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Change Management
Employees create products, interact with customers, and directly affect and are directly affected by major corporate initiatives--there is a small number of best practices that ensures that employees make the most of CRM.
Posted Dec 15, 2003
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"If we build it, they will come." For much of the 1990s CRM initiatives chanted this discredited mantra. Companies purchased enterprise CRM software, spared no expense on the supporting technology, and hired the world's leading consulting firms to deploy the applications. Years later many of these programs have still failed to deliver an adequate return on investment.

What companies forgot is that employees are their principal link to customers. Employees create products, interact with customers, and directly affect and are directly affected by major corporate initiatives. The best strategy and most sophisticated technologies are useless if they are not used effectively.

Experience is often the best teacher, and corporate practices have changed dramatically over the past several years. Today, there are a small number of best practices that ensure that employees make the most of CRM.

Build a business case
Without a clear business case everyone from employees to shareholders will wonder why you are spending the money. Be sure to answer questions like How will customers benefit from this? How will this enable our employees to work more efficiently and effectively? How will CRM benefit the business in the short term and long term? The business case will lay the groundwork and set the direction for creating your vision.

Create a vision
Successful companies create and follow visions, mission statements, and key values. Positioning your CRM program should be no different. You need to begin with a vision. Your executive team should participate in a visioning session where the CRM vision, strategy, and objectives can be agreed upon and clearly articulated. Once a vision is in place, you will be able to make better decisions by asking Does this support our vision for CRM? If the request does not support the vision, you'll easily be able to shift your focus toward activities that do.

Create a change management plan
A change management plan comprises five main areas: vision and goals, business benefits, metrics, organizational structure (functions/job roles impacted), and a host of recommendations and change interventions to parallel your project methodology. The change management plan is focused on planning for the transition and provides the framework for identified tasks to occur. Your plan should include tasks you take for granted (communication, metrics, training) and those you might forget until the end (ongoing support, data administration).

Involve end users
Employees will be unsure about the changes that lie ahead. They will be conflicted as to whether to believe in the CRM vision and readily adopt new processes. Involving end users early in your process will provide a sense of ownership and accountability with the CRM implementation, and in turn, drive up user acceptance. Create a user task force to identify requirements and map out how new and existing processes will be carried out by CRM. Ask for employee opinions and then act on them.

Lead by example
True sponsorship is not about giving lip service like "Yeah, I support the implementation." It's about how "CRM is going to help us qualify leads, target customers for marketing, and plan our business. Let me show you how...."

Managers talk about supporting CRM; leaders show people how to support CRM. If employees are expected to enter forecasts into your new application, managers should pull their monthly numbers from the tool. Managers need to actively support the initiative by using the tool and leading by example.

Communicate, communicate, communicate
You must identify the key messages employees want to learn about. Note: We did not state need to know about. You must focus on desire and needs. Communication should come from all levels of the organization. Executives should deliver key messages to their direct reports and so on down to the front line. Front line users should communicate with their peers. And two-way communication is imperative. Employees should know where to go for information but should also be able to provide feedback. Use existing communication channels that have proven effective and develop innovative ones like creating an internal product launch campaign. Communicate often, and in as many ways possible. But be careful not to overpromise, and underdeliver.

Allocate a change management resource
Appoint a team member to focus on change management and the people issues that will arise. This person serves as the employees' advocate and will be responsible for making sure end users get what they need to be effective and efficient with customers.

Plan early for training
Training is often an afterthought during CRM implementations and therefore rushed, underbudgeted, and ineffective. Identify training needs early. If you don't have an internal education department engage a professional training provider. Ask yourself What are the prerequisites for successfully using CRM? Planning early will save many headaches as you approach your deployment date.

Identify metrics
The infrastructure is changing; it makes sense to ensure employees who are using the system also have updated job descriptions, key performance indicators, and additional criteria for their annual review. Depending on your company culture (carrot or stick), there should be clear incentives or disciplinary action plans rolled out to users.

Be patient
Trying too much at once will overwhelm everyone involved. Start with the most critical objectives and learn from your mistakes. Making too many changes at once will frustrate end users and may interrupt customer satisfaction. On the same note, expecting immediate results when the application is turned on will create grave disappointment. Give employees time to get used to the new way of working and make goals attainable.

Ongoing support
Implementing a CRM application takes a great deal of effort. Once a system goes live, companies often feel most of the work is behind them. Enhancements and fixes are made to the system but employee needs are forgotten. Executives must actively support the initiative. Conduct follow-up training regularly to ensure data is entered accurately and therefore valuable to other users. Requests for enhancements should be continuously incorporated and issues addressed immediately.

During your CRM implementation you must acknowledge that change takes time and that people don't like to change. There are a host of approaches to help your organization prepare for and adjust to this new way of working. Some are simple, others more complicated. There is no magic formula that works for all companies. Simply begin by identifying what is lacking in your organization and take action.


Michael Brenner, Courtney Fontana, and Nathalie Godbout are consultants in the Training and Change Management practice at Extraprise. Between them they have delivered CRM services to clients in more than 30 countries.

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