Simplementation: 10 Tips to Smooth Your CRM Initiative

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In the classic Walt Disney movie Mary Poppins, the children agonize over cleaning their pig sty of a nursery. They dread reassembling spilled puzzle pieces and piling dolls and jack-in-the-boxes back in the toy bin—that is, until their clever nanny comes along and shows them that by making the job a game, a former chore can seem downright pleasant. When companies decide to implement new technology—either enterprisewide or in a single department—it’s often viewed with a bit of apprehension. Implementation projects require extra support, synergy across departments, and additional time to adjust. Even small-scale projects require some form of change management. Although rolling out a new software solution requires more than a spoonful of sugar and a snap of Mary Poppins’ fingers, there are ways to make the process less painful—and to make sure the implementation will deliver value.

The average CRM project for a large business takes 14 months, according to industry research giant Gartner. Managers responsible for CRM business applications spend the majority of that time selecting, implementing, and upgrading the technology itself, including integration with or replacement of legacy applications. But no matter what technology you select, and no matter how intensely you strategize (see “8 Enterprise Strategies That Stick,” August 2008, for more on successful strategies), roadblocks are all too common on the implementation superhighway. Since those roadblocks often come down to human factors, we’ve collected 10 of the most common and the most costly on the following pages.

1. Do Your Homework
They say that there’s no better way to get attention than to use the word “free.” If that’s so, then why don’t more organizations take advantage of free software trials? “You should really try before you buy,” says Tony Byrne, the executive editor and founder of CMS Watch, an analysis firm specializing in content-oriented technologies. “Amazingly, a lot of companies don’t do that or competitive face-offs.”

Often the anticipation of rolling out a new solution leads decision-makers to begin implementing before they have extensively evaluated the product. To test the effectiveness of a proposed software initiative, on-demand CRM consultancy Bluewolf takes each client through what the firm calls a “working model”—essentially a small-scale version of the actual software. From testing the products, management can get a better gauge of likely adoption and see what might need to be altered before the go-live date.

The initial planning before an implementation is crucial, says Shankaran Nair, the president of corporate strategy of Servion, a provider of customer interaction management solutions. On a typical CRM consulting engagement, he says, “the front end is about 30 to 45 days of fully understanding what the business needs are, what the strategy is, and what you want CRM to supplement. The technology piece is relatively simple from that point.”

2. People Who Need People
Time to put that conference room to use. Before even thinking about solutions, organizations must get down to basics, involve key stakeholders, and discuss pain points and objectives. Although management and chief information officers are often the ones finalizing decisions, they should involve their business counterparts—the people who will actually be using the software—from the start. Neglecting user needs will only lead to difficulties as the solution is rolled out.

Historically, there’s been an age-old rift between business staffers and the technology department. The business side complains that the tech staff isn’t speaking its language, whereas technology workers feel as though business users neglect necessary processes and are lax in following procedures. (See “Rumble in the Office,” February 2008, for more on bridging the language gap.)

Adam Honig, the president and chief executive officer of Innoveer Solutions, a customer strategy and solutions consultancy, stresses the importance of management knowing what business users want. Management may long for, say, a reporting tool for visibility‚ but front-line sales and marketing workers are the ones who will have to feed into it. Without their input, management can’t know which capabilities fit the business processes. This common chasm costs a lot—in expenditures and in missed opportunities.

But the chasm itself isn’t the problem. “Great [technology] people enable the business solutions,” says Dave Clements, CEO of Lasso Data Systems, an on-demand CRM provider for the real estate industry. CIOs are focused on technology strategy; business users are the ones who know what works in their day-to-day routines. Buy-in from both is the foundation of a successful initiative.

3. Let It Trickle
“When you design the scope of a CRM implementation, you want to do as little as possible,” contends Honig, who says that Innoveer has implemented more than 1,100 CRM projects since its inception in 1998. “That’s countercultural for consultants.” Throwing too many functions at a business user, he says, could lead to failure. Instead, implementation teams should develop a strategy to phase in features and functionality.

As an example, Honig recalls Innoveer client Suffolk Construction, which initially wanted several functions implemented at once—sales, campaigns, and financial systems. Innoveer, however, suggested rolling out one at a time, giving users time to adopt each and to prepare for the next wave.

“Change management is always, always, always understated,” says Tony Compton, director of marketing for Infor CRM. “While it’s imperative that solutions and implementations deliver results in a very timely manner, a step-by-step implementation approach is prudent.”

“Organizations underestimate the scale and scope of the change required in implementing,” says Niall Budds, director of strategy and planning for Quaero, a CSG solution. One recommendation? Factor in time for contingencies. By starting small, but thinking big, users will have time to become comfortable with a solution. And if something doesn’t work, there’s wiggle room to fix it.

4. Think Outside the Box—Just Not Too Far Outside
Honig recalls the example of a large client that Innoveer worked with: Its complex sales force automation (SFA) solution required proposal generation for each sale—an appropriate workflow for some of the high-end sales that often reached thousands of dollars, but a hassle when salespeople also had to waste time drafting full proposals on lower-end deals involving products worth only a few hundred dollars. The spectrum of sales simply didn’t meet the solution. It’s like trying to fit an oversized couch into a tiny apartment: No matter how many times you move the couch around, it’s still just too big for the room. You could try sawing off an arm—or, in the case of software, customizing some code—but remember that the more you customize, the more you risk creating unforeseen issues.

