5 strategic steps to CRM success

If you're embarking on a new CRM implementation these five steps can help you avoid costly mistakes and increase the returns from one of your most important sales and marketing investments.

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Quick view:

  • CRM implementations often result in costly failures because organisations prioritise technical criteria rather than the achievement of business goals.
  • Successful companies first identify their sales and marketing goals and then visualise how a CRM can help achieve them.
  • By following five clearly defined steps before embarking on a CRM implementation companies can realise substantially higher returns on this major investment.

When considering implementing a new CRM solution, companies typically jump into the technical evaluation of different product features or its ease of integration. However, they rarely take a step back to consider the strategic role CRM will play in achieving business goals such as improving customer experience or transforming sales and marketing performance.

This narrow, technology-focused view of CRM increases the risk that you will select the wrong solution for your business needs and fail to realize the returns on one of your most important sales and marketing investments.

By contrast, successful companies seize the opportunity of a transition to a new CRM tool to get an up-to-date understanding of their customers' decision journey, redesign their sales and marketing processes, and refocus their sales and marketing strategy on its most important goals. All of which help visualise the requirements of a CRM and reap greater benefits from it, once implemented.

From our experience working with organisations embarking on CRM implementations, we have identified five steps every company can follow to ensure their CRM delivers transformational improvements in sales and marketing performance.

Whilst we would recommend undertaking this exercise before selecting a new CRM tool, even after implementation such actions can significantly boost the returns on your investment.


1. Identify and prioritise your business goals

A new CRM solution isn't a substitute for a sales and marketing strategy. Many companies get swayed into thinking that the impressive functionality of today's CRM solutions can solve all their sales and marketing woes. By contrast, successful CRM implementations begin by clearly identifying and prioritising the business goals for the sales and marketing organisation.

When identifying and prioritising goals it is important to consider short, medium and longer-term objectives. Short-term goals may relate to achieving next year's sales targets or increasing the opportunity win rate. While medium or longer-term goals are typically broader objectives like improving sales force effectiveness or creating a seamless customer experience.

In large organisations, the implementation of a new CRM solution can be a time-taking process and subsequent switching costs are high. Therefore any solution needs to be capable of addressing both the short and long-term requirements. 

Furthermore, we often find that the exercise of identifying goals produces a bucket list of aspirations rather than a coherent and targeted set of objectives. Therefore it is critical to prioritise what is really important to the organisation to arrive at a set of goals which a CRM solution can realistically help you achieve.


2. Map your customer journey

From our experience, many companies are yet to clearly map their customers' journey all the way from awareness to after-sales. While even those that have done this exercise in the past usually need to update it, to take account of the rapid shift to digital that is taking place among both B2B and B2C customers. 

In mapping your customers' journey, it is critical to identify every single touch point at which they interact with your organisation and then link it to the relevant stage in their buying process. For example, in the first stage of awareness, your customer may browse your website or social media pages to find out more information about your company. Today numerous CRM solutions can track your customers' online behaviour and, for example, should a buyer mention your brand or category in a LinkedIn post, they can trigger an alert to the relevant salesperson to reach out with a targeted communication.

Similarly, the responsiveness of your after-sales team to a product or service issue can have a huge bearing on the likelihood of repeat purchase. If monitoring these issues and their resolution is crucial to your selling process, you may want to prioritise the ability of your CRM to integrate with a growing number of service-related apps.

Once each touch point has been identified and connected to the corresponding stage of the buying process, they need to be mapped to the department that handles or supports the customer interaction. For example, in the case of B2B players, a quote for a large order may be prepared by the sales executive but may also need to be signed off by the accounts and legal team. Although these departments are not customer-facing, the timeliness of their actions has a huge impact on the customer experience. Therefore it may be necessary for your CRM to integrate with your accounting system.

