Customer Relationship Management Strategy, Planning, and Implementation

Smartsheet Contributor Diana Ramos on Aug 07, 2017

In 2010, business analysts at Gartner and influential marketing thought leader Seth Godin announced that customer relationship management (CRM) was in trouble. “CRM is dead,” declared Godin on his popular marketing blog. He did not mean the actual technology; rather, Godin was inspired by a shift in customer relationship strategy at Disney Destinations Marketing. Disney had created a new department called Customer Management Relationships, and the premise was more than a clever title change. The move demonstrated a developing theory that technology empowers customers to the point of control in the buyer-seller relationship. New advancements in CRM technology provided methods for building customer-centered strategies that work for the new customer relationship framework that Godin and Disney anticipated. 

Today, CRM enterprise software shows double-digit revenue growth, and the top four players dominate a multibillion-dollar industry. This article presents customer relationship management steps and specific CRM strategies and tactics that we’ve adopted from the work of a master business strategist. Learn the essential CRM planning and implementation ideas to help guide you through emerging customer-centered sales and marketing trends. You’ll also find a CRM building blocks infographic as well as planning resources, including a CRM implementation glossary of common terms.


The Origins of Customer Relationship Management Strategy

The need for customer relationship management grew out of changes to the buyer-seller model. This shift away from transactional sales and marketing behaviors, and toward a customer-centered model started in the 1970s. Relationship marketers refined the model in the 80s, and in the 90s, technology accelerated changes even further. In the 2000s, the complexities of the internet, advances in social media technology, and empowered customer behavior changed the model forever. The result was a shift in perspective regarding how to address customers as the primary business asset. Customer relationship management strategy needed to achieve the following:

  1. Govern how to satisfy customers beyond developing good products and services
  2. Help retain existing customers to maximize efficiencies and reduce the cost of acquisition
  3. Ensure customer satisfaction and a memorable brand experience
  4. Improve the overall relationship between the business entity and specific audiences

Concentrating on the individual needs of a specific customer segment required a different set of customer relationship values. Customer satisfaction and loyalty were now the important business metrics — delivering products and services were now secondary to the customer experience. This experience was happening largely in a technological vacuum where advanced software reduced the cost of doing business, but increased the expectations of quality and service. Economic instability throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries challenged existing sales and marketing trends tailored to gaining as many new customers and transactions as possible. Maximizing the value of existing customers and reaping the bottom-line benefits of this strategy helped stem the economic hardships of those decades.  

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The True Test of Customer Relationship Management Strategies and Tactics

What is strategy? That is the question that award-winning author, professor, and academic Michael Porter famously considered in a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article of the same title. According to Porter, competitive strategy “is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.” Porter believes the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. Examining this concept leads to the recognition that we commonly confuse strategies with tactics. What will you achieve when you reach your customer relationship goals? The what in that question is the strategy. How will you accomplish your customer relationship strategy? The how in that question are the tactics.

As author Joan Magretta points out in her book Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy, “If you are serious about strategy, Porter’s work is the foundation.” According to Magretta, strategy is about “making choices that lead to sustainably superior performance.” Porter’s work includes five tests of good strategy, and these tests help distinguish between good and bad strategy. In order to have the right strategy, you must do the following:

  1. Choose a distinctive value proposition.
  2. Tailor your activities to that value chain.
  3. Make trade-offs (choose what not to do) that differ from your competition.
  4. Fit the parts of strategy together across the value chain.
  5. Find continuity over time. 

Customer-centered processes are at the heart of modern business strategy. The titans of technology and industry leverage CRM technology and build business processes that align customer relationships with positive business outcomes. It is more important than ever to develop CRM strategies that help, not hinder, the planning and implementation of CRM technology. Porter’s tests serve as a framework for executing a step-by-step customer relationship strategy before embarking on CRM planning and implementation. Adopt this framework to guide your CRM strategy and leverage tactics that strengthen customer relationships and deliver positive business outcomes.


The Five Tests of Good Customer Relationship Management Strategy

The five tests of good customer relationship management strategy are outlined in the graphic below.

