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An 8-step guide to seamless CRM implementation

CRM Implementation
What is a CRM implementation (and why does it matter)?
8 steps to successful CRM implementation
1Assess needs and set goals
2Choose the perfect CRM platform
3Build your implementation team
4Forecast the cost and returns
5Prepare your data for migration
6Onboard your first users (and fix teething problems)
7Roll out your system to the wider team
8Collate feedback and refine your CRM strategy
Final thoughts

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a significant investment.

To get the returns you expect and fulfill your business needs, you must choose and implement your software carefully. Otherwise, you can complicate existing processes, increase risk and waste resources.

While every CRM implementation plan is unique, most successful projects follow the same tried-and-tested pattern.

In this article, we’ll show you the best way to find, integrate and begin using a new CRM system. We’ll also explain how getting these steps right sets you up for long-term sales and marketing success.

What is a CRM implementation (and why does it matter)?

A CRM implementation is the process of integrating CRM software into your organization’s workflows to enhance customer management, sales and marketing processes.

It includes everything from setting your goals (i.e., determining why you need a CRM) and choosing the right tool to migrating data, training staff and refining your CRM strategy.

The implementation process dictates how effectively your teams leverage technology to achieve your company’s performance objectives.

Get it right and you increase productivity and empower staff to make strong, data-driven decisions that create value for buyers. In a Columbus survey, 81% of executives said their CRM system was instrumental in their ability to deliver seamless customer experiences.

CRM rollouts often fail because companies rush into CRM implementation without a strategy, resulting in misaligned technology, disgruntled sales teams and, ultimately, a system that can’t deliver the expected results.

Using a tried-and-tested roadmap to guide you through the implementation process is the best way to avoid unnecessary costs and stress.

8 steps to successful CRM implementation

We created the following step-by-step guide to help you nail your CRM implementation, whether it’s your first system or you’ve decided to change.

1. Assess needs and set goals

At the heart of any successful CRM implementation is a clear understanding of your organization’s needs and the goals you aim to achieve.

Identify specific pain points and inefficiencies in your current sales and marketing processes. While personal experience will help, collecting your team’s views will give you a deeper understanding of what needs fixing. Consider using surveys and focus groups for this.

You can have multiple goals but aim to make all of them measurable on some level so you can gauge your CRM’s return on investment (ROI) against what you want to achieve.

For example, you might want to shorten your sales cycle, increase cross-team collaboration or enhance other software solutions you use. These needs will help you with your CRM implementation strategy.

This is where key performance indicators (KPIs) come in – metrics you’ll use to measure your CRM implementation’s effectiveness. Choosing KPIs means translating your objectives into tangible outcomes so you and your team have something quantifiable to strive for.

For example, if your goal is to make your sales process more efficient, you could use average sales cycle length as a KPI. If you want to improve customer experiences, you might use customer sentiment scores.

To recap: needs inspire goals, which inform KPIs. Here are some ideas to consider:

Need (your pain point)

Goal and KPI

Deals take too long to close

Goal: Shorten the sales cycle

Reduce the average sales cycle length by two weeks

Customers are moving to our competitors

Goal: Grow customer loyalty

Increase customer retention rate (CRR) by 25%

Leads keep going cold

Goal: Close more deals

Increase win rate to 20%

When you’ve assigned metrics to each goal, think about where you’ll get the data you need.

Your new CRM should provide sales-related metrics like average sales cycle length, CAC, customer retention rate (CRR) and number of deals in the sales pipeline. Compare these with records you’ve kept in spreadsheets or previous CRM systems.

For other growth metrics, you may need email marketing software, employee surveys, website analytics tools and project management systems.

2. Choose the perfect CRM platform

Choosing the right CRM platform is like choosing the right vehicle for a road trip: it’s crucial for a smooth journey.

Your needs will be unique but user-friendliness, scalability, integration and automation capabilities are helpful priorities in most scenarios. Here’s why:

  • User-friendliness. The easier it is for users to adopt new software, the more efficient your implementation will be. Look for a simple interface, omnichannel support and plenty of training options.