While undertaking customer journey mapping, it is essential to adopt the customers' perspective to reveal how the actual buying experience evolves, rather than just relying on the perceptions of your sales team. This perspective can be achieved through a combination of mystery buyer approach and in-depth customer interviews. In the process, you also gain valuable customer feedback which can identify key areas for improvement along the journey.


3. Optimise existing processes

After taking the outside-in customer view, it's time to look inside at your existing sales and marketing processes. This not only serves to map current processes that you may want to replicate in the CRM, but it also identifies inefficiencies and break-points that you need resolve before you make the switch. 

A CRM tool is not a magic wand that will instantly transform your sales and marketing effectiveness. Transferring weak legacy processes to a shiny new digital platform will only create more costly frustration.

To map internal processes and identify their breakpoints, it is imperative to adopt the point of view of your sales team on the front-line. By observing and tracking their time spent on different tasks you can spot opportunities for automation and improved process flows.

Finally, by overlaying your customer journey map with your internal process map you can see where the two are misaligned. You are then in a position to redesign your sales and marketing process to optimise customer experience and sales force effectiveness.

By doing this redesign prior to CRM selection you are able to define your requirements more precisely. You also take advantage of the flux of the transition process to change ingrained ways of working before new behaviours get established.


4. Decide the key metrics to track 

You have now mapped your customers' actual journey and your existing processes and aligned the two to optimise customer experience and sales force effectiveness. The next step is to identify the key metrics you require to monitor progress toward your business goals, as well as the relevant data points you will need to capture.

One major advantage of powerful new CRM tools is their potential to help you make the quantum shift from reviewing only backward-looking performance measures to also tracking forward-looking leading indicators.

The advantage of tracking leading indicators for the sales and marketing organisation is their ability to flag up potential misses whilst you still have sufficient time to take corrective action and achieve your goals. By reviewing leading indicators your team's energy shifts from justifying past failures and towards overcoming obstacles to your goals. 

There are literally hundreds of potential sales and marketing metrics you can track, therefore clearly linking your earlier identified goals (or Key Result Areas) to the relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is critical. Once the KPIs are defined, the task is to identify the correct leading indicators that can then be tracked and visualised in your CRM's dashboard.

For example, the health of your sales pipeline is an important leading indicator of future sales. Therefore, identifying the different stages of your deal process to replicate in the CRM, establishing the most important qualifying criteria at each stage and calculating the typical conversion rates, can help tell you whether or not you're on track to achieve your target. By contrast, the traditional Excel-based approach to collating and analysing such information was often so time-consuming in a large sales organisation that it could never produce actionable insights.

5. Identify and address the barriers to user adoption

You've now got a set of optimised sales and marketing processes and identified the metrics you need to track. It's time to move to evaluate the CRM, isn't it? Not so fast. In our experience companies often dedicate substantial management bandwidth to evaluating the financial and technical elements of a new CRM solution, but pay little attention to the barriers to user-adoption, which ultimately make or break your CRM implementation.

The most important barriers to adoption - and the most difficult ones to overcome - relate to the deep-rooted cultural change that is required to support a successful CRM transition. Sales and marketing executives have often gotten used to closely guarding their key client relationships and can be reluctant to share information which they may feel reduces their value to the organisation. At the same time, your people may feel threatened by the greater accountability that comes with greater transparency of individual and team performance. Further, many executives may lack the comfort and skills to work with these new digital tools.

To overcome these barriers, leaders need to first bring the fears and anxieties of their people to the surface through open conversations and then develop clear strategies to overcome them. For example, identifying digital natives in the organisation who can train and mentor older team members can overcome the skill gap. While clearly articulating how the new system will help individuals in achieving their targets can ease their fears. Furthermore, linking individual and team performance reviews to CRM based metrics can help incentivise adoption.

By preparing the ground with these five steps, companies can ensure that they select the right CRM tool for their business needs and also build robust processes and positive mindsets to fully realise its benefits.

About the author(s)

Gehan Wanduragala is principal at Kanvic Consulting

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