 

5 Tests of Good CRM Strategy Smartsheet

 

 


CRM Strategy Step One: Determine a Distinctive Customer Relationship Management Value Proposition

Magretta describes Porter’s first test, the value proposition, as a reflection of the choices your company makes (consciously or unconsciously) concerning the kind of value you offer. It is the core component of a customer relationship strategy because it considers the customer’s point of view or, as Magretta writes, the value proposition “looks outward at customers.” The value proposition answers three fundamental questions:

 

  1. Which customers will you serve?
  2. Which customer needs will you meet?
  3. At what price (price accounts for value and profit)?

Customer Relationship Management Tactic: Prioritize Profitable Customers

There are distinct customers in every industry. Before considering how to build strong relationships with customers, you need to decide which customers to serve based on who you want your business to reach. Seth Godin refers to like-minded groups of people interested in accomplishing something as tribes. Your goal is to help connect people in tribes by creating the platform for your tribes to exist. According to Godin, the leadership of this tribe is the new marketing. With customers at the center of your CRM strategy (managing your decisions with their demands and actions), you must be strategic when choosing which tribe you lead. Analyze this group with value and profitability in mind, so you remain faithful to the customer relationship strategies that follow. Aligning business goals with your target customers is the backbone of the other two components of the value proposition, customer needs and pricing.

Customer Relationship Management Tactic: Identify Unique Customer Needs With Sales and Marketing Processes

Magretta emphasizes building strategy on our unique abilities to meet particular customer needs. “Typically, value propositions based on needs appeal to a mix of customers who might defy traditional demographic segmentations,” she writes. If marketing is the art of allocating resources, CRM is the art of determining which resources to market. So, align your sales and marketing processes to identify unique customer needs. Encourage creative discovery with your sales team. Collect the data from sales processes to reveal opportunities to enhance the customer experience. Your CRM value proposition will account for potential customers outside of your initial targets.

Customer Relationship Management Tactic: Evaluate and Improve Pricing to Match Customer Needs

Pricing products and services is a core method for building and maintaining customer relationships and a significant indicator of effective consumer relations. “Relative price is the primary leg of the [value proposition] triangle,” says Magretta. Analyze sales data from your target customers, and align pricing with the unique customer needs you identify. Track data on your target customer segmentation, and evaluate the customer’s response to price. Unlocking the hidden potential behind pricing will empower your CRM value proposition and offer a real-time improvement to your overall CRM strategy.

Creating a CRM value proposition is the first test in building a strong CRM strategy. Porter bases his strategy ideas on the premise that value is created by making choices the competition does not. Looking outward - toward the customers, their needs, and the price that benefits both parties - requires executing CRM tactics that tailor CRM business processes to create a competitive advantage.

 

CRM Strategy Step Two: Tailor Communication to the Value Proposition

According to Magretta, this test in Porter’s analysis of good strategy is less intuitive. Porter found competitive advantage in the performance of business activities (i.e., choosing different activities or performing the same activities as the competition, but in a different way). Individual business operations link together to form what Porter refers to as the value chain. Modern CRM processes and technology enhance the communication between the activities of business operations and the customer. This communication includes marketing automation, email drip campaigns, or the advertising copy that gives your brand a voice. Tailor communication activity to the CRM value proposition to satisfy Porter’s second test. 

Customer Relationship Management Tactic: Communicate Like People, Not Robots

Customers prefer relatable interactions, so your customer relationship activities should be tailored with communication that reflects the voice of your primary customer segment. Leverage your CRM technology to communicate your brand’s story with words, images, and themes that inspire the human emotions associated with business interactions. Storytelling is a popular theme in sales and marketing communication strategy. For example, the rise of social CRM technology enables companies to tailor stories that target the human element and unique customer needs to their value proposition.

Customer Relationship Management Tactic: Communicate Rapidly and Frequently

Customer relationship strategy requires speed and efficiency. Technology continues to strip down the communication barriers between companies and their customer interactions. Automation is a core feature of the top performing CRM technologies, as is modern enterprise software. This is because the software addresses the demand for reducing the amount of time it takes to interact with new or existing customers. Tailor CRM communication activity to different customer interactions and needs. If your marketing and sales activity uses multiple channels, build and enforce a reliable communication timeline that organizes customer interactions and prioritizes useful points of contact. Design customer service operations that build-in regular touch points with the customer depending on their stage in the buyer-seller relationship. Follow up on sales leads, and create a culture of responsiveness by rewarding employees who demonstrate regular communication with your primary customer segment.