  • Scalability. Your business will likely evolve after you implement your CRM and your chosen software must keep up. Cloud CRMs with plenty of storage and various pricing options are generally the most scalable.

  • Integrations. Connectivity with other software allows you to customize your CRM to fit your needs. Top CRMs come with marketplaces for app integrations, so you can combine your tools into one streamlined dashboard.

  • Automation. Workflow automation features eliminate admin to help team members get more done and minimize human error.

Beyond these essentials, consider any more specific business needs. For example, if you need complete data ownership for regulatory reasons, you may want an on-premise CRM. If you have complex sales processes, you’ll want the ability to create custom data fields and reports.

Finding the perfect CRM can take time, but it’s worth the care and effort. After choosing Pipedrive, SiteForce doubled its revenue and tripled its field operations team.

SiteForce co-owner Ron Daniels said:

I had never heard of Pipedrive, but part of what I was specifically looking for was simplicity – I believe there’s a lot of power in simplicity. I wanted the ability to customize and I wanted basic integrations, not API calls necessarily, but just basic integrations and Pipedrive satisfied that.

3. Build your implementation team

A well-structured CRM implementation team is the backbone of your project’s success. These people will help to ensure the implementation stays aligned with business goals and their collaboration will be key to the project’s efficiency.

Some CRM vendors will use their expertise to take care of this part for you, either as part of your package or for an extra fee. If yours doesn’t, you’ll need to build your team from scratch.

Note: When you sign up for Pipedrive’s Power or Enterprise plan, your business will receive a CRM implementation service from our team so you can quickly be up and running.

Roles and responsibilities will vary based on your organization’s size but a fully staffed in-house implementation team typically includes:

  • A project manager. The orchestrator to whom the whole team reports. They keep everyone on track and make the biggest decisions regarding unexpected challenges.

  • A data analyst. They organize company data before, during and after the CRM implementation project plan. Their goal is to maintain data quality and relevance throughout.

  • An application developer. They handle the technical side of implementation, solving problems and customizing the software to meet the company’s most complex needs.

  • Test engineers. They actively seek challenges for the rest of the team to overcome, ensuring issues are corrected during implementation so they don’t disrupt the business later on when the stakes are higher.

  • Project advocate. They have the time and enthusiasm to explore the change in detail, fully understand the challenges and benefits, and act as a communication link between everyday users and other implementation team members.

  • User group representatives. Soon-to-be users from sales, marketing and other departments with first-hand insight into the pain points that need addressing. They can raise concerns and provide suggestions to help make wider adoption seamless.

Small businesses may have more condensed teams but must ensure core responsibilities are covered. At the very least, aim to include a project manager (e.g., the sales manager) and user group representatives. The former can take responsibility for data management and customization, while future users can stress-test the software.

If you’re worried about not having the skill or experience to lead the project, you could hire a CRM implementation consultant (or CRM implementation service) to help you get it right. These professionals know why some CRM implementations fail and can stop the same from happening to you.

4. Forecast the cost and returns

Budgeting for CRM implementation is crucial as costs can vary widely depending on your team’s size and needs.

Consider expenses for software licenses, training, data migration, and any necessary customizations.

Licensing costs are the easiest to gauge as most CRM vendors publish pricing information online. If there are multiple pricing tiers, compare the included features to find the best fit for your company.

Your choice of software will dictate any data migration, training and customization costs. For example, you’ll likely need expensive expert support in all three areas for an on-premise CRM implementation. However, with a simple cloud CRM, the software may include these features.

Think about how your organization’s development may impact its CRM needs. Choosing scalable software that allows you to install add-ons and integrations could benefit you long term, even if the up-front cost is higher. Otherwise, you risk having to spend more on another system later.

To get an idea of potential returns, look at real-world examples of cost savings, time savings and revenue growth. Look for case studies involving comparable companies.

For instance, if you run or work for a small digital marketing agency, this Pipedrive case study would be helpful:

It explains how a new CRM system helped SoMe increase its close rate by 60%, grow revenue by 133% and cut its sales cycle length in half.

