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Successful CRM Implementation: A Step-By-Step Guide For Managers

CRM implementation is fraught with risk. Here’s how to approach and navigate your implementation successfully.

Forty years ago, Legacy Community Health embarked on a journey to serve Houston’s LGBTQ+ community through comprehensive healthcare. 

Over the decades, they’ve set up over 20 clinics and facilities located on campuses across the Houston area, investing heavily into their communities. But with growth came serious administrative problems. 

The company depended heavily on community events and word-of-mouth referrals, but lacked a centralized way to track invoices, communications, and referrals. Without any central alignment, their resources quickly stretched thin.

Implementing a modern CRM turned their fortunes around. Within weeks of implementation, Legacy’s team members could see what events were coming up, which clients or prospects needed attention, and what proposals had been made.

Today, Legacy Community Health is on a mission to provide healthcare from pediatrics to geriatrics, for the insured and the uninsured, and for US citizens and the undocumented. Their growth continues up and to the right.

“My goal was to be able to share what my team was doing for the organization and demonstrate that value to the board.”

   – Orlando Lozano, Director of Business Development | Legacy Community Health

Read the full Legacy Community Health + FreeAgent Customer Story:

While the story of Legacy Community Health has a happy ending, many other companies do not end up the same way. In fact, up to a third of CRM implementations fail spectacularly. 

Without direction, foresight, testing, communication, managerial buy-in, or time, it’s almost impossible to successfully implement a customer relationship management tool within an organization.

CRM implementation is hard enough as it is. Between the work disruption, costs, confusion, and ever-expanding scope, the last thing you want is to pile on to the process with easily avoidable mistakes. 

There are proven ways to ensure your CRM deployment goes off without a hitch, which we’ll explore in this post. We’ll show you how to apply these learnings to your own implementation process.

Why bother with CRM software?

CRM software isn’t just a nice-to-have tool. It’s a must-have tool in a game where speed, efficiency, accuracy, and visibility can mean the difference between slow profits and a stellar quarter. 

With a proper CRM platform, you can:

  • Analyze your customer relationship data for upsells
  • See what’s happening across every team
  • Organize data and projects better
  • Follow up with customers faster
  • Get work done with less effort

In short, CRM technology lowers your operating costs, increases your agility, quickens your sales process, and allows you to drive customer retention through better customer service.

Because of this, companies must approach a CRM implementation process with the right mindset. But why do some CRM implementations fail to live up to their intended goals?

Reasons for CRM implementation failure

FreeAgent CRM Implementation for Work Management

CRM deployment failure is seldom caused by a single element but death by a thousand cuts. There are a few reasons companies spend months in implementation purgatory:

  • Insufficient requirements analysis: If you don’t know what you need, you’re likely to implement the wrong CRM tool, with the wrong/unneeded features, perhaps at the wrong time, and at a high time and money cost with potentially low adoption.
  • Unaddressed use-cases: The CRM tool you’re buying may not match the use-cases or specific business process your team needs, which undermines your CRM strategy.
  • Low or no executive buy-in: Change management starts from the top, and a successful CRM implementation strategy relies on over-communication. A poorly supported CRM initiative causes problems down the line.
  • Under-resourced team: Without sufficient time, money, and support from the top, the team handling your CRM initiative is almost guaranteed to fail. 
  • Lack of time: Trying to transition too quickly can break a few things. Implementing a CRM requires time to deliver value.
  • Low adoption: When users don’t understand how to use the new system, or when there’s no CRM integration with existing tools, it leads to disengagement and abandonment. Your users may go back to the Excel spreadsheets they’re familiar with.
  • Scope creep: Without a defined scope for your CRM project, you’re doomed to expanding requirements, last-minute amendments, and an implementation bill that keeps rising. This inflation lengthens your implementation process and makes it harder to course-correct.
  • Low ROI: When you combine one or more of the above issues, you get a situation that delivers less value than you’ve paid for it — which can further sap executive buy-in, resources, and morale.

Companies that experience CRM implementation failure do so due to one or more of the above causes. Spotting these failure points early — or better yet, mitigating them beforehand — is the key to success.

