In any critical company initiative, planning is the key to success. This is especially true with an initiative such as customer relationship management (CRM) that affects the entire enterprise. The successful implementation of CRM requires the development of a highly detailed and comprehensive action plan.
Planning for CRM is important because it will help you develop the following:
(1) It will eventually give you increased revenues, decreased costs and competitive differentiation (2) You will achieve uniform strategies for reaching those goals (3) You can measure the success to monitor your progress and to quantify your achievements.
What it takes
What will it take to successfully implement your CRM strategy?
You must build a good team. The members of this team should include a representative of every department who will use, or may use, the system either initially or ultimately. You should include members from sales, marketing, customer support, customer service, management, IT, finance and sometimes others. Preferably, a key member of the team should be an external, or outsourced, individual who is experienced in planning and implementing CRM solutions.
You need to market the project internally. Give it as much exposure and hype as possible in order for the entire company to understand the project so they accept it as a positive effort that will benefit the company and its customers.
Make sure your CRM strategy has a business case focus. In other words, ensure there is a clear understanding that this project has a direct contribution to the company’s bottom line, there is a return on investment that is definable and understood and this is not just a project for technology’s sake.
Plan for a phased rollout. The initial rollout should include some core functionality -- perhaps just basic contact management and scheduling. For example, sales people are always busy selling. If you give them too much to learn and then ask them to use it too quickly, they simply won’t use it. You must feed them small, manageable pieces at a time. The second phase can introduce additional functionality, such as opportunity management and forecasting. The next phase could include integrating email, custom letters and reporting and so on.
Training is critical to the success of your CRM strategy. It’s not advisable to just throw a sophisticated product at an individual and expect them to start using it productively and successfully without some formal training. Don’t just provide training either, instead you should allow for the individuals to be non-productive for the brief time that’s required to learn the new system. It is also useful to allow sufficient time for a learning curve so the user can ramp up their skills over time. For instance, once they go through classroom training, they’ll still need time to acclimate themselves to the new system and use it in their day-to-day operations.
Include a benchmarking phase. You’ll need to establish milestones to measure against and audit your results. Without measuring how you’re doing, you’ll never know if you have succeeded. Of course, you first have to know where you want to be, so make sure you establish that before beginning your implementation. Once again, this is where your puzzle becomes a necessity.
Let us now get down to specific systematic approach to implementation.
The essential steps should include:
1. Assessment. Where does our company currently stand?
2. CRM gap analysis. What are the gaps that need to be closed in order to effectively implement the strategy?
3. Action plan. How should we stage our efforts to ensure that our investments are tied to short-term and longer-term deliverables?
Step l: Situation assessment
The key to building the CRM action plan is in understanding where your company stands on CRM issues today. A situation assessment will enable your company to identify, size and prioritize current CRM initiatives in your environment. This process alone is often very revealing. This work can best be accomplished through a series of interviews and discussion sessions with senior executives,
managers and staff.
Discussions with key individuals across departments may identify that there are 10, 20 or even 30 divergent CRM initiatives being pursued. While all of these initiatives may have merit, failure to understand dependencies and to prioritize efforts based on value can lead to significant challenges. It will not be unusual to find a wide variety of goals and objectives for CRM across the different areas of your company. Some will have a broad vision of what CRM can mean, while others will have a relatively limited view. This initial assessment is necessary to help you define a CRM vision and mission for the entire company.
There are two essential aspects of a CRM situation assessment; the first being an internal evaluation of your capabilities and the second being an external assessment of the customer’s experience with your company.
The situation assessment should involve an internal evaluation of your CRM capabilities and infrastructure. The result should be a detailed assessment and resultant mapping of your company in the five business areas outlined in the CRM Transformation Map, which we reviewed earlier.
It is essential in the situation assessment to gain consensus on this internal evaluation because it reveals where your company is today and what your current strengths and weaknesses are in each of these areas. This common understanding will provide a basis for your strategies and your allocation of resources and related investments. Involve representatives from various areas of your company in this exercise and discuss similarities and differences of opinions.
Determine the most representative depiction of your company. Gaining consensus on this map in the beginning of the process is important, too, because it will be used as an ongoing tool for measuring your success. Your knowledge of ‘customer life cycle’ is important here, which we reviewed few weeks ago. To recap, customer life cycle is a term used to describe the progression of steps a customer goes through when considering, purchasing, using and maintaining loyalty to a product or service. In layman’s terms, this means getting a potential customer’s attention, teaching them what you have to offer, turning them into a paying customer and then keeping them as a loyal customer whose satisfaction with the product or service urges other customers to join the cycle.
The second aspect of a CRM situation assessment is an external assessment of the customers’ experience with your company.
The concept of a customer life cycle can serve as your tool for this work. Assessing the customer’s experience with your company involves:
(1) Determining whether to analyze the experience of your customers as a whole, or key groups, utilizing a combination of primary and secondary, quantitative and qualitative research to understand the characteristics, needs and interaction opportunities throughout their purchase cycle. Most companies will have some existing research to provide a baseline understanding. It is obviously important not to rely on preconceived notions about who your customers are and how they interact. You may be aware of the expectations rather than the norm and therefore need to take an objective look at what your customers are really all about.
(2) Prioritize interaction opportunities based on impact and ability to implement. Your company needs to agree on how to invest in CRM—which systems, touch points, or related processes to improve. Realistically speaking, you will not be able to optimize every touch point; decisions need to be made regarding the ‘touches’ that deserve your time and attention.
(Next week: CRM gap analysis)
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)