-process, operations or accounting systems. Often times, we find that customer relationship management (CRM) systems are either installed but unused (or barely) or they’re seen as a “nice to have” and not worth replacing the sales or customer tracking now done in Excel or Outlook. But if you value sales, growing your firm, ensuring that customers are “covered” and that marketing ROI is quantified – you’ll want to put CRMs in the “mission critical” category.

Many CRMs and user experience suffer an average to poor reputation. In our experience some of the fault lies in a lack of planning and unrealistic expectations about CRMs. For instance, if you buy an accounting or trading system, the benefits and results can usually be quantified when compared to paper-based systems. Conversely, some firms buying CRMs have believed that a new system— offering more accessible and organized client information—would per se lead to more clients or higher revenues.

While a new CRM system has the allure of being the “silver bullet” that will cure sales or client satisfaction ills, this is usually not the case. How can you increase the probability that a CRM will work in your firm? In our experience there are three considerations rarely pondered prior to the search for a CRM, but doing so will increase the likelihood of both a successful implementation and enduring, productive use:

Company Goals and Strategy.
Many people fail to consider business objectives as the first thought that should go into choosing a CRM. Business objectives are sometimes overlooked as the technology’s capabilities become a primary focus. The challenge is not in defining your company’s IT strategy but in clearly defining the business objectives and then mapping the IT strategy to these goals.

What is your primary objective? Is it to increase revenue, then how? Is there fertile and untapped opportunity within the client base, or is yours a new business for which suspect/prospect contact is the primary focus? Are your growth objectives clearly defined? Is yours a “high-touch/service” business where close contact with and knowledge of customers is required or will service reps and customer interact mainly via email or online forms? Is there a corporate goal to integrate your applications across the organization to use information from varied programs to drive revenue opportunities? Is the ability to integrate with mobile phones to provide salespeople with the necessary tool they need when they’re on the road critical to your business needs?

The decision to choose a CRM solution needs to be a business decision first and foremost. Once the business goals are defined you then must assess the impact on process and people.

Business processes. It’s a given that a new system will change the way Sales, Marketing and Client Service personnel will enter and report data. But can changes to old processes, reflecting new business realities, be the simpler and more effective answer? With a new system, how will quality and completeness of client information be assured? How will product and senior management be able to use it?

We worked with one software firm that needed to make major changes to an already-implemented CRM system to reflect major process and organizational changes that all agreed were the real key to long-run success. They first took a step back from searching for and selecting a new system to revamp what they were tracking in these functions, and then mapped out how each group would take the hand-off of prospects and clients. This ensured that every important action and all necessary data was accounted for prior to reviewing CRM systems.

People. Unlike, say, an accounting system, a CRM requires various functions with different needs and styles to use it. Sales people are notoriously undisciplined at entering information into, or even using, CRM systems. Meanwhile, customer service personnel are typically more detail —“hungry” to ensure a successful implementation and long-term relationship. The key point is to make sure you take behavior style and values into account in your CRM selection.

Other “people” questions you’ll want to ask include:
>   What usage-related incentives are built into the compensation plans and performance reviews of personnel critical to system success?
>   What new roles may be required to assure success?
>   Do you have the right people now to fill new roles or must you go outside? You may find, as one of our clients did, that a new senior-level role — for instance, Knowledge Manager — is necessary to manage the increased prospect/client information, ensure that information flow works properly across functions and to “enforce” proper usage.

There are, of course, many other issues to consider and questions to answer in choosing a CRM, but be sure to include these strategic considerations along with typical “nuts and bolts” checklist.