Customer relationship management (CRM) implementation is the process of setting up and running CRM software. Most CRMs are easy to use, but careful planning is required to ensure that the system’s setup, integrations, customization, testing, and reporting are aligned with company goals and set your sales team up for success.
The steps in this article assume you’ve already selected CRM software. If you’re merely in the research stage of making a purchase, we have advice that walks you through everything you need to know, including:
- A list of the best CRMs for small business
- How to choose a CRM
- Developing a comprehensive CRM strategy to grow sales and improve customer service
- Creating a CRM process around your sales activities
- How to measure CRM success
Why You Need a CRM Implementation Plan
Industry experts say up to 70% of CRM projects fail. Don’t let statistics discourage you, however. A solid CRM implementation plan is a multistage process that doesn’t happen overnight. Still, it’s worth the time investment to give your organization’s CRM adoption the best chance at success.
A CRM implementation strategy ensures you’ve considered the right foundational steps before rolling out your CRM to the company. It helps avoid common pitfalls, including:
- Failure to get executive buy-in: If implementing and using a CRM system is embraced by the highest levels of your organization, individual employees are more likely to follow suit.
- Poor migration of existing data: Whether current customer information is stored in Google spreadsheets or another formal CRM, it must be fully and cleanly imported to the new CRM to maximize its accessibility and usability.
- Lack of training: While most CRMs are user-friendly, they still require training to squeeze the most value out of the system.
- Wrong CRM for the job: All CRM solutions are not created equal. Customer relationship management platforms have many core features and functionality in common, but some are adapted for role- or industry-specific environments.
Still shopping for the right solution? Download our helpful guide to choosing a CRM.
Step-by-Step Guide to CRM Implementation
1. Get Input From Your Users
It’s always a good idea to bring users into the conversation before rolling out any new software, particularly when it’s an integral part of a team’s success. Input from your primary users helps you determine what features they need most, how much training they’ll need, and a variety of additional data points that will help you introduce a new CRM with more ease.
Questions to ask teams include whether they have used a CRM in the past, what types of routine work tasks they wish were automated, and what other business applications they regularly use. This feedback will shape your CRM training plans, help decide what workflow automation tools are needed, and whether integrations with popular business apps like email, project management, and team messaging are necessary.
2. Establish Your CRM Goals
Define the goals for your CRM by first outlining how your team will be measured within the system and how the system is expected to be used. These goals and action plans should also support your overall strategic business goals and always be top of mind as you move through the CRM implementation process and beyond.
This step involves defining high-level, strategic goals, then adding a basic action plan as a framework to achieve those goals. Use these examples of high-level goals to jump-start thoughts about your own.
|High-level Goal||Basic Action Plan|
Increase new sales revenue by 25%
Sell into larger manufacturing companies that have bigger budgets and require more of our services.
Reduce customer churn by 10%
Improve the rate of first contact resolution from 70% to 85% by implementing live chat software.
Increase gross margin from 35% to 40%
Sell into firms with annual revenue greater than $500,000 to increase the sale of higher-margin add-on services.
Decrease customer onboarding time from two weeks to one
Send a series of emails with instructional videos and schedule a follow-up call the first week.
Next, define tactical goals to support your high-level goal. For instance, if your high-level business goal is to increase revenue by 25% by selling into larger manufacturing companies, a tactical goal might be to create a targeted list of current prospects and those you intend to target in the next two months.
This exercise helps define how a CRM can help you meet your tactical goals. In our example, your CRM solution would require a customization tool for contact fields to help you better identify and capture 100 prospects at large manufacturing firms from prospecting within the first 60 days.
3. Determine What Data Needs to Be Migrated
A commonly overlooked aspect of CRM implementation is determining ahead of time what data will need to be migrated into the new system and where it currently resides. While customer contact data from manual filing systems will need to be entered by hand, migrating data from other digital systems is typically a straightforward process.
Contact, company, and deal data is typically exported from other business systems or CRMs using a simple, comma-separated values (CSV) file that’s uploaded to the new platform. Most CRMs also come with an import tool to automate the process. Each solution handles data migration differently, however. That’s why it’s critical to evaluate what’s needed before beginning CRM implementation.
Pro tip: Do not move all your data at once. Test the integrity of the data transfer using a small sample first.
4. Define CRM Settings
Another crucial component of creating a CRM implementation plan is defining system settings ahead of time. All but the most basic customer relationship management software include a range of settings that should be adjusted to suit your team’s needs, including:
- Required fields
- Drop-down menu selections
- User permissions
- Admin settings
Many also offer customizable options for roles, reports, work automation, and so on. Before you start building out these functions, however, you should first define how your sales process works for each product or service, from initial contact to closing the deal.
For example, a process for selling $100,000 in marketing services may include the following steps:
- Initial contact
- First phone meeting
- In-person meeting
- Client discovery
- Stakeholders meeting
- Goals and planning
- Proposal review
- Final call to solidify deliverables and timing
- Win or loss
Examining your sales process along with the user input you received from your team will inform most of the CRM’s settings and permissions. This type of due diligence during the planning phase of your implementation can save a lot of time when you roll out a system that’s user-ready from the start.
5. Integrate Third-party Applications
Integrating your CRM with third-party applications like Facebook, Outlook, and Slack maximizes your organization’s efficiency by allowing workers to switch between apps without leaving the CRM environment. CRMs usually offer dozens of third-party integrations, so prioritize them according to what your sales teams say is most important to them.
Popular integrations include:
- Social media management
- Live chat
- Marketing automation
- Support ticketing
The final step of CRM implementation is to learn how all the individual components work together when put to the test. Be sure to also evaluate any customer touch points that connect with the CRM to ensure they work as intended. There are several components to test, including:
What to Test
All imported records are matched to the correct fields, with no duplicate data
All assigned data fields are recognized and fillable
Email exchanges are associated with the correct contact and two-way email sync works as expected
Leads route to the correct sales rep according to predefined rules
Deal columns in each pipeline match the sales process
Task triggers work as expected
All business apps are connected correctly
Data matches expected results
Form displays correctly, fields are fillable, and completed form is routed properly
CRMs are generally easy to set up and maintain, no matter your level of experience. If you have a particularly complex migration or need help setting up integrations, take a look at the type of support your new CRM offers. Troubleshooting options for free solutions like HubSpot CRM are generally limited to online documentation and online user communities, while paid CRMs such as Salesforce include guided setup and onboarding assistance with its service plans.
Once your CRM implementation plan is put in place and your new software rolled out, it’s time to show the team how it works. Be sure to check out our article on the seven steps of CRM training to help you get the most out of your investment.
Download this checklist to create a CRM team training plan that helps your team hit the ground running.
It can be tempting to cut corners and roll out a CRM to your sales team without an implementation plan, but we don’t recommend it. The extra time you spend on integrating, customizing, testing, and training will pay off when your CRM deployment is a success story rather than a failure statistic.
Images courtesy of HubSpot, Freshworks CRM, and Pipedrive.