Most businesses use a few different software packages. Email and calendars are typically bundled together in services like Gmail and Outlook. Documents are typically handled with Microsoft Word and arrays of data with Excel.
A customer relationship management (CRM) system is like having all these tools under one hood working seamlessly together. In essence, a CRM system is a way to escape the inefficiencies and frictions of running your business with separate software systems that aren’t designed to work with each other. It also moves many processes from paper and pen into a digital environment.
Today’s customers expect a smooth digital journey in every aspect of their lives. A CRM implementation is a “digital transformation” that upgrades your business processes with the ultimate goal of making your customers happier.
In my experience, the ROI for CRM investment is 8:1. For every dollar you invest in a CRM system, you get eight dollars back. But this is only true if the CRM is customized correctly and is implemented by someone who knows your industry.
A cautionary tale from a real-life CRM calamity
I am currently working with a mid-size building materials manufacturer as a sales consultant—not as a CRM consultant. (I need to put that out front because this story doesn’t end well.)
A Salesforce CRM was recently rolled out to more than 500 users in the organization. After more than two years of preparation, four roll-out delays and more than $500,000 invested, it flopped.
On the day the company threw the switch and moved from the “sandbox” version to a “live” version, none of the customizations it had worked on in the previous two years transferred to the live system. This meant 500-plus users were left without a CRM. The old Microsoft Dynamics CRM had been shut down and the new Salesforce CRM wasn’t ready. That left 100 professional outside reps and 400 inside reps scrambling to process sales (which happened to be their biggest sales year ever!).
Before the failed rollout, I asked the president of this $200-million company about his CRM expectations, and astonishingly, he shrugged and said, “It’s just another system we’ll be using, nothing special.” I think his casual answer led to his company’s woes.
You need to think of a CRM implementation as major surgery on your business; it’s not a trivial operation.
It’s been nine months since that debacle, and there are still many major deficiencies with the CRM system. But even after all this drama, the system will still provide a positive ROI and will be a profound asset should the owners decide to sell the company. The takeaway here is to overprepare and expect some stumbles in your digital transformation.
CRM puts the customer first
Let’s jump back in time to get some perspective. The “customer-centric” business management style first gained traction in the 1960s.
Originally, CRM was a business approach and a corporate philosophy, one where the customer came first.
Then, a few decades after the “customer relationship management” business style became popular, software systems were introduced to assist in the “management” of customer information and the facilitation of a joyful customer experience.
While lots of businesses give lip service to being customer centric, few truly embrace the model. And that’s because it’s easier said than done. Take a stroll through your business right now and ask employees at random, “What is the core focus of our business?”
If you get “the customer” more than any other response, you probably aren’t surprised because it was a conscious business decision you made a long time ago. Customer centricity is something that must be nurtured and encouraged over time.
Peter Drucker, the grandfather of business management, once said, “The true business of every company is to make and keep customers.” CRM systems are designed and used to make this mantra a living reality for all members of your team.
However, CRM software systems can be difficult to use and understand when the broader context of customer centricity is not clearly demonstrated by owners and managers.
Is a CRM system imperative? No, you can carry on like you do now. Nobody has to do this. But if you are frustrated with the antiquated way you execute your business processes, and you find yourself envious of the slick digital tools your competition is using, then it’s a good indicator you’re ready for this digital transformation.
Prepare properly for implementation
Everyone knows that a large-scale home renovation is a big deal. It interrupts your life and creates stress. And when a reno is over budget and takes longer than expected, the only thing that pulls you through is the vision of how great it’s going to be once it’s done.
This is what a CRM implementation is like. Work gets interrupted and anxiety levels rise. Once a CRM system is in place, everyone will say, “This is amazing. We’ll never go back to the old way.” But the journey to the finish line can be bumpy.
This is why it’s critical to clearly define CRM workflows and the transformation they represent.
Different CRM systems are designed for different business processes. Knowing what you want is key. Knowing how to avoid biting off more than you can chew is why you should hire a professional consultant.
Here is a sample of what a CRM can handle:
- Core functions
- Extended functionality
- Supplier tracking
- Purchase orders
- Project management
How to choose the right CRM
When choosing a CRM software platform, consider the size of your business, the number of employees and your yearly revenue. And keep in mind that you don’t need a sledgehammer to swat a fly.
Salesforce is by far the biggest name in the CRM industry. It’s an enterprise-level, sophisticated CRM system designed for 500-plus users in one organization. However, I think it would be overkill for a company with 1–99 employees. For small to mid-size businesses, there are more suitable CRM systems available at more reasonable prices.
The CRM industry was worth $58 billion in 2021. Its business model, which is known as “software as a service” or SaaS, is that you rent the software and a slick user interface that makes data entry easy and generating reports a breeze.
For many businesses, a digital transformation is a necessity due to the pressures of competition. But don’t be hasty with your decision. Consider hiring someone who has already worked in a digitally transformed environment to bring this experience in-house. And consider getting some professional advice outside of the software salesperson’s spiel. You’d get a second opinion before any major surgery, right? SaaS software sales is aggressive territory, so as always, caveat emptor—let the buyer beware.
Bernie Doyle has more than 20 years of CRM implementation experience focusing on the construction, engineering and design industries. You can contact him at salesnerds.com.