It’s not the technology, it’s you – a seven step plan to turn your CRM system around

by Richard Boardman on July 11, 2015

Not so long ago I wrote a post called ‘The coming Zombie CRM Apocalypse and what to do about it’. The gist of the post was that a lot of CRM systems, while technically functioning, don’t contribute much to the health of the organisations that run them.

While I outlined a number of steps to avoid a system becoming zombified, I didn’t, as someone quite rightly pointed out, suggest any potential solutions if it already was.

So the purpose of this post is to outline an action plan for reviving a Zombie CRM system.

Step 1 – Understand the current ‘as is’

The starting point is to really understand how your current system is being is used, by whom, and for what, and how far this differs from the original vision from when the system was first implemented.

Reviewing documentation such as requirements specifications, training guides, and user manuals should give a picture as to what was originally envisioned.

The actual usage patterns can be derived from observing and interviewing users, as well reviewing system data to see how closely, comprehensively, and consistently they follow the documented processes in the system.  Reviewing key outputs such as reports, as well as usage statistics (times logged on, new records created, system updates made etc.) by user, can also be telling.

But the end of this step it should be possible to identify what processes are being supported, how well they’re being supported, and gauge the business value being generated.

Step 2 – Understand why you are where you are

Assuming all is not entirely as you’d wish it to be, then understanding why you are where you are is going to be key to turning the system around. If you can’t understand what went wrong the first time around, then the likelihood is you will repeat the mistakes of the past with the same results.

Common issues include:

  • Ill-defined business objectives
  • Lack of clarity on how the system should be used
  • Poor initial system set up
  • Inadequate training
  • Weak user adoption support
  • Lack of support from senior management
  • Underinvestment in the system
  • Lack of trust in the implementation partner

One area to be a little circumspect on is blame placed on the technology itself. While this may be an issue, the software is commonly held responsible whereas the problem often lies elsewhere.

Step 3 – Understand what your CRM software can do

A lot of issues stem from a lack of understanding of the full potential of the CRM software being used, particularly as functionality may have significantly increased since the system was first implemented. Taking the time to really explore what’s available and how it can be applied to your organisation can pay big dividends at this stage.

Step 4 – Review the areas not currently supported

In step one, we established which areas of the organisation were using, or were meant to be using the CRM system. In this step, it’s worth reviewing all of the organisation’s customer-facing processes in order to identify if there are any which the system could beneficially support. It’s surprising how often there are good opportunities to extend the CRM system into new areas that are currently poorly supported by technology.

Step 5 – Develop a prioritised plan

Based on your understanding of how the system is currently being used, and how it could be used, develop a prioritised plan to revitalise the system. This may involve both better support for processes that are already supported, as well as deployment into new parts of the organisation.  Focus should be on the areas where:

  • You can make a difference quickly
  • Where you can get results cost-effectively
  • Where users will support the use of the system
  • Where metrics are available to track improvements

If your CRM system hasn’t been performing, then people are unsurprisingly going to be wary of investing too much energy into what’s seen as a failing system. Picking your shots and focusing on the areas where you can make a measurable difference is key to establishing a virtuous circle which will allow you to turn things around. Trying to do too much in one go is unlikely to be successful. The emphasis needs to be on tracking results and demonstrating improvement, in order to justify further investment in the system.

Step 6 – Put the supporting infrastructure in place

Building on the analysis as to what went wrong in the first place, make sure that measures are in place to address any identified shortcomings. Key items to include are:

  • Clear documentation on how the system will support each process
  • Defined data quality standards
  • Appropriate training
  • Monitoring of usage and data quality

The thing to bear in mind is that systems rarely under-perform because of, or, at least, solely because of, problems with the underlying technology. Addressing these softer, less-tangible, aspects of deploying a system is critical for success.

Step 7 – Focus like crazy on adoption

Having determined who should now be using the system for what, made any changes to the system to support these processes, then the remaining goal is make sure the people use it in the intended manner. As this is the point of failure for most deployments of CRM technology, this step shouldn’t be taken lightly. The main thing is to accept changing the way people work isn’t trivial, and involves a lot more than offering training. While user adoption is a multi-faceted process, and beyond the scope of this post at least, the core is to take a proactive approach, carefully monitoring usage patterns and taking action where appropriate.

In summary, there are a lot of zombie systems out there, but it is a condition that can be reversed. The key is to accept that the problem probably doesn’t lie with the technology itself.

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