Critical Thinking About CRM Implementation

Originally written for Greater China CRM; By Justin Hitt, Strategic Relations Consultant,

Too often CRM implementation starts with a barrage of facts, figures, and methods that quite frankly can be overwhelming. If your CRM team has stopped, stalled, or needs a little more steam; then this message is for you. Here is a systematic method to improve your CRM implementation with critical thinking.

This method begins sequentially with assessment working through to measuring results. While the actual implementation effort may take months, this message walks you through the entire process so you can get started today. Learn the steps used by experts worldwide for CRM implementation. Even learn how to improve your existing CRM system.

Completely read this document, you will not want to miss anything.

Step 1: Assessing of Your Current Customer Relationship Environment

You are responsible to your company and every individual who will come in contact with your CRM system to produce desirable results. In order to know what is considered desirable document (1) your business objectives, (2) employee job roles in relation to the CRM environment, and (3) your key customer interaction points.

This step happens even before installing software, possibly before selecting a solution. This step shows you what kind of CRM you are already doing. That is right, whether you currently have CRM software in place or any formal customer related processes; if you have customers you are using customer relationship management. CRM is more than software, but also includes the tracking of anything done to retain customers and build loyalty.

This step helps you determine what you already have in place. It shows you what would be considered an improvement, and what expectations each party has for those points where new processes or software might be implemented.

In looking at your current situation, and ask yourself:

  1. Assessing Your Current Business Objectives
    1. What are our business objectives? What quantifiable information will we use to measure them?
    2. How does improving customer relationships do improving customer relationships help bring our company closer to its objectives?
    3. How can CRM gather "quantifiable information" while we use it in daily operations?
    4. Who will be involved in measuring CRM success? How will we measure it against our business objectives?
    5. What "customer centric" actions are we already performing to produce satisfactory results? How could CRM improve them?
    6. How will we know CRM contributed to the accomplishment of business objectives?
  2. Defining Current Employee Job Roles
    1. Who currently interacts with our customers? What customer data do they need during an interaction?
    2. Who does not interact with our customers, but uses customer information to perform their job?
    3. What type of work starts with a customer request? Who is involved? How do they currently learn about the request?
    4. Which jobs use what kind of customer data? Where does this data come from? How do we currently verify it?
    5. What kinds of work flow pass from person to person either initiated by or produced for a particular customer?
    6. How do employees know the extent of their role in a particular customer request? How do they pass along customer to others when they personally cannot fill a request?
  3. Discovering Your Customer Interaction Points
    1. Where do your customers interact with you company, product or service, and personnel?
    2. What are my customer's expectations at each point of interaction?
    3. In what sequence do customer interactions occur? Are their any work flows standards to abide?
    4. What customer data is necessary at each point of interaction?
    5. What kind of information can you gather from each point that would contribute to the customer experience?
    6. How do customer interactions and employee roles relate?

Throughout this document, think about each element from your customers prospective. To know where you stand gives you a better perspective to where you may go. A full assessment and true picture of your organization will produce the best results in this method.

Step 2: Deriving a Single Idea for Implementation

Using all you know about your customer process to apply effort in the one area, that if addressed would bring you significantly closer to your business objectives. Many businesses become crippled by trying to do too many things at once, spreading resources too thin to be effective anywhere. The key of this step is to (1) select one idea at a time for implementation, (2) use a 3-point measure for each, and (3) select points of influence for immediate action.

It is simple corporate triage. A bruise on the head waits for the broken arm -- tackle those things that bring you the greatest results first. Many businesses fail in CRM because they start by implementing the easy wins, never getting to functions that can significantly influence the bottom line. When you address high impact activities first, the easy tasks usually take care of themselves.

