How to implement a CRM system – fast

by Richard Boardman on May 17, 2015

We’ve worked on a few projects in recent months where there was a compelling need for the system to be implemented quickly. This isn’t as easy as it might first appear. There’s only so much that you can compress the major building blocks of a CRM implementation, such a requirements definition, vendor selection, design, build, and testing, but there’s potential to speed up projects significantly if you have a mind to. Here are a few approaches that can help:

Truncate the fuzzy front end – the fuzzy front end is that phase that begins with the initial notion that CRM might be a good idea, and ends at the commencement of the project. This is often the longest phase in a project involving a range of activities such as business case development, feasibility studies, market research, planning, and budgeting. With organisations invariably involved in these pre-commitment activities for many years, often compressing and streamlining these internal activities can be the most effective way to realise the benefits of CRM technology sooner.

Get requirements defined up front – perhaps not a surprise to regular readers of this blog, but, as I’ve mentioned (a few times) before, defining business and functional requirements in detail up front removes the need to do it later in the implementation and reduces rework and scope-creep which can delay the project.

Streamline vendor selection – selecting the right CRM software is important and the right implementation partner even more so. However the average procurement process can take several months, so anything that can be done to compress the vendor selection process can have a big impact. A lot of companies still use a formal request for proposal (RFP)/Invitation to tender (ITT) process, but I’m less and less convinced on how well these work in today’s feverish CRM market where many vendors are just too busy to put much in the way of a sensible response together. If procurement rules allow it, a lighter touch selection process, and, forgive the shameless plug, perhaps some advice from an independent CRM consultant, can be quicker and probably more effective than a more formal RFP/ITT process.

Get the legals on the table early – I’ve seen many projects grind to a halt once lawyers start reviewing and negotiating software, services, and support contracts. The simple solution, if the legal teams are going to get involved, is to start the process early. Giving and getting visibility of potential contractual terms at the start of the procurement process can save a lot of time later.

Have a tight but realistic project plan – the key word here is realistic. You ideally want a plan that minimises the implementation timelines, yet is achievable. You ideally don’t want to be rescheduling resources as the project progresses as this can inject considerable delay, but neither do you want unnecessary contingency in the plan.

Phase it – You don’t have to do everything in one go. Breaking the project down so that you deploy in a series of phases can be a very effective way to get early benefits. When phasing it’s worth bearing in mind which are the more time consuming implementation activities, such as data migration or integration, and those that are more straightforward such as system configuration.

An iterative approach – if there’s any lack of clarity about the end deliverable of the project then an agile/iterative approach helps remove the risk of discovering very late in the day that what’s developed doesn’t meet the need with all the impact on timelines this can have.

Maintaining quality of delivery – the user acceptance phase can be very protracted if the quality of what’s delivered for testing is poor, as you can get caught in multiple cycles of fixing/testing/re-fixing. Ensuring that you work with a capable implementation partner using solid internal testing processes, can dramatically speed up user acceptance testing.

Make sure staff are available – one of the biggest sources of potential delay is that a lot of the internal staff who need to be involved may have demanding day jobs which creates bandwidth bottlenecks. Freeing up key staff so that they can focus on the project can lead to a significantly quicker implementation. Contracting in experienced external resources such as project managers and system administrators can also make a big difference.

It doesn’t have to be perfect on day one – if you do need to move fast, bear in mind the system doesn’t need to be perfect on the initial live day. You can aim for ‘good enough’ and iterate and enhance quickly thereafter.

By using some of these approaches there’s the potential to significantly speed up the implementation process. They may require a little more investment, but reducing the gap between the initial outlay on CRM software and services and getting the first payback is likely to make this well worthwhile.

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The increasing power of CRM portal technology

by Richard Boardman on May 4, 2015

One interesting area of CRM technology whose potential seems yet to be fully realised is the use of portals. A portal is a website that serves as a gateway to the CRM system, and allows third parties, such as customers or partners, the ability to create and update records within the CRM system without being core users. While the potential use cases for portal technology are vast here are a few examples:

  • Allow customers to log, view, and update technical support tickets
  • Allow distributors and resellers to update the status of leads that have been assigned to them
  • Allow members of a membership organisation to update their details and renew their subscriptions
  • Allow grant applicants to submit and track a funding application to a charitable foundation
  • Allow a regulatory body to collaborate with external lawyers on legal cases
  • Allow a telemarketing company’s clients to track progress on a campaign
  • Allow residents to report and track issues such as abandoned vehicles and fly tipping to the local authority

In other words portals allow external parties to interact with a CRM system without being exposed to the full range of data or the complexity of the core system.

