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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