12 Rules for a Successful CRM Implementation

In the market for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software? Geoffrey James of Inc. com shares his fail-safe rules for a successful CRM implementation.

12 Rules for a Successful CRM Implementation

In the twenty years that I’ve been writing about sales technology, I’m often asked how companies can ensure their CRM implementations are successful.  Based upon my own observation and discussions with dozens of experts and analysts, I believe that CRM success requires adherence to the following 12 rules:

Rule #1. Do your research.

Companies sometimes buy a particular CRM system because they heard it was good or because the vendor had slick advertising. However, not every CRM system is right for every company and when the system isn’t right, an expensive failure is inevitable. Before you buy, confirm with thorough research that the system truly fits your needs.

Rule #2. Rent don’t buy.

There are still a few poor misguided souls out there who believe it’s more economical in the long run to set up servers, buy perpetual software licenses, host the system and hire IT consultants to customize it. That’s dumb because owning rather than renting means you’re stuck with what you’ve got even if it doesn’t do what you want.

Rule #3. Keep it simple.

A CRM implementation that’s chockablock with obscure features and functions can make the system seem cumbersome and user-unfriendly. The biggest challenge is usually to get the sales teams to embrace the new system, which is harder if there’s a steep learning curve.  Why pay more for features that make your system less useable?

Rule #4. Entice don’t force.

Sales reps embrace CRM when they can see how it saves them time and helps them make more sales.  By contrast, trying to force a system down the throats of salespeople creates resistance and resentment.  This is one business situation where the proverbial “carrot” works far better than the proverbial “stick.”

Rule #5. Take a gradual approach.

Successful CRM implementations begin with a pilot project that’s rolled out to a small group. The pilot both serves as an in-house evaluation period and also allows time to  tailor the system to better match your sales process. More importantly, a pilot team singing the praises of the new system virtually guarantees corporate-wide acceptance.

Rule #6. Don’t confuse “big” with “good.”

As a concept, CRM is constantly redefining itself, so it’s a myth that the large CRM vendors can provide better service than the smaller, less-established vendors.  The big vendors cater to their equally huge corporate customers, whose already-installed systems provide a reverse incentive for the big vendor to be innovative and flexible.

Rule #7. Articulate the benefits.

If you expect salespeople to use a CRM system, you must first carefully and believably explain the benefits of the system, how the requirements evolved, how the system helps create opportunities, how it will be measured, and (most importantly) how it will help the sales reps to sell more.

Rule #8. Limit the busywork.

While the data preserved in your CRM system is valuable, it’s not so valuable that entering the data should be more important than the selling that creates the data. As far as possible, offload data entry tasks onto automated programs or paid clerical help. Don’t turn your top salespeople into keystrokers.

Rule #9. Hide the complexity.

When you turn the key in your new car, you do not care that there are silicon chips controlling every aspect of your car’s handling and performance. You just care that it starts and gets you where you’re going. Look for a CRM system that’s intuitive and doesn’t require your people to understand the internals.

Rule #10. Make the executives use it.

A huge benefit of CRM is that it helps a company hone sales strategy.  That’s only possible, though, if everyone involved –including top executives–uses the same system and therefore “talks the same language.” If “not using CRM” becomes seen as the mark of executive privilege, you might as well not bother.

Rule #11. Use managers as trainers.

When sales managers are responsible for training the reps, it not only guarantees that the managers learn the system, but it also makes the managers into the sales team’s first line of support. A “train the trainers” approach thus helps everyone work to more closely to ensure that the system becomes integral to the sales effort.

Rule #12. Don’t support multiple systems.

Some reps and managers want to continue to use spreadsheets, e-mails, and handwritten notes, because “that’s the way we’ve always done things.”  To prevent this, top management should refuse any report not generated with the official system.  The reluctant will quickly figure out that it’s less work to use the system than to rekey the data.

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  • Richard Dolloff

    Can you suggest a CRM for my rep group?
    We represent ten manufacturers in FL and have three sales people. With each of our ten mfg. we have a corresponding sales manager. I need to make technology work for me. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

    Richard Dolloff
    D&D Medical Sales, Inc
    Medicallife@att.net
    904-501-2103

  • Arlo Gilbert

    Really fantastic list, I think the “Entice don’t force” rule is the most critical, sales people who don’t want to use the CRM will be less productive and less likely to use it which results in less data for the company to make effective decisions with!

  • http://www.agilecrm.com/ Sandhya Ramesh

    This is a good list. I especially agree with #6. A CRM should definitely be tailored to suit needs. Just because a large well-known corporation finds a particular system to be extremely effective, it doesn’t mean that a two-person startup that work out of their garage do. Lots of research is needed when it comes to implementing a CRM. At Agile CRM, we can proudly say we’ve conquered #3 and #9! :)

  • http://leedalton.wordpress.com Leedalton

    Ouch, failed on 2,6,10 and 12 …
    Pushing water uphill with a broom springs to mind :(

    • geoffreyjames

      Don’t feel too bad. CRM problems are endemic, which is why I published these rules.

      • http://leedalton.wordpress.com Leedalton

        Thanks for taking the time to spell them out, I will certainly be taking note of them all for the next implementation!