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Five ways to get the most from your CRM system

Time and again, these five steps are cited as the way to best ensure CRM success.

The CRM market has experienced a wave of consolidation and disruptive innovations, but one thing has remained relatively consistent -- the best practices for ensuring a successful CRM deployment.

The tried and true approach to CRM is much the same now as it was four years ago, and a recent survey of 58 executives by Cambridge, Mass.-based  

Foster user adoption

Promoting user adoption was the most frequently cited factor (58%) in successfully getting value out of CRM deployments. Organizations should involve a community of CRM users in the selection of the CRM system and place a high priority on the usability of the software, according to the report.

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Also, training is an important consideration, and companies should include train-the-trainer structures and a dedicated help desk to ease the transition.

Companies also need to be vigilant about "scope creep." Input is important, but not all suggestions should be immediately incorporated into a CRM program, according to the report. Trying to develop too much integration between CRM and legacy systems can be another pitfall because it presents risks with data migration.

Focus on business processes

Defining optimal business processes before selecting a technology will also help to ensure success. By identifying process experts to design and manage workflow, firms can align processes within and across business groups.

Organizations deploying CRM should be wary of underestimating people challenges. People and technical challenges conform to the 80/20 rule, according to respondents, with people requiring the most effort. In addition, vendors can serve as business partners during a deployment, provided organizations think beyond cost, project schedule and system performance, the report says.

Secure executive sponsorship

It's a common refrain with most IT initiatives, but it's a vital step, according to Forrester survey respondents -- find at least one senior business executive to lead the project. Leaders should provide a solid governance structure and come from the business side of the organization, not just IT. They need to be accountable for delivering on performance objectives.

"You always will have a cross-functional team, but there needs to be a business owner," Band said. "It's a prerequisite for success. Clients who have trouble don't have sponsorship. If it's lead by IT, it's a red flag."

Get your data in order

Many of the companies surveyed had difficulties managing and integrating their customer data. Forward-thinking organizations are thinking proactively instead of performing after-the-fact data cleansing.

Companies need to define the customer information they need, and where timely information can improve their business, if they're going to get value out of their CRM deployments, according to the report. Data needs to be consistent, and data cleansing at the later stages of a deployment may be too late. There should be metrics associated with data cleansing as well. For example, one high-tech company found that sales representatives who used in-depth customer profiles had a 50% increase in their sales pipeline and higher close rates than those who didn't.

"Again, data management turns out to be one of those  

Defining the right metrics

Ensuring CRM success requires knowing what success means. CRM projects should be aligned with business goals and provide specific measures to track success, according to Band. Vague goals such as "we will become a customer-driven company" should be avoided, he said. However, companies should define metrics based on what's important to customers and should start with one-on-one phone surveys and focus groups.

Can't get me no -- CRM satisfaction

Despite the money being spent on CRM -- $8.6 billion in 2007, according to Forrester figures -- satisfaction is falling short in several key areas. Just 29% of executives surveyed were fully satisfied with the ability of their CRM applications to integrate with existing data applications and sources, and less than 50% were satisfied that the business benefit met expectations or quickly delivered value.

The vendors themselves got low marks when it came to support as well. Only 34% of survey respondents said it was easy to work with vendors after they made a purchase.

"That's been a perennial knock on software vendors and goes back to Siebel pioneering the category," Band said. "Because implementing the stuff is very difficult, many companies that have these large complex applications don't have the support they would like to see."

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