There’s one key question that you need to address when implementing a CRM system. It’s a question that needs addressing early, and, unless you want to experience a huge amount of unnecessary pain and expense, it’s a question you need to answer correctly.

Before I get to the question, I want to set out the concept that there are two types of CRM system, which I’ve dubbed (in the absence of inspiration – better suggestions are very welcome): structured-use, and unstructured-use.

A structured-use CRM system delivers value through its users operating the system in a universal, consistent, and systematic way. In other words, they use the system to support an operational process, or processes. Everyone involved with that process needs to use the system and use it the same way.

The return on investment from the system is entirely driven by the consistency of that usage pattern.

To illustrate this, let’s take the example of a manufacturing business, who wants to improve its forecasting so that it understands the future demand for its products, and can better plan and resource its production schedule.

To do this, its sales teams are asked to log and update upcoming sales opportunities in the CRM system. This of course will only work if all the sales staff use the system, and use it in the same way.

If Harry and Helen, don’t use the system at all, and Jim and Jasmine do, but update it differently from everyone else, then, low and behold, the forecast data is unlikely to be reliable and the intended benefit of better planning of production isn’t achieved.

The second type of system – unstructured-use, doesn’t require everyone to use it in a consistent and structured way. It’s a tool available to those that want to use it.

One example might be contact management. Denise may well benefit from being able to manage a database of her key contacts, make a note of her best customer’s children’s birthdays, or schedule a follow up call for later in the year when she knows new budgets are available. If David, chooses not to use the system, that’s perhaps regrettable, and he may well be losing out, but David not using it doesn’t stop Denise enjoying its benefits

Another example might be a CRM system closely integrated with other operational systems, so that salesperson Joanne, who is about to visit a key customer, can quickly see the client’s order history – what they’re buying, what they’re not buying – what marketing campaigns they’ve recently been sent, how close they are to their credit limit, or the status of any recent complaints or support issues.

In our unstructured world, it matters not if Joanne updates the system, yet alone in a consistent way, she has access to information that allows her to sell more.

The key thing to note is that, as a general rule, structured-use systems have higher paybacks, but involve considerably more expense and effort to successfully implement. In fact, potentially exponentially more effort, expense, and complexity than unstructured-use.

People shouldn’t (but almost always do) underestimate the sheer hard work involved in achieving consistent and systematic usage of a CRM system.

There are some exceptions to this. If the requirement is to implement a system for a team that are already highly process driven – perhaps they already use a system of some description and use it well, for example a call centre that’s already pretty systemised – then the user adoption overhead is considerably lower.

But, as I suspect the majority of CRM systems are being implemented for teams that aren’t, then this is a very real consideration for most.

The reason this is important is that structured-use CRM, which I believe is what the majority of CRM customers are looking to achieve, relies on near 100% adoption to be successful. Anything much short of this and the benefits aren’t realised.

It’s a bit like jumping between two very tall buildings. Let’s say there’s a five metre gap between them. If you were to make the leap, success relies on you jumping at least five metres. The consequences of giving it your all and making four and a half metres, are exactly same as a rather less committed effort of one metre.

So the question that would-be implementers of CRM need to ask themselves at the outset of a project is: ‘Have I got the resources and desire to achieve the 100% adoption necessary for success in the structured-use CRM model?’

If the answer is no, then the best course is either to delay the project until such time as you have, or, start to look as an unstructured-use model where user adoption is less of an issue and where benefits could potentially be accrued quickly with relatively low levels of investment.

The place you don’t want to be, is where you throw significant resources at a project that only gets to 70 or 80% adoption, because the payback on getting most of the way there is likely to be the same as if you didn’t embark on the journey in the first place i.e. pretty much zero.

To my mind this is the most fundamental question a would-be implementer of CRM needs to answer. And answer early and correctly. Sadly, too often it doesn’t even get asked.

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One thought on “The first and most important question you need to answer, and answer right, when implementing CRM software…”

  1. Excellent point! Often times we see customers jumping too early onto a CRM product thinking that adoption will eventually follow. When it does not, then the customers end up devaluing the CRM system and its potential to improve their business process. I like the dichotomy you made between ‘structured’ and ‘unstructured’ usage of CRM. I think, most customers can easily get started with unstructured approach and evolve to using a CRM system to its full potential.

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