First things first: What to do in your CRM pre-implementation phase

Before you begin anything, there are two steps you need to take to help guide successful implementation:

  1. Get alignment and organizational buy-in
  2. Gather ‘before’ metrics

1. Get alignment and organizational buy-in

Executive buy-in remains one of the top factors contributing to CRM implementation success. This alignment rests on over-communicating your CRM strategy at scale to avoid teams feeling blindsided.

Preparing a communication plan early allows you to keep everyone abreast of any updates and convey a sense of structure and progress to the process.

While these communications must start with and be supported by top management, they can also be delegated to a suitable leader on any one of your teams, such as IT, the administration team, or the CEO’s office.

The emails or company memos you send must: 

  1. Outline the process that’s about to happen
  2. Inform team members what their roles are in that process
  3. Offer to answer any questions or concerns before you begin

It’s also crucial to give your team leaders the information to manage the process within their departments, plus enough time to cascade implementation directives down the ranks. 

The communication modes may look different for your company depending on what you rely on for internal comms. 

You might use an intranet workspace, noticeboard, email lists, or even Slack to communicate with your teams.

The goal is to reach people where they are and how they consume information best. This increases the chances of employee engagement and future CRM adoption.

2. Gather existing data on project or task durations

A core step in CRM implementation is analyzing ROI from a revenue and productivity standpoint down the line. But to measure the ROI of changes ‘after,’ you need to know what things looked like ‘before.’

This is where gathering and logging project and task data comes in. Work with your team leaders to understand roughly how long things currently take and how difficult or inconvenient they are (say, on a scale of 1-10). These can include tasks such as:

  1. Routing leads to sales reps or account managers
  2. Storing lead data from website forms
  3. Processing new vendor applications
  4. Adding or amending new products
  5. Onboarding new employees

You’ll later compare this data to determine whether your new CRM is delivering value for you. Note that you don’t have to collect data on every task in your organization — just the ones that drive the most value.

Once you have this data on hand, it’s time to begin implementation.

How to nail your CRM implementation in 8 steps

There are eight steps to a successful CRM implementation:

  1. Gather business requirements and goals
  2. Build or hire a team
  3. Select a CRM vendor
  4. Gather and begin migrating data
  5. Set up integrations
  6. Test your CRM implementation
  7. Onboard and train your users
  8. Evaluate your results

1. Gather business requirements and goals

When you don’t know what you need, you’ll take any solution on the market — and this may end up disappointing you. 

Analyzing your business requirements gives you the power to request the correct CRM features, focus your training on specific use-cases, and measure ROI more easily.

For this step, you’ll need to find out about your:

  • Use-cases: What goals do your teams need to accomplish, and how are they currently struggling with those? How would their individual and collective KPIs be affected by a new CRM?
  • CRM users: How many CRM users should you budget for, and how much training will they need?
  • Integrations: Which existing apps must sync with your new CRM? Do your teams need continued access and visibility into their email, lead generation, project management, employee onboarding, and cloud storage apps?
  • Data types: What types of data do you work with, and how are they represented in your current setup? Do you deal mostly with contact data? Product specifications? Employee data? Media files? What fields, groups, or data input types will your new CRM need to handle with each data type?
  • Security and compliance: Which security policies, governance initiatives, or compliance requirements must you adhere to? How does your chosen CRM software address those requirements?
  • Resources: How much money, time, and human resources will you require to pull off this CRM implementation on time and under budget? Do you have the skills in-house or will you need to hire an external CRM implementation partner?
  • Success: What would success look like for your organization after implementing a new, modern CRM?

These questions help you map out what exactly you need from a CRM solution, how the transition will unfold, and what you will need from a resource perspective. Spend more time on this step as it will inform everything that comes afterward.

2. Build or hire a team

A CRM implementation project needs experts at the helm. But should you leave it to your in-house team or hire CRM implementation consultants?

Ideally, your CRM solution partner will have the in-house resources to help you transition from your current way of working to your new CRM-powered workday. 

Should that not be the case, the next step is to look for a CRM implementation vendor to assist you with the transition.