Ask and think about the following questions:

  1. Selecting One Idea At A Time
    1. What ideas are there for improving our customer's experience?
    2. What did we learn about employee roles and customer interaction points that could improve?
    3. Where could we start today to become more "customer centric"? What could we do? What would we do after that?
    4. What needs to happen to gain the same functionality we already experience? What is our functional base?
    5. What resources are available for implementation?
    6. How can we do the implementation without burdening existing customers or work related functions?
  2. Using A 3-Point Measure To Observe Advances
    1. What three traits will each idea have when implemented?
    2. How will we measure results as implementation progresses?
    3. How will we assure a good measure of progress? What will be involved in gathering this information?
    4. Are these points of measure relevant to our business objectives?
    5. Can these points be used as employee self guided performance measures?
    6. What kind of measures can we get from the customer experience?
  3. Selecting Points Of Influence For Immediate Action
    1. Which one area of implementation can bring us closest to our business objectives with the resources we currently have?
    2. What can we do now that will produce significant results? What influences the most positive change?
    3. What implementation produces the biggest employee performance gains? What produces gains in the customer experience?
    4. Where can we concentrate our resources during implementation that does not inhibit current functionality?
    5. What training will employees need after implementation? How will the process of doing their jobs change?
    6. What actions will influence positive results? Who can provide these services?

The information you have gathered will support the next and most important phase of implementation. Be sure you have gathered enough to have a clear picture of your CRM efforts. Know how you track customers, how you interact with them, and how that relates to your business objectives before moving to the next step.

Step 3: Applying Improvements in Incremental Implementation Phases

At this step, it is time to take one idea (task or action) gained from your research so far, and move forward on CRM implementation. Remember, your staff must continue to serve your customer during this change in CRM; take care not to interrupt what you already do well. This multiphase implementation cycles through this process by (1) selecting a pilot group for implementation, (2) implementing while observing test cases, and (3) then rolling out functionality to remaining users as appropriate.

In order to produce the greatest return on investment with your CRM software implementation you must apply action in functional layers. The first layer is your baseline system with functionality matching your old system. Then each layer after that improves on functionality while training users how to benefit improve their own productivity and enhance the customer's experience.

Considers these questions as you progress through implementation:

  1. Selecting A Pilot Group For Implementation
    1. What kind of training is necessary to bridge the transition from "old system" to "new system"?
    2. Which group would derive the greatest benefit from early CRM integration?
    3. Is a sampling of target users is available to pilot an implementation without interrupting overall work flow? Are they representative of all employee roles?
    4. How can this group advocate change? Are they positive about the CRM implementation?
    5. How can this group handle unforeseen challenges? Do they have access to outside resources?
    6. How much training has our technical staff already had? How will members of the "pilot group" support future users?
  2. Implementing Change While Observing Test Cases
    1. Is implementation on track for our business objectives and the points of measure already defined?
    2. What adjustments can be made as we work along? Which ones need to be right the first time?
    3. Where is the pilot group making significant progress?
    4. What elements are ready for the general population of CRM end users? Are there any job roles that are more ready for CRM functionality than others are?
    5. What does a base installation look like? Is the process repeatable? How will the roll out proceed?
    6. What obstacles must be address before continuing?
  3. Rolling Out CRM Functionality To The Remaining Users
    1. What training is necessary to help remaining users benefit from tested functionality?
    2. Are there any employee roles ready to proceed with CRM roll out? Could they be rolled out independently?
    3. Are pilot members available to help with roll out training of end users?
    4. What is required to reach as many users as possible without interrupting customers?
    5. Which customer interaction points could integrate first for maximum customer benefit?
    6. Are we seeing the same results gained in the pilot group? Where are there differences?

If installing new software for the first time, start with a small pilot group and using these questions build out to support your entire organizations. Most companies only perform this step, stopping here will produce only half the results you deserve. This is probably the longest and most involved step in this process, but made successful with simple planning and a critical analysis provided here.

Step 4: Documenting Lessons Learned In Implementation

Your implementation will not install every feature and function of your CRM software in one sweeping effort. It will provide a new level of functionality without major disturbances in your daily operations. In this step, develop an understanding of (1) successes gained through action, (2) any delays or unseen events experienced, and (3) how to overcome such challenges in the next iteration. If you dump CRM on users you lose the opportunity to gain full buy-in, the method presented here progressively improves current skills with minimal end-user resistance.

