The Roadmap to CRM success

In our many conversations over the past 8 years while implementing and supporting Salesforce CRM for a variety of organizations, over 60% of them felt that they have not got value out of implementing a CRM solution. While "some benefits" have been derived, in most cases, there is some amount of post roll-out dissatisfaction with at least one set of internal stakeholders

I thought of sharing our learning and thoughts based on our experience for the benefit of those who feel they are not getting value from their CRM as well as those who wish to implement CRM for the first time. I am hoping the following basic steps will guide you in the right direction to a successful CRM journey. I would like to mention here that by CRM, I mainly refer to Marketing and Sales Cloud implementations of Salesforce, but I believe that what I have written would apply to most CRM's and to many IT initiatives as well.

In its very essence, improving Sales and Marketing effectiveness is all about improving volume and velocity of flow from Lead to Closure and doing this as efficiently as possible. I have yet to come across a situation where improved Sales and Marketing effectiveness was not the core reason for implementing a CRM solution.

Key points to understand

The first thing you need to understand and accept is that YOU as stakeholders in the organization are primarily responsible for success. The CRM tool and the implementation partner are only the levers in enabling success, and not a silver bullet for all sales & marketing technology issues

The second important point to be understood is that CRM implementation is a Business Transformation Program and not a "Software Implementation Project". In my experience organizations tended to devote most of their energy to the latter and believed that somehow a good CRM software well implemented will lead to business benefits. Believe me, it rarely will.

The third important point is that a CRM program is a transformational journey and not an IT project with defined scope and timeline. The software implementation aspect may surely be a Fixed Scope project with clear start and end dates, but this is only a subset of a larger transformation program.

Steps to CRM Success

The following are the broad steps that I believe would guide you to a successful CRM journey. I can assure you that while the steps may look simple enough, in reality, they are non-trivial to execute. However, if you are diligent in going about this in an honest and focused manner, the chances of success are very bright.

Step 1: Find answers to the following questions.

(a) Why do you want to implement a CRM?
(b) What business problem are you trying to solve?
(c) What are the top 2 or 3 benefits you expect to get from CRM implementation that will justify the investment?

The importance of having clear and precise answers to these questions cannot be overemphasized. I have seen organizations struggle to answer these questions for reasons that include lack of data, lack of agreement between different stakeholders on what the problems are, lack of vision & clarity etc. If you cannot get this step done, you need to really question whether your organization is ready for a CRM implementation.

It is better to focus first on finding answers to these questions than start off on implementing a CRM. However, if you can get past this first step, then you are off to a great start!

Step 2: Focus on the top 2 or 3 problems to solve

Pick the top two or at most three problems you want to solve (or improvements you want to make) and define the benefits you expect to gain by solving these problems. Make sure you are confident that solving the problem will deliver the benefits you expect. Then define metrics for what you would term as success and understand how you would measure and monitor these metrics.

Usually the problems to solve relate to de-bottlenecking the Lead to Closure flow or improving efficiencies (examples include eliminating time spent on unproductive tasks or improving prioritization of leads and opportunities). Write each of them down clearly and ensure that there is stakeholder buy in.

Step 3: Detail out the Solutions

The next step is to detail out the solution to each problem. Don't forget to look at all aspects of the solution and bring your most experienced stakeholders who have a deep understanding of your business and ground realities to these discussions.

Most solutions tend to be multi-dimensional and involve people, structure, processes, tools, etc. It is important to realize that solutions don't deliver benefits unless all aspects are taken care of.

For example empowering sales teams in the organization with valuable information and insights may not result in better decision making if people do not feel empowered to take decisions due to the organization's culture. Keep in mind that this step is both difficult and tricky. It is difficult because you need to go into details and understand the root causes of problems and understand all dimensions of the problem and the solution. It is tricky because you need to strike a balance between overly complicating the solution on the one hand while ensuring that the solution is comprehensive enough to deliver results on the other. It is quite possible that the solutions may be inherently complex and not amenable to simplification, but then implementing complex multi-dimensional solutions in an organizational context can be a daunting task with high risk of failure.

If the solution begins to look overwhelmingly complex to execute then look at doing this in phases and break up the solution into smaller manageable pieces that can be implemented over time. The downside to this approach is that the benefits may not be visible till all the pieces of the puzzle are put in place - so expectations must be set within the organization accordingly.

Step 4: Figure out where the CRM Software fits in

This is the time that you need to figure out how and where the CRM tool fits into the solution. This is also the right time to evaluate the CRM tools in the market and figure out which one can fit your needs the best. Unfortunately, most organizations first pick the CRM tool and then start detailing the requirements (and often problems!) instead of the other way round.

Step 5: Ensure Governance is established

It is important to ensure that you implement a proper governance structure that defines responsibility and accountability for CRM success. Good governance along with authority is as critical as everything else mentioned above. Failure to do this either leads to blame game or to falsified celebrations of success, neither of which leads to real and tangible benefits.

Step 6: Execute the CRM program efficiently

Finally stay ruthlessly focused on the solutions and benefits, outlined in the beginning, through the entire implementation program. As far as possible avoid getting into the typical "Requirement Analysis" phase where a whole bunch of stakeholders are invited to workshops to define their "requirements".

IMHO, this is where the project starts to derail and distracts the organization from staying focused on the objectives. Ensure that you anchor all discussions around the problems, solutions and benefits outlined in the earlier steps and set aside all "requirements" that do not deliver the benefits or solve the problems outlined. Ensure that all aspects of the solutions that were outlined in step 3 are implemented, not just the CRM software. These are equally or more important than implementing the CRM Software and may include changes to organization structure, policies, processes and everything else that was outlined in step 3.

Step 7: Continuous improvement and Governance

It is essential to understand that there are many moving parts in organization and we live in a world where things are changing all the time. It is also important to be realistic and understand that solutions outlined on a drawing board will not always deliver the results as expected. Governance is required to ensure that reviews and course corrections are made frequently. It is also important to define new goals and success metrics as you accomplish goals set earlier and build continuous improvement into your organizations DNA.

Good luck with your CRM journey! You can also take a look at this handy infographic as pointers to starting off on your roadmap.