Magretta writes, “To establish a competitive advantage, a company must deliver its distinctive value through a distinctive value chain.” Tailoring your CRM communication activity to your primary customer segment and their unique needs (at prices that are profitable and valuable) is a sound test of your overall CRM strategy. Furthermore, CRM communication activity is a natural connector of the other business activities that make up Porter’s value chain principles.


CRM Strategy Step Three: Use Trade-Offs to Enhance Customer Service Strategy

Porter’s third test of a good strategy focuses on the critical role that trade-offs play, and it is the most difficult test of business strategy. The essence of making difficult choices — choosing what not to do — is built on accepting limitations in a competitive market. The need for trade-offs is the critical linchpin of good strategy, according to Magretta’s work. A sound CRM strategy also requires making sacrifices or choosing trade-offs. Customer service is both a business process and a culture within a company. 

Customer service activities best represent a CRM strategy involving buyer and seller trade-offs. By enhancing your customer service strategy with trade-offs, you make it difficult for competitors to mimic your overall CRM value proposition. The commitment to a primary customer segment and their unique needs is a practice in trust, competence, and integrity. CRM business processes and technology directly impact the capabilities of customer service activities. A CRM strategy built on strategic customer service trade-offs has the potential to increase customer satisfaction, minimize customer churn, and boost profitability.

Customer Relationship Management Tactic: Live for Complaints and Use Data to Make Difficult Choices

Using complaints to improve products and services, build a positive brand image, or grow the desired customer segment is a competitive advantage. Design your CRM strategy for customer service activities that pertain to your value proposition. Use customer complaints to decide if a particular segment of customers is worth the effort of building loyalty. Use complaints to determine which unique customer needs are suitable for your business and align with your profitability goals.

Customers choose to do business with companies that resolve complaints in their favor.  Choosing to accept limitations by avoiding the trap of trying to satisfy all customer needs is a difficult trade-off. Doing so, however, keeps competitors from mimicking your CRM strategy. The compromise works both ways. You may decide to honor all customer complaints and, thus, align your CRM value proposition with the kind of challenging sacrifices that attract your desired customer segment. The point of this tactic is deciding what not to do, because these choices make the CRM strategy sustainable and difficult for your competitors to match.   

Porter notes, “If you listen to every customer and do what they ask you to do, you can’t have a strategy. Like so many ideas that get sold to managers, there is some truth to it, but the nuances get lost. Strategy is not about making every customer happy. When you’ve got your strategist’s hat on, you want to decide which customers and which needs you want to meet. As to the other customers and the other needs, well, you just have to get over the fact that you will disappoint them because that’s actually a good thing.”

According to Magretta, “Trade-offs are the strategic equivalent of a fork in the road. If you take one path, you cannot simultaneously take the other.” The more is better instinct is a challenge to all businesses. This mentality also pervades the thinking of management responsible for strategic CRM business processes and technology planning. More CRM technology or more CRM process is not always better. In the case of customer service and CRM strategy, doing more for all customers at the cost of doing more for your business may carry a substantial penalty. As Porter points out in his work, your strategies should link directly to profit and loss considerations. A sound CRM strategy accounts for this principle and serves as a linchpin for customer service activities.


CRM Strategy Step Four: Determine If Your Customer Relationships Fit Your Strategy

“Fit locks out imitators by creating a chain that is as strong as its strongest link,” says Porter. Magretta defines fit as the “amplifier” and points out that good strategies depend on connecting your business activities with “interdependent choices.” Porter’s fourth test of good strategy emphasizes that the fit of your value proposition with your activities is not centered on a single business competence, but on the connection among many activities. For this step, determine if your business processes align with your customer relationship strategy. Do the interdependent choices your company makes daily “fit” with your customer relationship strategy? The performance of your CRM activities impacts the value of individual business activities.

