Should your company be implementing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system?

The knee-jerk answer is yes. One of the keys to improving performance is measuring performance. Without a CRM system, how can one measure sales performance? While the logic of having a CRM system is undeniable, purchasing a CRM system does not guarantee improved sales or that the system will even be used by salespeople or other people in the company.

To get advice on how to successfully roll out a CRM, I had a conversation with Gene Marks, New York Times columnist and small business owner. His business The Marks Group has helped over 600 companies roll out and manage their CRM platforms. Here are the three keys he gave that separate successful from unsuccessful CRM rollouts:

Key #1: Have a Clear Deliverable for the First 30 Days.

Gene told me he gets several phone calls a year from sales managers that go something like this:

“I just moved to a new company. I want you to set-up the same CRM system that I had at my old company. In 30 days, I want to be able to look the following reports: a lead pipeline report, a sales report, and a salesperson activity report.”

Following a call like this one, a CRM system rollout usually goes very well. The key is having a clear deliverable (typically generating specific reports) that can be provided to management within 30 days. Having this early milestone has several benefits. It shows immediate return on investment to managers and mobilizes them to get their team using the CRM system immediately.

Key #2: Have a Dedicated System Admin.

One stumbling block that can derail a smooth rollout is not having an administrator for the CRM system. In describing the perfect administrator, Gene offered up a well-known TV character – Pam from “The Office.” She is a no-nonsense personality who will aggressively push people to start using the CRM system. Also, she is not a sales manager or a “techie,” both of whom tend to be mistakes for picking a CRM administrator.

The first job of the administrator when rolling out a CRM system is to make sure that good data goes into the CRM system. The administrator is the person in charge of collecting the existing data from salespeople, managers, and accounting to populate the CRM system. While salespeople may have to add information into the system about their accounts, the less that they have to do, the more likely they will embrace using the system.

Key #3: Get Management Buy-In.

The last big key to success is management buy-in. By management, Gene is specifically talking about the organization’s sales leadership. Users will object to using a CRM system for a variety of reasons. They often feel that using the system takes too much time, or they are uncomfortable sharing information about clients or prospects. Without a manager standing firmly behind the rollout of the CRM system, these complaints can lead to slow adoption, negating the benefits of having a system.

Before I finish up reporting on my conversation with Gene Marks, I would like to suggest a couple of recent articles on CRM from Fit Small Business, the website for which I serve as publisher:

An Introduction To CRM For Small Businesses

How To Choose CRM Software For Your Business

Here are a few other thoughts from Gene which should also increase your chances of success.

  • Rollouts: If you can roll out the CRM system to a few people at a time, the process can go easier than a department-wide or firm-wide rollout.
  • Training: Training should be given on an individual and not group basis. Many users are going to have different needs. For example, some people will need information on using the CRM with a smartphone, while others will want to pull certain reports.
  • Data Import: Start by exporting data from the firms accounting system, which does not require work by the sales staff and generally already has up-to-date information on clients.
  • Security: Many clients bring up concerns about security, particularly when they are considering a cloud-based solution. However, Gene likes to ask if the company thinks that their defenses are better or worse than those of the well-known CRM companies that have invested millions in protecting data.
  • Hidden Costs: The main hidden cost (provided there is no “integration” project) is the time spent by the CRM administrator. This can range from a few hours to 3 days per week for Gene’s clients.

No matter what size your business, if you get these keys right, you should be well on your way to a successful CRM rollout.


About the Author – Marc Prosser is the co-founder and publisher of Fit Small Business, which provides “how to” guidance to small businesses on topics ranging from small business phone systems to getting press coverage.