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Cloud CRM: Ready, Steady, Roll It Out

Cloud CRM: Ready, Steady, Roll It Out

One of the major selling points of Software as a Service is the speed and ease of implementation. That can be a double-edged sword, though. If a customer doesn't see the expected return on its investment, it may just as quickly terminate the service and try out a competitor. It's important to shore up SaaS customer retention by paying close attention to the end-user's needs.

By Tricia Bennett
01/12/10 5:00 AM PT

SaaS and cloud solutions continue to represent key drivers in the CRM market, up from 8 percent of the CRM market in 2005 to 20 percent of the market in 2008, according to Gartner. SaaS and cloud CRM solutions spurred the evolution of computing -- with no more software installations, no infrastructure management and no more upgrades to test. With SaaS and cloud CRM solutions, development and implementation can now be accomplished in a fraction of the time required for on-premise solutions. And, users will love the new solutions, right?

Well, maybe. While SaaS and cloud solutions are often easy to turn on, and time to implementation is typically short, they are also easy to turn off when an organizations doesn't realize the expected return on its investment. Because of this, SaaS solution vendors are wise to actively participate in helping their customers achieve their end goals in order to continually prove value and ensure long-lasting relationships.

How? One great way is to focus on the end-user. With SaaS, IT organizations spend less time on activities like installing and maintaining the "Dev," "Qual," and "Prod" environments of the past. This gives them a greater opportunity to focus on delivering value to the users and the organizations with which they work. In the end, it is the end-users of an application who determine whether a CRM implementation truly delivers the promised value, and whether the relationship with a CRM vendor is sustained. To optimize the reception of a SaaS or Cloud solution, consider offering the following five nuggets of sound advice:

1. Don't bite off more than the end users can chew. SaaS and Cloud solutions offer organizations the opportunity to focus on specific objectives, little bits at a time. Successful SaaS solution providers help their customers determine success criteria and develop a prioritized road map to help them achieve those goals, sometimes over multiple phases. Users are much more likely to adopt a solution that is simple, relevant and that adds value to themselves and the organization.

Introducing too many objectives is often overwhelming to the end-user, introduces an unnecessary barrier to adoption, and delays the achievement of ROI goals. SaaS CRM customers can achieve all that they wish over a reasonable period of time, but adoption will be strongest if they don't attempt to do it all at once.

2. Balance delivering value to the end user with achieving organizational goals. During the early stages of CRM implementations, organizations often evaluate functionality available to them and prioritize what will be initially delivered based on speed of implementation or least amount of expense. Instead, organizations should be encouraged to prioritize functionality to be delivered based on the level of impact it will have on end-user adoption.

Features implemented, especially in the early stages, should represent a healthy mix of "organization serving" and "user serving" functionality. Successful application implementation partners work with clients to identify the other systems, databases, forms, documents, approval processes, resources and collateral that end-users interact with regularly, and determine "high impact" features that can be implemented in the early stages. Adding a few weeks onto an initial implementation schedule to ensure added value to the end-user is a great use of time.

3. Don't skimp on change management/training. If end-users don't use the CRM application, what's the point of implementing it? This statement holds true today just as much as it always has. When scoping/budgeting implementation costs associated with a new application, don't underestimate end-user enablement.

SaaS and cloud computing solutions allow implementation activities to focus more on process relevance and user readiness than on the technological infrastructures of the past. CRM vendors should incorporate and encourage solutions such as these for end-user readiness:

  • Defining Measurable Success Criteria
  • Planning and Executing User Communication
  • Developing Relevant Curriculum and Training
  • Providing Supplemental Training for Management
  • Developing Measurement Systems
  • Ensuring Ongoing, Iterative Support

Unfortunately, these types of activities are often seen as 'soft costs,' particularly in a poor economy. In times of budget constraint, don't remove user-readiness activities from your plan, and see if you can enlist the support of your customer's internal resources for assistance with execution.

4. Establish transparent measurement systems and publicly celebrate successes. Establishing accountability for using a new CRM application is critical to its successful adoption. Change is difficult for many users and managers. Establishing simple, relevant measurements will help keep the implementation top of mind, and it will keep the momentum going following initial rollout. The metrics will also help the implementation team identify areas of low adoption, allowing them to determine strategies to address problems. Make sure that goals/measurements are

  • aligned with the phase's success criteria;
  • communicated to all;
  • posted transparently, whenever possible, to establish healthy competition between individuals and teams; and
  • publicly celebrated, so users are recognized for their role in the successful implementation.

5. Listen. No matter how much planning an implementation team does or how much up-front feedback you've received from end-user representatives, there will inevitably be an influx of ideas suggested by end-users during implementation that will make the application even better or more useful for them. SaaS solutions offer technical professionals an opportunity to act quickly on behalf of their users.

Be sure to incorporate a simple venue -- much like an "ideas" forum, an internal portal, an email address, or a pop-up form that enables end-users to offer suggestions. More importantly, prioritize and act quickly to implement high-impact solutions, and publicly recognize those end-users who are participating in the improvement of the CRM system.

Those of us involved in the implementation and provision of SaaS solutions enjoy participating in an interesting, evolving space that can solve business problems for our customers very quickly. We also know that unlike our software-providing predecessors, we can lose our customers even more quickly if our solution does not provide the intended value to the individuals who use it. To ensure long-lasting relationships, it is even more critical that we assume responsibility for helping our customers and the end-users who represent them to achieve their goals.


Tricia Bennett is managing director of Bluewolf, a global pack of experts committed to partnering with clients to attain agile business transformation.


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