CRM Systems – Should You Believe The Hype?

By Joe Connelly

If anyone tells you installing a customer relationship management (CRM) system is easy, think again. Depending on how large a user base your initial install will be, it can turn into a long-running and expensive nightmare. As the old saying goes, “Pre-warned is pre-armed.”

But don’t read from this that I am not an advocate of CRM systems – I am after all. Its just that after being part of sales teams that have installed them from scratch, the marketing hype about how easy they are to get up and running, and the reality of doing so, never seem to quite match each other.

Now of course there may be companies out there who are classified as the ideal company, whose sales processes exactly match the standard out-of-the-box methodology that CRM suppliers build into their systems, but I have yet to be part of one of them or coach a VP of Sales who is part of one of them.

Simply put the initial configuring of any CRM normally takes a lot more thought, a lot more time and a lot more patience than you initially think it will. Even if you plan well, I have never met anyone who said it took the same amount or less time than planned – it’s always longer and more intense. So is the effort really worth it when you actually get to the utopia position of a CRM system that is well entrenched and being actively used by the user-base?

So, if you are thinking of implementing a CRM system in your company, consider my top tips that may save you a little bit of heartache, time and money.

Consider the myriad of options: CRM systems are getting better, with more functionality, more connectivity and lowering prices. Competition is rife in this market so do some quality due diligence on what’s on offer. Ensure your chosen system has automated and easily accessible back-ups (you might just need them some day, and if you do in my experience its normally in a hurry). Ensure it is a SaaS provider (Software-as-a-Service) who periodically updates their software at no charge to you, and a provider who has all the mobile connectivity your company needs. Personally I would also look for companies who have shown some longevity, since a CRM decision is by its very nature a long-term business decision.

Be clear on the costs now and in the future: since they can escalate at every stage. Whatever configuration, implementation and training costs you calculate, I would strongly suggest you increase that amount by 20-50% just to be on the safe side. If you end up saving that expense, great, but if you over-run, it’s best to have forecasted the higher amount. Additionally consider the number of seats (licenses) required. I have often seen more people in a company wanting access including the majority of the Executive Team. The MRE (monthly recurring expense) can over a 12-month period accumulate to a very high amount. Just be careful.

It’s all in the definition: since taking the time here can save you so many heartaches. To do this well you need to have very clear and robust sales processes. If they are not yet fully documented then let this be a catalyst to do so. The more robust and detailed your sales processes are, paying particular attention to the terminology, will ensure a faster definition phase. It’s also best to have a cross-functional team with members from every potential user department, to have their say on what they specifically need.

Then it’s all in the configuration: which if possible should not be done by someone who does not have experience in this. If possible outsource to the CRM company or at least to a member of your IT department. This will likely speed up the configuration and allow you to be testing as its configured. Expect to find things at this stage that you will want to change. It’s a bit like building a house and making some design changes along the way.

Train and document more that you think you need to: since it will save you a lot of time in the long run. People learn CRM systems at different speeds and in different ways. Don’t expect everyone to get it first time. Power users will always jump ahead of the pack, but it’s the other users that have to be encouraged through additional training options over time. Consider having follow-up training sessions for those still struggling with fully using the new tool.

Consider a staged implementation approach: especially if you have a large organization. From my own experience I always found it more productive to implement in stages, by region or by department.
That way you will be able to manage the inevitable questions better.

Recruit your CRM police force: as you will surely need them. This means having people that are truly responsible for ensuring users use the system properly and in a timely manner. Normally with any new software introduction, there are always laggards and staff that don’t use it as initially intended. Be tough (very tough if you have to), and get staff disciplined in its use. Its only then can you really do company-wide roll-ups and get an overall snapshot of how your business is really doing.

Build automated reports for everything you might need: and save people time trying to figure it out themselves. These reports are easy to create, so create a standard suite that meets the users needs well.

Use the CRM system in real-time for meetings: whenever possible. Especially use it for sales meetings since in so doing, you will be re-enforcing to your team the necessity of keeping the information up-to-date.

Continually improve it: but remember it’s a tool and not a generator of sales. The more you use it the more you will see improvement opportunities. Instead of making changes constantly, consider collecting the possible changes and then prioritizing the most impactful ones for monthly or quarterly batch updates.

Consider expanding the system to other departments: especially ones that require or would benefit from more customer input. Certainly the bigger systems can easily handle the creation and monitoring of marketing campaigns. Product Management may benefit from seeing the latest list of opportunities, and Engineering may benefit from the latest customer visit reports. Again expand in a staged and controlled manner, ensuring you don’t move onto the next department until the current one is completely happy with what you have delivered to them.

As some final words of encouragement, I would suggest sticking with it. Once you have it up and running (and running smoothly), you will begin to learn so much about your business, how long sales cycles take, conversion rates between sales funnel categories, all the way to advanced revenue forecasting. And then you can use it for its true purpose which is to supply clear insights on how, where and when you can increase your business. Now that really is worth it.

Joe Connelly is Founder & CEO of, a worldwide Executive and Sales Coaching and Consulting company, with offices in Canada and Switzerland. He can be reached at:[email protected]