Tips for Maximizing CRM Investments

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Saying that CRM systems are important to businesses is almost like saying that computers are useful. Most companies with any sort of ambition to scale up—and which company doesn’t want to do that—have already realized this.

In fact, 91 percent of North American firms with 10 or more employees already have CRM systems in place, according to Danny Estrada, founder of E Squared, a management consulting firm focused on sales team performance. “It’s no longer 10 years ago, when we sat in the boardroom and asked people why we needed one,” Estrada told attendees during last year’s CRM Evolution conference in Washington. “Now everybody has one.”

But within that 91 percent of companies, Estrada holds, it’s safe to say that less than a third feel adequately equipped with the tools they need to actually be successful. Similarly, fewer than three in 10 managers would say the tools are fully executing on their companies’ missions, strategies, and tactics. “There’s a lot of misalignment with what people need CRM to do today and what it actually does to execute what their job description defines,” Estrada says.

Most firms struggle to understand how to maintain CRM systems and keep them functioning so that their customer-facing employees get what they need from them and feel compelled to continue using them.

But while CRM implementations certainly require work and upkeep—and, in some unfortunate cases, replacement—the effort is well worth it in the long run. A full examination of cultures, processes, and methodologies can lead to increased adoption, collaboration among employees, and, ultimately, a positive impact on the bottom line.


Experts agree that CRM is not just a one-and-done project. Rather, it is an ongoing endeavor. Never assume “that you have all the answers figured out,” Estrada advises. “Because until the day that you sell the business or close your doors, your CRM implementation will never ever, ever, ever be done. It will always be in a state of change” due to personnel adjustments and market shifts, among other factors.

“It takes a reasonable amount of work to maintain a CRM system,” Eric Pozil, president of CRM Northwest, a software implementation and strategy consultancy, agrees. It requires, among other things, scheduling and following through with periodic software updates when available.

But it goes beyond just that. Having a CRM system requires learning and understanding which administrative policies are needed. It calls for knowing the number of administrative resources required to assist all of the users within an organization. All the vendors suggest a different number, Pozil notes. Sometimes it’s one admin for every 50 users, or one for every 100 users, “and I‘ve seen it go up from there,” he says.

Pozil also points out that the depth of features the company has installed and usage levels can dictate the optimal level of administration. As a rule of thumb, he notes, “the more use of features, the more integration, the more complexity you have in the CRM system, the more administrative support you’ll probably need for it.”

Companies should routinely check to see if the systems they’re using are yielding results, Estrada says, stating that companies should be as willing to “rip things out as you are to put them in.” Though a company might have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless man-hours on a system, if it’s not working, it must be replaced with something more efficient. “It’s not an endgame. Just because you spent money on fill-in-the-blank add-on, customization, or integration doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go back to the table and look for a better way or another way to do something.”


Executive sponsorship, direction, and support are vital to successful CRM adoption, experts agree. There are certainly cases in which low CRM adoption isn’t equivalent to failure, but there is a strong correlation between companies with higher adoption and greater returns from CRM.

Executives, therefore, must communicate to their employees what they ought to be doing with the system on a regular basis. This could be as simple as telling users that they don’t have to be in the system every day to record every single activity, but that they should be logging in once a week, spending an hour or so to let managers know what they’re doing, updating opportunities, inputting customer information, and sharing insights. “All that sort of tribal knowledge, we want to try to get that in there,” Pozil says.

Corinne Sklar, global chief marketing officer at Bluewolf, an IBM-owned CRM consultancy specializing in Salesforce.com implementations, agrees. “Salesforce is robust and has so much functionality, which can go untapped if users are not adequately trained and encouraged to use its full capabilities,” Sklar says. “Many companies focus on driving technology adoption, but they need to prioritize employee engagement also.”

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