Are you considering a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system? Here’s what to do first.

Are you considering a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system? HERE'S WHAT to do first.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is again all the rage, and has been so for the last 10 + years. These systems and the underlying software are seen by company and sales management to be the key to applying technology to their sales force operations and making sales forces more effective with the turn of a key (or, the writing of a check). The problem is that in reality CRM has often not achieved the expectations and hopes of the users. Wilkening & Company believes there are a number of factors that influence the success of these type systems. In our experience, if you get three things right (at the start), the rest will flow. But first, let’s define what a CRM system is by describing what it does.  

A CRM system is a database and connected series of software tools that do (or should do) the following—

  1. Collects all demographic & planning information about accounts, prospects and buyers in a single comprehensive database;
  2. Collects all activity information about an account regarding such matters as: sales plans, sales calls or customer contacts, order history and bookings;
  3. Tracks future order activity and the progress of orders or requirements through the company’s sales process;
  4. Provides comprehensive reporting of past sales activity, future orders (pipeline), sales performance and the raw materials required for account, portfolio or territory forecasting;
  5. Provides a tool for the sharing of information with company management, members of the sales force, customer service staff and technical resources; and
  6. Provides the sales force and customers with a tool to access sales-order and customer-service processes.

It has been our experience that because of the relative complexity of the tasks at hand, CRM users have a tendency to rush forward without a proper foundation in an effort to get rapid (and promised) sales-force productivity gains. This often leads to failure, frustration and the waste of thousands of dollars in sales-force time and unopened boxes of software.

Let’s beat the odds!

Assume that you have just been charged with designing and installing a CRM system for your company. What should you do first? Three things.

  1. Write a statement of requirements—this is a one-page written document that describes what you want the CRM system to accomplish from the perspectives of company, sales force and customer. Use the six points (above) as a reference, but your requirements may be quite different or more specific. Also consider how these requirements will change both 2 years and 5 years into the future.

    Good advice is to start small and simple and build a CRM-based foundation for growth. Remember to keep your requirement statement to only one page in length. (For example: “For 2011, we want a system that will be used remotely by the sales force, will have 18 sales force users and 12 customer service users. We cannot use the current company IT infrastructure. The purpose of the system is to store basic and current information on all clients, keep track of all sales force contacts with clients, prepare simple call reports for management review and effectively distribute leads. Further, the sales force (and client) will be able to see and review all active client orders.)

    Now you have a foundation and a starting point stated in less than 100 words.

  2. Step back and match your current sales process with your statement of requirements—you certainly do not want to spend money to make a 1970’s sales process more productive when you really should move to a sales process more in line with the 2010 account and buyer. A CRM system is a tool to help you accomplish such a change and should be used accordingly. We often find that companies will use outside expertise & counsel to conduct this process “audit.”
  3. Don’t forget the sales force—this is an obvious statement, once said, that reminds me of the time a large distribution company with a 1,000 person sales force asked me to “test market” a Wilkening & Company sales-logistics and planning tool for the company and sales force. My first meeting was with a crusty regional manager in Kansas City—I was in full selling mode. After about 5 minutes of discussion with the regional manager, I realized I was trying to sell him a product that was absolutely of no value to him or his sales force. The only winner was the company, and the sales force did all of the work to keep the tool current. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

    Don’t make the same mistake I did. Make sure that complying with and contributing to the new CRM system is in the sales force’s interest—more money, sales success, more time with the family. Decide how you plan to sell it to your sellers.

When you have addressed three above issues, then you can turn to the selection of the best software and technical tools required to succeed.

As a sidebar, many users pick the software and technical tools first, and then spend several months fitting the proverbial square peg into a round hole. That is a costly enterprise by anyone’s measure.

Do it right and do it once.

Wilkening & Company has assisted clients in the design of successful sales processes and their integration with client CRM systems.

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