First Things First
Want a successful implementation? Start by defining your sales process.
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The CRM industry expends a great deal of energy discussing technology implementations. Some are deemed successful, others not (recent studies indicate that up to 50 percent fail). But attempts to gather statistics on this subject inevitably beg the question of whether the end-user organization had a clear sense of where it was going and how it would know when it arrived. Without a good answer to this question, is it fair to say the system failed? Likewise, different people within the end-user organization will have different definitions of success. For example, senior management may be strictly interested in market data, while IS is interested in time or system-related costs. In any of these situations, the success of one group could be achieved at the exclusion of others.

To achieve organizational success in the implementation of technology, start by defining your sales process. If the system facilitates a clearly defined sales process that helps the sales force provide added value to the customer, then it's reasonable to believe that the ingredients are present for implementation success. If the system fails to hit this mark, or you don't really know what your sales process is, chances are you will end up in that 50-percent failure category.

Troubled Waters
In the absence of a clearly defined sales process, it is unlikely that there will be any return on investment because end users won't buy into the need for the system and, consequently, won't use it for its intended purpose.

Consider this scenario: The project team compiles a list of sales force "wishes" and then goes shopping for a solution. Inevitably, the team comes to the conclusion that one vendor cannot deliver all the wishes and that providing all these capabilities would literally drown the sales force. So the team attempts to prioritize the applications and is often surprised when it finds that no one is happy with the results. The power users want more, and everyone else wants less. Furthermore, when the system is rolled out, the sales force announces that the system does not work in the same manner in which they sell. The painful truth is that the sales force is right.

The connection between "buy-in" and "wish list" has been preached as long as there has been an SFA/CRM industry, but companies continue to confuse the two.

Back to Basics
If success is related to end-user acceptance and the system's contribution to the achievement of corporate financial success, then the logical place to start is with the sales process. But when confronted with this thought, many project teams will respond with a question of their own: "Which sales process?" Within a sales force of 100 sales people, there will often be 100 sales processes, so which one is the right one?

There are many approaches to addressing the sales process definition question, but it makes sense to tap into the best practices and knowledge of the people who consistently make "Presidents Club." Further, the sales process definition should get maximum opportunity for validation and buy-in from other members of the sales team, including field management.

In previous articles I related each of these points to the CRMA audit standards, which are considered "Best Practices." Section 4.0, Automation and the Sales Process, reinforces the importance to ultimate success that the CRMA places on defining the sales process. Once defined, the model should become the foundation for sales training and coaching. Therefore, when a future system is rolled out to the field, end users will view it as reinforcing the process that they are already using and buy-in is more likely. From a results standpoint, it is difficult to envision that a set of applications that leverages the effectiveness of the sales process and is embraced by the sales force will not have a positive impact on the financial performance of the corporation.

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