Customer Relationship Management Tactic: Connect Your CRM Processes with Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing is an approach to customer relationship strategy that moves beyond the traditional stages of a buyer-seller relationship. Its methods are gaining popularity in industries that are moving away from transactional marketing frameworks. Relationship marketing places customers at the center of business strategy. It is a business concept that depends on all stakeholder activity (that of suppliers, retailers, shareholders, customers, and employees) to create value. You coordinate marketing and sales activities in this framework by focusing on earning customers, developing the relationship to the point of retention, and maintaining the customer lifetime value (CLV).

According to a Linkedin survey, 70 percent of sales and marketing professionals say that the alignment of their departments delivers a better buying experience for the customers. This CRM strategy example highlights the concept of fit and the importance of connected CRM processes. Leverage your CRM process and technology to track individual business activities and make sure they fit together with the principles of relationship marketing. Align your culture, leadership, people, technology, and process with your CRM strategy - while keeping the customer at the center - to amplify the value of your business activities and create a competitive advantage.

Customer Relationship Management Tactic: Analyze Your Customer Relationship Return On Investment

CRM strategy is the tactical management of choices that make the various activities of different business processes and stakeholders fit together. It is crucial to determine your return on investment (ROI) in order to measure the effectiveness of your CRM strategy on your customer relationships. The definition of customer relationship ROI is unique to your value proposition and the activities that support your value chain. Define and measure your relationship ROI with key performance indicators (KPIs). Remember that your customer relationship ROI is highly specific to your particular business: Maybe you are more concerned with leveraging a specific metric, such as customer acquisition cost (CAC). Perhaps, redefining the I in ROI altogether to track your return on impressions for a social media campaign is more valuable. Finally, adjust the activities based on your analysis of your customer relationship ROI metrics to fit the overall CRM strategy.    

At first glance, Porter’s fit test for strategy seems like a natural process of customer relationship management. After all, aligning CRM process and technology with your customer needs is at the core of relationship management principles. However, as Magretta points out, when even one activity is inconsistent with another, they cancel each other out. Your customer relationship activity must enhance your business competency and vice versa. According to Porter’s principles, fit means that the competitive value of your CRM activity — and all of the resources required for this activity — cannot be separated from the overall CRM strategy. Analyze your customer relationship strategy within the relationship marketing framework, and make sure your CRM process steps fit your strategy.

 

CRM Strategy Step Five: Enable Continuity With Data-Driven Customer Relationship Management Processes

The fifth and final test of Porter’s strategy principles involves the consistency of your CRM strategy over time. Without continuity, the competitive advantage that a sound CRM strategy provides will go unrealized. Magretta uses a cooking analogy to drive home the point: “Strategy isn’t a stir fry; it’s a stew. It takes time for the flavors and textures to develop.” Achieving continuity is a conversation about change and growth. The widespread perception that managing change is what defines great leaders is highly plausible. And, the notion that growth for the sake of growth is a good business strategy is persuasive. Moreover, it is true that constant change to individual CRM activities and frequent shifts in CRM processes and technology threaten the continuity of your CRM strategy and reduce the competitive advantage of a sound strategy. However, by leveraging data-driven CRM processes to implement change strategically, you can avoid the pitfalls of changing too much or changing the wrong things. 

Customer Relationship Management Tactic: Utilize Data Before Contacting Customers

Modern CRM technology enables companies to collect and store customer data produced by the explosion of digital media. Titans of technology like Amazon and Google have developed technology that empowers sales and marketing teams to identify customer segments and their unique needs in ways previously unavailable to small marketing operations. CRM technology can collect and store data on individual behaviors through website cookies — small text files that provide user recognition and online preferences. Mobile device IDs provide important metrics for mobile advertising decisions. Sophisticated email marketing technology enables A/B testing and empowers sophisticated trial-and-error capabilities to inform relationship marketing decisions.

Sales and marketing teams can leverage CRM data and analyze customer trends to maintain the continuity of the CRM value proposition and overall strategy before contacting customers directly. Analyze sales data to avoid making the wrong changes in the name of growth. Such ill-informed adjustments may include experimenting on the wrong customer segment (a segment with different needs) for the sake of growth. Make improvements to the quality of collected data, and consider CRM processes and technology that make this data accessible in the field for sales operations.   