So make sure that any customization is done within your organization’s known limits. “In order to leverage CRM, it’s really critical to set up systems as close to the by-design way the CRM company wanted you to do it,” says Mike Gardner, CEO of digital signature company Recombo. “The more you stray, the harder and more expensive it becomes.”

5. Don’t Be Seduced by Technology
Stay away from shiny things. In other words, cutting-edge technology with the newest bells and whistles may seem appealing at first glance. And it might be tempting to jump on the buzzword bandwagon, but businesses must consider their needs before falling prey to fancy software and services.

“We’ve seen large amounts of money wasted…trying to do advanced things because they’re being taken down a technology path, when in fact it’s the small, practical things that are important,” Honig says. For instance, when a more-traditional sales organization wanted to roll out mobile sales solutions for its employees, Honig says Innoveer recommended against the plan. The business wasn’t in the right shape for the proposed initiative, he recalls, and adoption wouldn’t have been successful.

“Regardless of how new, hip, or innovative a technology may be, employees must be comfortable with it,” Infor’s Compton says. “If staff do not understand, enjoy, or find benefit in a new technology implementation, they likely will not use it effectively and there will be no measurable [return on investment].” If a solution doesn’t deliver ROI, no matter how spiffy the new technology might sound, you should probably hold off.

6. Find Sponsors That Stick
We talk about encouraging customers to become evangelists for your company, but before there’s even a chance for that to occur, employees have to be evangelists first. In terms of an implementation your evangelists had better include a project sponsor—or a team of them. “It’s about having someone who can articulate the essence of what [the project is] trying to accomplish and who has the authority to make sure it’s implemented,” Lasso Data’s Clements says. The sponsor doesn’t have to be the CEO, just someone who’s passionate about the undertaking. “Sponsorship often starts out with good intentions,” he adds, “but all too often [they’re] lost in the process.”

7. Plan for Product Enrichment
“Recognize that CRM really becomes nothing more than a Rolodex if you don’t put the add-ons to the product,” Recombo’s Gardner says. His point, although arguable, suggests that, if there’s even a chance your organization might grow unsatisfied with its plain-vanilla CRM solution, the implementation period is the time to start thinking about potential future additions.

Even so, Gardner recommends that organizations keep in mind the tried-and-true 80/20 Pareto Principle: Never stray more than 20 percent from the way the software was designed.

8. Audit, Audit, Audit
You’ll never know how far you’ve gone if you failed to record your starting place. “You have to inspect what you expect,” says James Wong, CEO and founder of CRM software provider Avidian. Wong contends that, fortunately, good CRM gives you many of the metrics to measure your progress. Agreeing on metrics and milestones before the go-live date, of course, will make auditing easier. Although it’s hard to get a great idea of the health of a solution right away, you can still monitor user logins and other basic adoption statistics.

By paying close attention from the start, it will be possible to tweak the solution as any problems arise. Users, for example, may be approaching the tool differently than intended. Best to learn these issues at the start. “If you aren’t looking at how people use the system, you’ll have data-quality issues like they’re going out of style,” Recombo’s Gardner says.

9. Pull the Plug When You Have To
It’s going to hurt a little—in some instances, maybe a lot—but if enough time has gone by and a solution has not worked, it might be time to call it quits. Hopefully, organizations will have laid enough groundwork to avoid this fate, but never say never. “Most projects don’t die because of starvation,” Wong says. “They die because of indigestion.”

“If you shut a solution down that you’ve taken through an implementation process, you probably shouldn’t have made it into prime time,” Bluewolf cofounder Eric Berridge says. “The more-realistic scenario we see being effective is that you roll out a process or functionality that doesn’t completely hit the mark.” When efforts you expected to contribute to the overall success of an initiative begin to gum up the works, he says, “there’s no harm in taking down those little subprocesses and discontinuing them.”

10. Mind the Generation Gap
“You’ve got to work the way they work,” Avidian’s Wong says—and by “they” he means both customers and employees.

“Even if you’re delivering value to [an older] generation, you have to help them get over the stigma and the doubt,” Bluewolf’s Berridge says. For some companies, he says, it’s important to deploy change management techniques and ease fears of the scary new technology by reframing the project as mere business transformation.

Berridge also provides a counterexample: One social networking company didn’t need change management or traditional handholding. Its tech-savvy constituents didn’t want training manuals—they wanted to jump in and take a shot on their own. Berridge says it’s a user demographic—adept at new software, expecting tons of functionality, and accustomed to having each click matter—that will comprise the harshest critics. If the implemented CRM software doesn’t provide instant value, it’s likely those users will find solutions on their own that better suit their needs.

“We’ve learned the hard way,” Berridge admits. “We’ve tried to take old-school adoption practices to new-school companies and it doesn’t work. I’ve tried to take traders off of trading floors on Wall Street and put them in a classroom and train them on CRM. It doesn’t work—you get killed.”

For the rest of the July 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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