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Switching CRM Systems: Improve When You Move
A platform change (if you need it) signals a good time to update your processes and mind-set, too
For the rest of the August 2016 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Now that we’ve all agreed that CRM systems are must-haves for competitive businesses, those of us who specialize in implementing these solutions are seeing something new: an uptick in the number of companies moving from one CRM platform to another.

Interestingly enough, the decision to switch CRM systems is being triggered less by functionality and price. The platforms in the market today are robust, with ever-increasing activity by players like Salesforce.com, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP; unless a firm is saddled with a myriad of legacy CRM technologies that can’t keep up with the top platforms, it is unlikely that functionality issues alone will be driving a change.

So why is this happening? A common reason is a change at the top and the desire of new leadership to have a system designed to its liking. Or a current deployment can simply be out of alignment with business operations, creating inefficiency.

A key question to ask upfront: Do we need to update our product, or our process? The switch from one system to another will always be disruptive and expensive relative to simply taking a new approach with an existing platform. It’s technically possible to do a “clean” implementation of an existing system without disturbing current business operations.

Regardless, before changing or re-implementing its CRM system, a company should make an inventory of priorities, using strategic goals from the current leadership. A mistake many firms make is failing to align functional need with business outcomes.

Above all, it is imperative to improve when you move. Most companies think they’re doing so, but we often see that customers are resistant to changing their historical processes or taking advice from consultancies that specialize in CRM deployments, or don’t fully understand how a CRM system’s out-of-box functionalities help them execute their strategic plan.

Imagine moving out of your house but not throwing anything away when you move in to your new one. Believe it or not, we often see the equivalent of this with new CRM implementations; firms want to replicate customizations or integrations that may have been built years ago, and are based on methods of coding that are now considered obsolete or that impact operational efficiency. All functional needs and prior customizations should be on the table for discussion. Remember that what got you to today may not necessarily get you to where you need to be.

Assuming you properly assess your needs and decide to change or re-implement your CRM platform, you should improve your data structure while you’re at it. Using the house-moving metaphor, decide what you want to throw out, or whether you want something to occupy a different location in your new home. A simple way of looking at custom fields or table structure is to ask the following questions: (1) Why do I need this data? (2) Who is using it? (3) What customer interaction scenarios include it? (4) What business decisions are affected by it? (5) Is it still relevant, or is it dated? If the answers to these questions are unsatisfactory, you likely won’t need to move this “furniture” into your new house. Reports and dashboards should be evaluated in the same way.

If you’re in the midst of changing CRM systems, here are a few best practices to consider. Do not become married to a particular way a system has to work without talking through the pros and cons with an expert. Involve as many people in the process as you can, as you’ll get unique insights and more buy-in from the people who will ultimately use the new system. And most important, establish a feedback mechanism for continually evaluating and improving the system going forward. In many instances, we see that a current platform was good enough but the firm never established a process for improving it, and so reached the breaking point that prompted the search for a new platform.

Finally, keep in mind that your people are your most important asset. Switching platforms is a natural time to address cultural changes, too, including how you train your people and developing playbooks that give them the “why” behind your CRM system design.


Danny Estrada has worked in CRM for the past 20 years. As a practice leader, he has guided teams through the implementation and development cycles of more than 500 CRM projects. He is the author of the Practical CRM blog and a speaker on real-world application of CRM concepts. You can reach him at destrada@practicalCRM.net.

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