These capabilities have a range of potential benefits:

  • Improved customer experience – they can for example log and track matters at their convenience without having to interact directly with a vendor
  • Reduced cost of handling transactions/applications/cases/issues – because there’s less data entry involved in processing the matter
  • Reduced time to resolution/conclusion
  • More effective collaboration with third parties
  • Improved depth and quality of data

While some CRM applications have portal capabilities as standard these tend to be limited to more mainstream uses such as case management or partner management. There are however a range of third party applications that allow you to develop less conventional portal applications.

One technology which I’ve implemented a number of times recently, which I particularly like, is Access CRM which has been developed by a company called Webcurl. It’s startlingly cost-effective, starting at £2,500 per year including hosting, but the main benefit is the speed with which a portal can be created, and that it can be set up using an administrative rather than development resource.

It’s developed on the open source Drupal content management system, and so can potentially make use of the wide range of Drupal capabilities and add-ons, such as its multi-language capabilities, and the flexibility in managing the look and feel of the application.

With the availability of these sorts of flexible, cost effective, technologies, the barriers to introducing portal capabilities have been dramatically lowered. As a result there’s even more opportunity for users of CRM technology to improve customer service, and lower costs. With a hugely diverse range of potential use cases, current and prospective users of CRM technology may well profit from reviewing how extending access to the core CRM system to partners and customers through portals may be relevant to them.

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How to gather and document a CRM requirements specification – The ebook

April 23, 2015

I’ve written a lot over the years about the importance of requirements gathering when implementing CRM systems. For me, the CRM requirements specification is the foundation of a CRM project, and I don’t believe there’s any other element that has as much influence on ultimate success or failure. What’s surprising however is that there’s so little [...]

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The zombie CRM apocalypse and ways to avoid it

April 6, 2015

In October last year I passed the ten year milestone as an independent CRM consultant, and at some point in 2015, all being well, I’ll pass the twenty year mark of working in the CRM industry. I mention this because back in the early days tales of CRM project failures abounded. Perhaps this reflected the [...]

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Getting people to use CRM software – two key foundations

March 15, 2015

It doesn’t matter how successful you may have been in selecting the right CRM technology for your organisation and customising it to fit your specific needs, if you can’t get people to use it in a consistent and structured way, then it’s not going to generate much value. Despite the progress that’s been made with [...]

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Specifying CRM functional requirements – twelve things that often get missed

March 3, 2015

In the ‘how to document CRM requirements’ series (part one, if you missed it, can be found here) I noted that there were a lot of areas that people tended to miss when setting out their functional requirements for a CRM system. So the following is a list of twelve items that commonly don’t get [...]

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Waterfall V Agile for CRM projects – why the choice of implementation approach matters

March 2, 2015

If you’re implementing a new CRM system and have been talking to potential vendors about how they would approach a project, I suspect the word ‘agile’ features strongly in their presentations. Go back a few short years though and you would have been hard-pressed to hear the word ‘agile’ being used in many conversations about [...]

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A guide to phasing a CRM project

January 11, 2015

In my recent series on requirements gathering, I noted the need to document the phasing of a CRM implementation. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that phasing is one of the most critical aspects of implementing a CRM system successfully, and so figured this might merit some further elaboration. Perhaps the starting point [...]

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How to document requirements for a CRM system – part 6

January 4, 2015

In a previous post in this series I set out my thoughts on the content and structure of a CRM requirements specification. In this post I want to cover how to go about gathering them. The starting point, if you’re not reasonably familiar with CRM technology, is to do some initial research. It’s very difficult [...]

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How to document requirements for a CRM system – part 5

December 13, 2014

Last time out I described what I’d expect to see in a decent CRM requirements specification. Putting this sort of document together isn’t a trivial exercise, but the payback from the time invested can be huge. Here are some of the key benefits of this sort of approach: Increased return on investment – the focus [...]

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