In the use of any new process, a certain level of change management is required. This method for CRM implementation handles change as it gradually enhances your ability to serve customers. In addition, provides feedback loops necessary to measure real progress with a minimum down time. You will learn and be able to adjust every step for maximum results.

To develop an understanding of implementation gains, consider these questions:

  1. Observing Successes Gained In Action
    1. Who stood out as key contributors to our CRM implementation success? What characteristics made their behavior positive?
    2. Which parts of the roll out went very well? How can we achieve the same results in the next iteration?
    3. What successes in the customers experience have we gained? How can we use this information to leverage additional buy-in?
    4. Was there any employee role that demonstrated significant improvement? What made this improvement possible?
    5. Did we provide the results originally expected?
    6. Which methods of implementation worked over others?
  2. Documenting Delays And Unseen Events
    1. Was there any discomfort that training before implementation could have eliminated? If so, what kinds of training would be necessary?
    2. In hindsight, is there anything we should have known before going into implementation?
    3. What unseen challenges did we experience? How did we address them?
    4. Where did we experience unnecessary delays? Who contributed to the delay? What did it cost us?
    5. What did not work as expected? Why did not it work? What could be done differently?
    6. Who should have been involved in the implementation?
  3. Overcoming Challenges For The Next Iteration
    1. What could minimize delays seen in the last phase of implementation?
    2. What delays were acceptable and to be expected in the next phase?
    3. How did the customer perceive our CRM implementation? Did it inhibit or enhance their ability to work with us?
    4. What information do we need before we start the next iteration? Where will we get that information?
    5. Whose cooperation do we need during the next phase?
    6. What resources should we have available? Where do they come from?

Lessons learned are your biggest asset in the CRM implementation process. Use what you have learned to adjust your efforts to achieve better results in your next implementation phase. Being honest about your shortcomings produces maximum results.

Step 5: Documenting Results Gained From the Last Implementation Phase

While the previous step was primarily concerned with external measures of CRM implementation, this step takes a critical look at internal measures. Here you have the opportunity to (1) check performance measures, (2) derive the financial value of CRM implementation actions, and (3) verify the projects relevance with business objectives. This step gathers evidence to help you determine if you should continue CRM efforts. If you do not produce any results (or potential for results in a reasonable period), there is no reason to continue implementation.

The method demonstrated here consists of adding each layer of CRM functionality to the previous, testing, and reviewing progress before continuing. This circular process minimizes your risk while addressing change management issues in the implementation. Your customer's will see gradual improvements rather than a huge leap ahead in performance followed by a decline. This method reduces front-end costs, and provides supporting evidence of any positive effort.

Before you start your next phase of implementation, answer these questions:

  1. Checking Implementation Performance Measures
    1. Have we made significant gains according to our three points of measure as defined earlier?
    2. Where have we exceeded positive measures? What contributed to those results?
    3. In what measures have not met our mark? What can improve our results?
    4. How much closer are we to our business objectives as a measure of quantity? What about measures of quality?
    5. What points of measure need more effort to get on the mark?
    6. Were our information sources reliable? How can we improve their reliability?
  2. Measuring The Financial Value Of Actions Taken
    1. How much return did our action provide in CRM implementation?
    2. Are we gaining more than we are spending?
    3. How does the return on investment project over the next 6-months? 12-months? Or in 24-months?
    4. Has this iteration improved our ability to generate income? If so, by how much?
    5. Were there any significant cost reductions? Where are these cost reductions most prevalent?
    6. What is the value of proficiency and productivity improvements per employee role?
  3. Determining Implementation Relevance To Business Objectives
    1. Have the results gained brought us closer to our business objectives? In what ways?
    2. What is the significance of current implementation to the long-term goals of our company?
    3. Are our measures of customer centricity accurate for what we want to achieve over time?
    4. Have we learned anything that will help us leverage other resources to achieve our objectives?
    5. How are our actions aligned with what we want to do as a company? How aligned are they with what our customer desires?
    6. How was this CRM implementation good for the company?