They have more experience and can scale with you as you onboard new employees, design more complex use-cases and workflows, or hit snags along the way.

Money shouldn’t be the bottleneck here. A failed CRM implementation is much costlier in lost time and money than whatever the vendor will charge you.

If their fee is not in your budget, consider getting a freelance or independent CRM implementation specialist. Not only are they faster and nimbler with their services, but they’re also more affordable. 

However, they may lack the capacity and domain expertise to scale up as you do, which will require seeking out an external vendor anyway or building out your own team.

How to build a CRM implementation team in-house

If you’ve chosen to keep the implementation in-house, you’ll need a CRM administration team. Positions you might need include:

  • A business analyst to gather requirements across each team
  • Software analyst for data migration and cleansing
  • App developer for installation, configuration, and workflow definition
  • Software test engineer for testing and quality assurance
  • Project manager to oversee the entire process
  • Project champion within management to avail resources and budget

Define specific roles, expectations, and timelines to align everyone. Most importantly, have your in-house team document the process. 

This makes it easier for future teams or employees to pick up where they left off, extend your current CRM setup, or troubleshoot common challenges.

FreeAgent CRM Implementation for Work Management
3. Select a CRM solution

Your CRM implementation team is responsible for finding, filtering, and selecting the right CRM for your organization. This could be an on-premise solution or cloud solution, depending on your needs.

The CRM selection process may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on how many vendors are accessible to you, what your budget and needs are, and how much support those vendors provide.

You can find a modern CRM solution through Google search, word of mouth referrals, business directories, trade fairs, and putting out RFPs in local and international media. Generate a list of the top CRM vendors you want to work with and filter down from there.

4. Gather data and begin your CRM data migration

To begin your data migration, you’ll first need:

  • Emails
  • Project data (tasks, due dates, assignees, and related assets)
  • Employee data (personal details and team structure placement)
  • Product data (databases, assets, etc.)
  • User/customer data (user details, pricing tiers, cancellation and renewal dates, previous communications, etc.)

Note that some data may not be well-suited to a CRM, such as audio files, videos, and other large or uncommon media assets. 

In such cases, gather the links to these folders or resources on your cloud storage platform and add those links to the dossier you’ll put together.

For example, data for your sales team might include account names, revenue information, the assigned sales rep, and links to kick-off call videos in Dropbox or OneDrive.

After collecting this data, it’s time to clean it up — a core aspect of ongoing CRM data hygiene

Remove any duplicates, incorrect/outdated data, or corrupt files from your data pile to ensure you only port over clean, accurate data. 

After loading this data into your new CRM system, it’s time to set up integrations.

5. Set up integrations

Your CRM won’t operate in isolation. Your team likely uses dozens of other apps to get work done, such as:

  1. Email apps
  2. Social media
  3. Cloud storage
  4. Cloud services
  5. Analytics tools
  6. Messaging apps
  7. Help desk software
  8. Lead generation software
  9. Project management software
  10. Marketing automation software
  11. Social media management software, etc.

Set up these apps and tools to work seamlessly with your new CRM, receiving and handing off data as needed. 

Where there isn’t a direct integration available, tools like IFTTT and Zapier can facilitate data transfers from one app to another.

With integrations done, it’s time for testing.

6. Test your CRM implementation

Setting up integrations and data migration is pointless if nothing works as expected afterward. That’s where testing comes in. Your software test analyst or QA Engineer is invaluable at this stage.

Go ahead and stress-test the following:

  1. Contacts – Are they appropriately stored?
  2. Lead routing – Are leads getting to the right reps?
  3. Reports – Are data exports matching expected results?
  4. Migrated data – Is there any duplicate or incorrect data?
  5. Pipeline tracking – Are sales stages changing as needed?
  6. Integrations – Are your apps speaking to each other?
  7. Website forms – Are forms displaying correctly with fillable fields?
  8. Email capture – Are emails aggregated and displayed alongside each contact, task, or project?

Test and re-test everything to ensure all workflows are in good order. Once you’re satisfied with the results, it’s time for training and onboarding.