Data is the great enabler of modern CRM strategy. Porter’s fifth and final test of strategy emphasizes the connection between continuity and competitive advantage. Data-driven processes and a culture of analysis and measurement reveal the continuity of your overall CRM strategy. Modern relationship marketing and the various categories of support for this framework (digital marketing, for example) are rooted in data-based decision making. Data-driven processes are essential to the continuity of overall CRM strategy, as they reinforce sales and marketing activity by revealing unique capabilities and weaknesses, and also place a company’s brand identity under the microscope of measurable results. Frequent shifts in strategy mean there is no strategy. Data-driven CRM processes and technology help prevent the pitfalls of uniform change. Magretta writes, “Continuity of strategy does not mean that an organization should stand still. As long as there is stability in the core value proposition, there can and should be enormous innovation in how it’s delivered.”


The Building Blocks of Customer Relationship Management Strategy

A building block is a unit of construction essential to building something larger. The foundation for a successful CRM strategy begins with the overall vision and the CRM value proposition. The strategy is built from the ground up, step by step, with customer-centered business processes and communication tailored to specific customers and their needs. A framework of stakeholders who adopt the CRM strategy supports the customer experience. This culture of collaboration is the fabric of your strategy, and it delivers the tactics that determine your place in the market. Information empowers the business activities you use to manage the customer relationship, and technology provides the data you require to analyze which processes align with the CRM strategy. You measure the quality of the overall structure by the value provided to customers. That value consists of those elements that satisfy the customer’s unique needs. Then, you quantify the quality of this overall structure with metrics, such as customer retention, customer lifetime value, and customer satisfaction. 

Here is a quick reference guide on the core building blocks of a sound CRM strategy:

 

CRM Building Blocks Smartsheet

What Is a CRM Plan?

The 2011 book CRM Fundamentals by Scott Kostojohn, Mathew Johnson, and Brian Paulen provides an overview of preparations that an organization considers before undertaking new CRM strategies and tactics. Preparing for new customer relationship strategies requires planning and execution before new business processes and technology can be introduced. This preparation reduces resistance to change and minimizes the impact of common pitfalls associated with new business processes and technology. The list of components contained in this book serves as an example of the type of step-by-step considerations an organization should plan for before executing customer relationship strategies and tactics. These planning components are as follows:

  • Data-Driven Culture: Using data to drive business processes and achieve organizational goals is more than just a strategy to improve upon and earn customer relationships. The authors recommend nurturing a culture of data before undertaking new customer relationship management strategies. This includes creating the documenting processes that support your CRM strategy. For example, ask questions like: What do you want to know about a customer? Is it necessary to record information on their geographic location? Would you prefer to gather info on the person’s level of education? Is it important to know who they purchased a similar product or service from in the past? After determining what gets documented and how, check to make sure this data is sufficient, change the processes that aren’t working, and measure the impact of the gathered data. According to the authors’ research, data-driven preparation results in greater comfortability with change and more support for your CRM plan.
  • Executive Support: In modern economies, the customer drives business decisions more than ever before. Leadership support for customer relationship initiatives has become exponentially more important because of the impact CRM strategy has on all business operations. The authors recommend that the C-level leaders get involved in CRM decisions and help communicate the overall vision and intended benefits of the CRM plan. 
  • Communication: It’s essential to communicate effectively with the appropriate stakeholders to prepare for the type of change that new customer relationship strategies bring to your team. Communication strategy and planning prevent resistance to change. A clear communication plan clarifies which internal stakeholders are involved with specific CRM planning actions. An articulate communication plan also outlines the frequency of contact, the appropriate medium of communication, and a formal process for feedback on individual components of the planning phase or deliverables.