This internal measures help plan the next phase of implementation. Through this process, you are building on your own successes while minimizing the risk to your organization. Before you start another implementation phase, it is important to go over your assumptions to check yourself against available facts.

Step 6: Compiling Facts Supporting Improvement

In this last step, gather facts supporting your implementation for your final report. You are producing a check that previous steps were truly unbiased and fact based. Here you will (1) document key points, (2) layout a foundation for the next phase, and (3) document facts supporting current successes.

Too often implementations go on with hidden problems that management feels it can iron out later. These small but significant problems eat away at productivity, while increasing overhead and frustrating customers. This critical and fact based implementation eliminates these challenges with purposeful action.

Consider these questions when compiling facts that support improvements:

  1. Documenting Key Points Of Implementation
    1. What facts did we learn in this phase of implementation?
    2. What facts do you should we consider before going into the next phase of CRM implementation? Which of these facts are assumed?
    3. Which facts about the implementation support the same method in the next phase? What adjustments might be necessary?
    4. Do the facts support a change in performance measures?
    5. Were our assumptions about employee roles, customer interaction points, and business objectives accurate? What facts support this claim?
    6. What have we learned from our efforts overall?
  2. Developing The Foundations For The Next Cycle
    1. Based on lessons learned and facts, what should we do next? How can we accomplish it?
    2. What should we do next? What should we avoid? Why?
    3. Was there anything missed in the last phase that should be addressed in the next?
    4. How will we produce buy-in for the next phase? What facts justify continuation?
    5. What resources will be necessary? How do we establish need prior to start of the next phase?
    6. What facts are we building on to extend our customer oriented business processes?
  3. Documenting Facts Supporting Successes
    1. Which successes are relevant to continuing? Who was responsible for each success?
    2. How can we reinforce positive contributions?
    3. Did any particular area have more success than others did? Why?
    4. How do successes related to business objectives?
    5. What successes would we have liked to gain but did not? How could we have achieved them in the future?
    6. What successes did the customer experience from their prospective?

Some companies want to push through an entire CRM implementation in one forward driving motion. A linear approach does not take into consideration the changes created from their own efforts. In a linear model, the assumptions used create the implementation plan are invalid as soon as efforts are applied to the people in a company. These facts help you gauge your performance and keep you on track.

How Long Will This All Take?

While some steps in this implementation method will take as little as 30-minutes, others require a more critical analysis. These questions are just a sample of what to consider as your CRM implementation unfolds. After you are finished with your first iteration, return to step one and start over again with new improvements.

The entire CRM implementation can take from 12 to 18 months depending on the number of seats and complexity of your CRM efforts. The key benefit of this method is at the end of each short implementation phase you have a function system to do work with. No waiting for CRM software to be completely installed, you can start training users as soon as you start your first phase of implementation.

Each layer of implementation gives you a better understanding of customer desires, business objectives, and a clearer understanding of the systems within your organization. While a complex method for CRM implementation, it takes advantage of the principle of incremental improvement.

Ups and Downs of Implementation

Instead of rapid growth over a short period followed by a period of recovery then performance stabilizing, an incremental method brings you small increases in growth followed by consistent periods of stabilization. Over time, the incremental method provides better constancy from the customers prospective, which reflects well on your ability to serve them.

One major draw back of this method is you can easily become stuck in a particular stage because they are putting too much effort into thinking and not enough into action. Work quickly gathering and verifying information, spend most of your time in application and testing. You will get results with small steps if most of your time is spent doing something that moves you towards your business objectives.

Do not get stuck in analysis paralysis. You can do something today to bring your business closer to real results in CRM. No matter where you stand now, you have the tools to improve your customer's experience.

How will you start improving your customer relationships today?

© 2003 Justin Hitt, All rights reserved.
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Justin Hitt is a strategic relations consultant and the author of "27 Ways to CRM Return on Investment" (Tool Kit) available on-line. For more information, visit

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