7. Onboard and train your users

A fancy CRM system is pointless if your end-users don’t know how to use it. Training and onboarding are key steps, and here’s how to go about it:

  • Set up training sessions: Invite every user to a Zoom training session (or live session if you can) and have them see the new CRM in action. Let them perform at least three key steps related to their use case. For example, a salesperson can (1) Add a contact, (2) Route that lead to an account manager, and (3) Complete a test sale. A customer support rep might need to (1) request feedback on a recent customer experience, (2) manage refunds and cancellations, and (3) export customer data. Rinse and repeat for each team role.
  • Create a knowledge base: If your CRM vendor is handling your implementation, they’ll have a knowledge base for you to reference for common problems. A self-serve CRM app usually also has its own comprehensive knowledge base. An external partner or in-house team might need to create a knowledge base for future use, which they can do during Step 2.
  • Address any queries or roadblocks quickly: Knowledge bases can’t capture every possible scenario. Leave room for questions and feedback from your CRM users about usage, platform features, use-cases, and more. Add the answers to these questions to your knowledge base to improve it over time.

A handy tip here is to gamify the onboarding and training process. Have a checklist of tasks users need to complete to be fully onboarded, and track them against those goals. It will motivate action, reward completion, and drive adoption.

But it’s important to ramp up slowly. 

Your teams need time to learn all the main features of your CRM, complete data migration, work through onboarding issues, get a feel for how it contributes to their workflow, and gain a sense of confidence in it. 

Start with incremental data adds and workflow processes and slowly ramp up usage over time. 

It’s best to view your CRM implementation as an ongoing process rather than a one-off event. It’s never ‘done’ — it just gets easier and better over time.

8. Evaluate your results 

It’s crucial to evaluate the results of your CRM implementation periodically. Here’s what you’re checking for:

  1. Customer service metrics: Is retention up and churn down? How many more or fewer support tickets are you receiving?
  2. Profits: Is revenue up? Can any of it be directly attributed to your new CRM implementation?
  3. Task productivity: Are tasks getting completed faster and more efficiently on average?
  4. Sales: Are new prospects moving through your pipeline more quickly? Is the length of your sales cycle dropping?
  5. Emails: Are email campaigns being sent, tracked, and analyzed within the CRM?
  6. Team adoption: How many users are logging in daily? What challenges do they still face? Who needs more training?
  7. System activity: Is the number of records going up? Are new projects, tasks, and contacts being added?
  8. Job satisfaction: Are users reporting higher levels of satisfaction in their roles?

To determine your ROI, compare these metrics against the data you first collected in your pre-implementation phase. 

For example, if completing a sales motion took an average of six days before the new CRM, and you’re now completing it in three days, that’s a 50% reduction in your sales cycle time.

Implement a new CRM confidently

CRM implementation can be a headache for unprepared teams, but taking care of the basics improves your results significantly.

The basic building blocks of a successful CRM implementation are to analyze your requirements, build a solid team (CRM vendor or CRM consultant), choose a CRM solution, gather the data you’ll need, begin your migration, test the results, train, and onboard users, and monitor your progress over time.

In a future article, we’ll cover CRM migration. In the meantime, if you’ve got any thoughts on CRM implementations based on your experience, let us know on LinkedIn or Twitter. We’d love to hear your feedback.

CRM implementation FAQs

Below are common questions we get from business leaders looking to implement a new CRM at their company.

How long does a CRM implementation take?

The unsurprising answer is that it depends — on the size of your business, use cases, resources, database, number of users, and allocated time and budget. Based on available benchmarks, plan for a six to twelve-month implementation period.

Which CRM should I use?

The right CRM for you will depend on many of the factors listed above, as well as whether you’re using it for customer support, marketing, sales, project management, or another business process. 

Some of the most popular CRM tools on the market at the moment include FreeAgent CRM, Salesforce, Hubspot CRM, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Copper, and Nutshell.

How much does a CRM implementation project cost?

This depends entirely on whether you’re going with a managed CRM service (pricier), a self-serve CRM (cheaper), the number of seats you’re buying, and what pricing tiers and features you’re exploring. 

Custom integrations and development will naturally push up the price.

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