 

Download Communication Plan Template - Microsoft Word

  • Training: The authors point out that training for new CRM technology implementations is an obvious consideration. They recommend starting training as early as possible to reduce resistance to change. In addition to training for new technology, consider training management on new business processes and the individual operational changes that need to be adjusted to support future CRM strategies and tactics. For example, do sales managers understand which new data metrics they should gather, and do they know how to leverage this information?  
  • Feedback: The employees taking action on customer relationship strategies provide valuable insight. Their experience in the trenches with existing customer relationship processes and CRM technology is relevant to the planning phase. Employees’ feedback, both positive and negative, impacts the overall outcome of CRM strategy and, in turn, helps reduce the resistance to change.
  • Recognition: Recognizing and retaining top-performing employees is a significant strategy for all organizations that value customer relationships. To prepare for a new CRM strategy, the authors recommend rewarding the desired behaviors that support the desired outcomes of the CRM planning. To do so, they suggest that key stakeholders (“project champions”) or leadership recognize employee accomplishments, offer incentives (such as gift cards), and mention the actions of top performers in team meetings. Be sure to manage recognition efforts, identify top performers who positively impact customer relationship strategies, and leverage CRM technology appropriately. 

What Is CRM Implementation? A Glossary of Common Terms

Successful implementation determines successful CRM strategy. An unprepared organization runs the risk of relying on the CRM technology to compensate for poor planning. When this happens, the CRM technology and features become the CRM strategy. By definition, implementation means setting a plan in motion. Here is a glossary of principal terms as they relate to CRM implementation:

  • Adoption: Create a user-adoption plan for your CRM implementation. Start by targeting the 80 percent of users. Then, have a plan for the 20 percent that ultimately pushes back on change. Listen to users, and gather feedback on their ideas. Make sure your plan incorporates C-level leadership and board-level commitment. Measure and reinforce standards early and often. CRM strategy initiatives that fail to get support from early adopters and top performers, especially in sales, risk becoming another CRM failure statistic. 
  • Benchmark: Establish criteria for successful implementation, create formulas, and measure frequently. Remember, success factors include more than financial benchmarks: you should also measure the intangible benefits of technological, user-based business processes and cultural standards, in addition to revenue or customer-retention results. 
  • Budget: Work with your CRM provider, partner consultants, and your internal implementation team to set a realistic budget. Discuss expectations for the individual components of system implementation, and consider a phased approach to additional features. Anticipate the future costs of training and onboarding beyond the original estimate.  
  • Capture: Gather data before implementing new CRM processes and technology. If this data is not available internally, capture data from external sources. The data capture does not need to be excessive and should relate to your overall strategy. Which type of information is most useful for your customer relationship strategy? Defining this data before implementation is mandatory.
  • Customize: Customization ensures that you meet unique customer needs after implementation. Customized products and services meet unique customer needs as well as the value proposition behind them. Communication should also meet those needs. Customize new CRM processes and technology to support the level of customer communication and service. When engaging in this customization, be sure to consider customer needs.
  • Differentiation: Decide which customers receive which product or service based on their unique needs and your value proposition. Your strategy for identifying and serving your target customers impacts your CRM implementation and the level of customer service you provide. Also, differentiate between the various kinds of data that drive these decisions. How will you organize the CRM data from different customer segments and optimize the business processes they impact?   
  • Evolution: The CRM technology you implement doesn’t need to be in final form after the initial execution. First, decide which features are necessary and the level of service and training you require from your vendor partners. Which departments will leverage the technology first? After this test phase, ask: does it make sense to add additional teams and customizations? Over time, phase in additional technology and services based on the evolution of your customer relationship strategy. 
  • Framework: Your culture and CRM strategy determine the structure of your CRM implementation. Adjust the implementation plans to accommodate your customer relationship framework. 
  • Identification: Collect data and design a clear understanding of which customers you target. Develop a simple database to gather information and profile customers before implementing CRM technology with a superior database. Determine how your CRM implementation impacts new customers versus existing customers. In addition to identifying the customers you serve, identify their unique needs, and consider creative ways in which CRM processes and technology empower your ability to meet these requirements.
  • Integration: Understand which existing applications and systems need to integrate with new CRM processes and technology. Modern CRM software needs to receive and push data from application to application. Do you have the necessary internal resources to integrate technology, or do you need to hire outside consultants or rely on the CRM vendor for this function? Remember to consider a phased approach that fits the evolution of your overall CRM strategy. 
  • Launch: Get excited about your CRM implementation. Use internal marketing and communication techniques to frame the message and develop a positive approach to change. Announce a start date for new processes and technology, and celebrate that day. Set the tone for the CRM implementation by demonstrating an internal culture that positively impacts the external customer relationships. 
  • Map: Which business processes need to be fixed or changed? Which ones should remain intact and be enforced by new CRM processes and technology? Consider designing internal documentation, such as a flowchart that demonstrates how to manage new and existing processes. Mapping out your business process before implementing new technology reinforces the importance of customer relationships during the distraction of the implementation stage. Design and follow an implementation timeline that accurately portrays your capabilities and aligns with existing business processes.
  • Outcomes: What do you need to measure to achieve your overall customer relationship strategy? Which business metrics lead to the success of your organization? How will you progress and adjust based on the outcomes of your CRM implementations? Anticipate and track CRM strategy goals, and ensure that the proper features, reports, and dashboards are in place to do so.
  • Prepare: Readiness extends beyond the policy and planning phases discussed earlier in this article. Do you have the appropriate hardware in place to leverage new technology? Is your physical workspace set up to succeed after implementation is underway? Where have you stored the current customer data, and how will you import it? Do you need to hire external resources with data expertise to help with data management?
  • Prioritize: In addition to keeping the customer at the center of your decision making and business processes, prioritize the customer at all stages of CRM implementation. Interact with customers proactively, and develop alternate methods of communication to avoid negatively impacting the customer relationship before, during, and after implementation. Are existing customers adversely affected by new CRM strategy or at any stage of planning and implementation? Is this a sacrifice that makes sense for your overall goals? 
  • Project: Implementation requires a focused project team. Hire or assign a qualified project manager to oversee the CRM implementation, and if possible, involve them in all phases of strategy and planning. Ongoing cooperation with different teams and departments is critical to successful implementation. The project manager interacts with leadership, sponsors from individual departments, and IT teams (or external vendors) to identify risks, gain acceptance, and execute tasks. 
  • Security: Decide early on how you will handle data breaches and worst-case scenarios related to internal and external data. Consider what customer information you share and who has access. Work with qualified consultants and your legal counsel on permissions and access based on current industry guidelines and all laws (international, federal, state, etc.) that govern your business operations. Determine permission-level standards for all users, and plan HR policies according to your employment guidelines. 
  • Super-User: Find your CRM champion. Is there a current user who demonstrates high standards for leveraging the existing CRM technology? Does your sales team have an early adopter who embraces problem-solving and helps others learn new technology or processes? Assign or hire a super-user for your CRM implementation, and provide them with the necessary training so you have an internal resource during and after implementation. Empower CRM super-users with support from leadership, and promote acceptance of new CRM processes and technology. Recognize top performers, and determine clear, measurable outcomes for people to follow, so you recruit more champions.  
  • Training: Incorporate CRM training for all new hires so they hit the ground running. Make sure new employees understand how to leverage processes and technology to align with the overall customer relationship strategy. Use designated super-users and project managers to guide ongoing training after implementation. Reinforce positive CRM habits, and make sure that new hires know who the top performers are, so they have internal CRM role models. 
  • Vendors: Is your team capable of doing the full CRM implementation? Do you have the technical expertise to migrate and integrate new software? Finding a qualified partner is of particular importance when transferring from an existing CRM system to a new technology. Decide on the level of knowledge and expertise you require early in the planning phase. Meet with vendors, and discuss their experience with similar companies. When you interact with CRM vendors, ask for references, and determine if their customer relationship management is on par with your own. Finally, ask for the opportunity to demo the product and features risk-free, and allow your project team and super-users to experiment and discover.
  • Vision: Why are you implementing a CRM system? What does a successful customer relationship strategy look like after implementation? Remember that CRM is rooted in the relationship between the buyer and the seller. CRM is a philosophy first and foremost. Technology supports the customer-centered vision - it is not the result.

Review your overall CRM strategy with the various components of implementation in mind, and use a planning phase as the foundation for change. Countless change management models exist to help combat the resistance, fear of failure, and poor communication that plague enterprise software implementations. Remember that CRM strategy, planning, and implementation rely on the relationship. The customer is the center of the business.


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