Successful CRM Champions Start Small, Think Big, Act Fast

I worked on an exercise in messaging for a CRM vendor this week, and it was both entertaining and frustrating at times. It was entertaining to hear smart people offer clever takes on what they do (and, perhaps more colorfully, what their competition does), but it was frustrating to realize that the definition of “CRM” is becoming increasingly complex and, I fear, confusing.

Developing an explanation of what a product is has become a fairly arduous process. Part of this is because the people doing the defining are so close to the product — they live and breathe all its features and fully understand the power that the application can put in the hands of users. Whether the users realize what they possess is another story entirely.

In our exercise, what ended up as the final messaging contained an intentionally simplified articulation of the product — and although it was painful to the participants, the end result was actually a good thing.

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I say that for a couple of reasons. First off, CRM still is viewed with a jaundiced eye by many decision makers. They may fully comprehend the importance of managing customer data and using it to gain and retain customers. They understand the value of creating a personalized customer experience. They value internal collaboration. They know how important it is for service staff to have customer data when and where they need it. They may even have a grip on software deployment models and the financial and IT effects they have on the business.

But when you roll them all up under the acronym “CRM,” those decision makers lose sight of the understandable and manageable trees for the forest. And the forest seems like a dark, scary place.

Hopefully, your business has a “woodsman” — a champion of CRM who can help guide people both higher and lower on the org chart to an understanding of the value of CRM. The ease with which this can be done varies with the skills of the champion and the level of resistance posed by the rest of the business, but in almost every case there are three steps champions should take:

1. Start Small

Since CRM is such a business-transforming concept and technology, the idea of starting small often grinds on the people in the business most enthusiastic about implementing it. But the reality is that humans are not big fans of change. We are comfortable doing what we know. That’s why, when implementing a new way of doing business, it’s important to start small.

Begin with a few users — or, better yet, a specific department. You may introduce users to a few basic features at first, then accelerate their learning through training. By slowly easing into a CRM system, you avoid the risk of overwhelming your employees. You also allow space for victories to emerge — sales wins, support cases that have better outcomes, comments from customers about improved experiences with your business.

These victories should be broadcast throughout the company — “see what the West Coast sales team did thanks to our new CRM system?” They’ll serve you well to grease the skids as you slide CRM into other parts of the organization.

2. Think Big

Even as you start in a departmental or group fashion, you need to think about the compounded effect of CRM across the business as different teams benefit from sharing information about customers. At some point — a point that the CRM champion should identify from the outset — all the stakeholders within the business who will benefit from CRM should be introduced to the system.

You have to be somewhat ruthless about this; cooperation from all the managers involved is a must. CRM consultants tell tales of departmental managers who pooh-pooh CRM, and that attitude filters down to the people they manage. This results in islands of failed adoption and hurts the ability of the CRM application to realize its full value.

3. Move Fast

Once adoption starts, capitalize on your momentum. Don’t stretch training out long enough for users to become familiar with what they think they can’t do with the system; nothing is more frustrating than learning that the answer to last week’s headache was a simple remedy explained this week. Use early wins to increase enthusiasm, use enthusiasm to fuel eagerness for training, and use the results of training to expand CRM’s ability to impact both the business and the customer in a positive way.

Just as your customers are unique, each of your fellow employees are unique, presenting the CRM champion with a challenge. But if you can motivate most of them — and you can explain how CRM benefits them — the “start small, think big, move fast” strategy can take you from the CRM decision-making process to the point when you see a return on investment in a surprisingly short time.

(Thanks go to Kelly Hanson for helping boil down some sprawling ideas into something more useful!)

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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