A lot of businesses invest in CRM technology, but surprisingly few use it that well. The majority of systems that get implemented sort of get used, but don’t necessarily make a fundamental difference to the bottom line.

By contrast a relatively small minority use CRM technology very successfully, and often achieve sustained competitive advantages.

So, what separates the best from the also-rans? Based on twenty-odd years in the CRM industry here’s my take on the eight hallmarks of the top-performers:

Focus on business outcomes – The best users of CRM technology have an incredibly clear focus on what they are looking to achieve. They tend to use the system to address key pain-points, and don’t allow the project to become too broad, in the early stages anyway.

Clarity on how those objectives will be achieved – High performing users of CRM technology have a process-centric approach. They understand what operational processes will need to be embedded in the system to achieve the desired business outcome and are crystal clear how the system is to be used to manage those processes.

They choose the right technology platform – This is both in terms of choosing the right system for their immediate needs, but also one that can grow over time. Importantly, they will look for a platform that is going to remain relevant across the lifespan of the system, which for a successful system is likely to be ten plus years.

They build strong relationships with their implementation partner – They tend to be cautious in terms of selecting the implementation partner to ensure they get the right one, and, once they’re onboard, look to build a strong-ongoing relationship, on the basis that changing implementation partners downstream is likely to be highly disruptive.

They resource heavily for the initial project – CRM projects are demanding on everyone’s time, so the high performers ensure the right internal resources are available (and are sufficiently freed up from ‘business as usual’ activities), as well as bringing in external expertise if needed.

Adoption is everything – The best users of CRM understand that user adoption is everything. The greatest technical solution is nothing if people don’t use it consistently and systematically. Establishing the user adoption patterns necessary for success is a major project in its own right, and as many resources are pumped into this post go-live stage as the preceding design and build stages.

Senior management embrace the system – The senior team tend to be users of the system, or at least avid consumers of its reporting outputs. Most importantly they understand and embrace the system as being a strategic part of the business.

The system is managed for the long term – There’s recognition that systems are often fragile flowers that need nurturing over the long term. Things don’t stand still – people, markets, strategies, and technologies change over time, and it’s important that the CRM system adapts and grows too. This requires, often significant, ongoing investment in the system and the people that run it, as well rigorous processes to monitor and manage the evolution of the system.

This might all sound quite an undertaking. And it is. Implementing and running a high-performance CRM system takes a lot of effort, resource, and unrelenting discipline. The pay-backs however can be enormous, but it’s not for everyone.

The trick is to understand if this approach is right for you. Not all organisations have it in their DNA to be successful in this way. Recognising this can save a lot of effort and money. It’s much better to invest a little in a system that makes a relatively small difference, than throw a lot of money at it and still achieve the same result, because the building blocks described above aren’t in place.

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