top of page

Upgrading Your CRM Is the Grass Really Greener?

With many technology tools, but especially with CRMs, companies move from one vendor solution to another because they think the grass is greener and they’ll finally get the transparency and tools they need to drive the business. Leaders imagine that a new, more expensive tool will make their people more productive and drive adoption. While selecting the right tool for your business needs is certainly important, in my experience, failure with CRMs is typically not due to tool selection.

When we jump in to help clients who are struggling with their CRM, we find gaps in operating processes and data hygiene, and ineffective mandates of CRM usage that don’t drive adoption and behavior change. While there are of course differences between tools, the real drivers of success are configuration, data governance, integration with other applications, and clear communication and training to drive adoption.

In other words, with a CRM, what you do is as important as what you choose.

Whether you are implementing your first CRM, looking to consolidate or upgrade your current tool(s), or simply want to untangle a horrible mess that is costing you time and money, planning and implementation are key to your future success.

Here are a few pointers that I have learned through experience:

1. Establish your stakeholder governance model from the start.

“Governance” sounds boring and bureaucratic. But a well-designed stakeholder management process, where you engage your end users from the start to ensure their accountability and buy-in of the end design, pays off in the end. Once built, they will feel greater responsibility to use the platform because they had an active hand in building it.

2. Define your business processes before you start building.

Especially if you are consolidating CRM instances, allow sufficient time to define your business processes before you start building. Get the “how you do business” defined before you design “how you complete the task.” Standardizing business processes while simultaneously defining functional requirements leads to rushed decisions that result in costly rework, costing you more time, money and aggravation in the long run.

3. Reduce customizations to the bare minimum.

This is true when using any vendor software product, not just CRMs. Maintenance and future development will be simpler and cheaper if you leverage built-in capabilities. There are only so many ways to manage customer data and leads – take the time to think about adjusting how you execute tasks to mirror built in system capabilities before you customize and add a lot of unneeded complexity to your solution.

4. Make it a goal to simplify and reduce fields.

Lack of governance in CRM often leads to tens if not hundreds of fields being built because someone once thought “wouldn’t it be good if we captured . . .?” Similarly, when consolidating multiple CRMs into one, you’ll likely find duplicate fields – same info, different field name. Be ruthless in questioning if fields are necessary – don’t just move them over. The best way to win the battle of “do you need the field” is by looking at usage stats that prove the field was rarely used.

5. Build your data dictionary as you define your data elements.

Being clear on definitions of data captured in your CRM is key to managing the quality of your information. Setting the definitions up front and publishing them for users will support better quality data.

6. Think about how you will govern data quality and embed ways to do so in your design.

As a complement to the data dictionary, defining rules for data capture will help you ensure the quality of your data by taking subjectivity out of the picture. That means deciding up front things like required fields, what needs to be limited to drop down selections vs. free form entry, or where validations like address lookups can be implemented. Setting the rules up front and not allowing end users to bypass them will help ensure your data is at its best in terms of quality, consistency, uniqueness, timeliness, and validity.

7. Try to reduce, deduplicate, and clean data as much as possible before migration.

It’s like moving all your stuff from one house to another without organizing and purging first. Once garbage data comes over, it is less likely you'll take time to clean it up. Your expensive new system will inherit your old problems. Clean your data up in advance so that your user’s first impressions of the system are positive.

8. Understand architectural differences between current and target systems.

If you are upgrading or changing vendors, make sure you really understand how the architectures of the systems differ. For example, specific data capture logic in the old system may not be the same as in the new one. This can be a particular problem when migrating data from one architecture to another – connections will break if structures are changing.

9. Consider buying data BEFORE you build as it will greatly impact your design.

The goal of a CRM is to provide you with quality data – and if you input the data yourself you can build in lots of checks and balances to make sure the data is a standard format, is not duplicated, etc. But when you buy data, many of those checks and balances are handled for you, before the data is put into your system. It’s always best to decide up front if you’ll buy data as it will definitely influence your design, policies and practices.

10. It's never too early to think about your integrations.

CRMs take in data from other systems (like websites that capture leads) and feed data into others (like finance systems). When upgrading or consolidating your CRM, how you feed or take in data may change and impact other systems. Make sure to identify those relationships up front to make sure you don’t break anything without knowing it. Also, recognize that while you may clean your CRM data, it will get polluted again if the other system owners don't follow suit.

11. Think about outputs (not just inputs).

Ultimately, you want to be able to get great reporting out of your CRM to help you identify top opportunities, forecast revenue, find cross-sell ideas, etc. To get the best value out of reporting, make sure you are capturing the data you’ll need up front to produce good reporting on the back end.

It is a lot to consider. And, even more than other things in business, a CRM project is a cross-functional team effort. But more so than other business applications, a thoughtful CRM implementation sets the foundation for cross-functional success. If you don’t get the planning right up front, frustration and buyer’s remorse will surely follow. And if you find yourself with a badly implemented CRM not giving you what you need, know that there is a way out.

bottom of page