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Plan and pilot before a CRM implementation

Planning a well-targeted pilot program can lead to a successful implementation on a larger scale, resulting in ROI faster than a quick - but ineffective - rollout.

By Stephen Brooks

Companies, anticipating the implementation of a Customer Relations Management (CRM) program, may attempt to roll out a solution to their entire organization at one time. Understandably, they are looking for the quick return on investment (ROI) that their new software has the potential to deliver. Unfortunately, companies often fail to consider that this implementation can be a fairly large change in their operations - and one that is best done in stages.

Abraham Lincoln once said, "If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first six sharpening my axe." The same wisdom applies to any CRM project. The more detailed the planning process - before exposure to the new CRM launch - the more likely it is to be beneficial, not only to the sales force, marketing department, or contact center, but to the entire organization.

This process can best commence by establishing clear, quantifiable goals to be shared with the individuals that will be using the CRM package. An example of a quantifiable goal is, "We will decrease the average sales cycle from six months to ten weeks." It is imperative that a company's goals are measurable, for without this "yardstick," there can be no true test to assess results.

Once these goals are established, a company should define its path for reaching these goals through a planning process. A tool, such as Microsoft Project�, is helpful in creating and maintaining the schedule for a project of this scope. Part of this planning process should include regularly scheduled team meetings - to voice concerns, track progress, and modify the plans and approaches as necessary.

A key component of the CRM rollout should be a pilot program. Typically, this is a mini-rollout to a small "test" group (usually 5 - 10%) of the eventual users. Most groups have a subsection of people who are keen on technology and eager to try new things. These individuals are a company's "guinea pigs." They have the potential to tolerate technical glitches better and are more likely to use the new tools effectively. Senior management has the obligation to maintain personal positive contact with this group - offering support and feedback. These "guinea pigs" of today will be the salespeople of tomorrow, not only using this new technology to support the company's customer service efforts, but selling the technology and its potential to the remaining members of the organization. An enthusiastic test group can transfer this positive experience to a willing customer relations management team.

Planning a well-targeted pilot program can lead to a successful implementation on a larger scale, resulting in ROI faster than a quick - but ineffective - rollout.

Stephen Brooks is director of product management at MultiActive Software Inc.,


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