According to our 2022 State of Sales and Marketing report, companies using CRM technology are 15 percentage points more likely to grow than those that don’t.

Compared to last year my company...

Companies that use a CRM software to track-sales

Companies that do not use a CRM software to track sales

5. Prepare your data for migration

Implementation is the perfect opportunity to clean, organize and consolidate all the customer data in your spreadsheets and other tools. Then you can start smoothly and adopt better data hygiene habits with your new system.

Organizing should involve:

  • Removing duplicate contacts

  • Deleting stale data (e.g., cold leads)

  • Correcting obvious errors (e.g., spelling mistakes)

There are CRM integrations that can streamline this process. Dedupely is one of the best for merging duplicate contacts. Use it to cleanse data in your previous CRM or spreadsheet before importing to the new system and to maintain data hygiene afterward.

Throughout this part of the CRM implementation process, data quality is much more important to your business’s profitability than data volume.

In a Validity study, 44% of CRM users said their companies lose more than 10% of annual revenue due to poor-quality CRM data. Also, almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents would consider leaving their role if additional resources weren’t available for a robust CRM data quality plan.

Some CRM solutions offer handy export and import functionality, allowing you to pull information from XLS, XLSX and CSV spreadsheet files and other CRMs. Before transferring, you may need to reformat your spreadsheets to match your new software’s data structure.

6. Onboard your first users (and fix teething problems)

Before rolling out your CRM to the entire organization, it’s wise to onboard a sample group of users – ideally, those you included in your CRM implementation team.

This initial testing phase allows you to identify and address any initial challenges before they affect the business.

For example, if your sales reps find that the system’s default pipeline view doesn’t reflect your company’s sales process, you can work with them to customize the steps. Then the wider team can get straight to work when the time comes.

Involving staff in this stage also helps you get buy-in from your team. It shows you trust their experiences and value their opinions.

Note: If you’re torn between two or more CRMs, consider using a free trial to gauge your sample group’s views. It could help you make a more confident decision.

7. Roll out your system to the wider team

When you’re happy that you’ve addressed your test group’s concerns and configured the system in line with your business needs, it’s time to get the whole team involved.

How you handle this step will impact user adoption and your CRM’s long-term effectiveness. When asked what would make their CRM system more effective, 53% of Columbus’ respondents said better onboarding and training.

Your end users should know why you’re implementing a new CRM, so be clear about the benefits throughout the onboarding process. The more enthusiastic people are about the new system, the more likely they will use it (e.g., enter, maintain and access customer data) properly.

Explain how your CRM will streamline specific business processes and make everyone’s jobs easier and more enjoyable.

If possible, give users immediate access to the data they need most by helping them set up custom dashboards. It’s a great way to show how the technology can adapt to their precise needs.

8. Collate feedback and refine your CRM strategy

Encourage ongoing dialogue within your organization to collect feedback on the system’s performance. Users’ positive and negative comments will help you fix inefficiencies, find opportunities to improve your returns and adapt your CRM strategy as your business evolves.

Say you only roll out your CRM to sales and marketing staff and those users report saving an average of three hours weekly through automation. You could extend the benefits by giving access permissions to customer support agents.

Aside from normal day-to-day conversations, some of the best ways to collect feedback are:

  • Focus groups. Gather a sample group of users to informally review their experiences so far.

  • Questionnaires. Ask multiple users the same questions on their thoughts and look for patterns in their answers.

  • One-to-one sessions. Introduce a “CRM and general technology” element to employee progress meetings, where staff can offer suggestions.

Revisit these methods regularly to ensure your chosen CRM software continues to meet your business’s needs.

Even the most successful implementations present some unexpected challenges. If something doesn’t work as expected, don’t panic: work with your in-house team and vendor to find the best solutions. Solving your issue may just take a new integration, add-on, or automation.

Final thoughts

This guide will serve as a roadmap as you embark on your CRM implementation journey, helping you harness the full potential of a technology that makes many businesses more productive and profitable.

If you’re still unsure about the CRM implementation steps, here are some answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the process:

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