A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can be an extremely profitable investment for any business. In fact, research indicates that a CRM solution may yield a return of up to $8.71 for every $1 spent. That’s a huge ROI! Of course, in order to reap the most benefits from your CRM solution, you have to not only choose the right system for your company but then implement that system in the right way. This is especially true if your CRM system will affect multiple departments of your business, or even the entire organization.

What can you do to make sure your CRM implementation gets off to a good start and then stays on track? Here are 7 steps to follow when selecting, installing, and deploying your CRM system.

7 Steps to Successfully Implement a CRM System

1. Set SMART Goals for Your CRM

First and foremost, you need to understand why you’re investing in a CRM system. What are the specific benefits you want to reap from setting up and implementing a new system? What pain points should your CRM address? How will it propel your business forward?

Setting SMART goals (goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) can help. When you have a clear vision for your CRM, you won’t be distracted by software solutions that offer nifty features but don’t align with your business needs, processes, and objectives. Your choice of CRM should depend on whether you’re trying to streamline your processes or replace them completely. Not on how many add-ons and special attributes a system has.

Put simply, think process first, technology second. View your CRM as a tool that will help you to reach your bigger goals, not an end goal in itself.

2. Do the Research

Once you have your specific CRM goals in mind, it’s time to thoroughly investigate the different options available to you. This can be tricky since the CRM software industry is growing rapidly — and is changing all the time. (For example, one study found that 88% of CRMs were on-premise in 2008, but a decade later in 2018 only 13% were, while 87% were Cloud-based.)

While there may not be a “right” or “wrong” answer, you’ll want to consider several key factors, including:

  • Pricing
  • Ease of use
  • Functionality
  • Relevance to your current processes
  • Available integrations
  • Available upgrades
  • Scalability

Keep in mind that you want your new CRM to handle all of your company’s basic operational needs. However, it’s better to have a successful initial launch that’s small in scope than to “bite off more than you can chew” and end up backtracking down the road.

3. Assign a Dedicated CRM Team

Now that you’ve chosen a CRM system that aligns with your business objectives and processes, and meets your operational needs, it’s time to dive into the “creation phase” of the project. You’ll need to assign a dedicated CRM team to work on key implementation tasks during the initial setup period.

Of course, the size of your team may vary depending on how big your company is, and how far-reaching the implementation will be. However, you’ll need your team members to fill certain vital roles, such as project manager, systems developer, data analyst, quality assurance auditor, and even liaison between your sales team and upper management.

Moreover, don’t underestimate the positive impact that a team of “champions” can have during this time of transition. When your team members speak highly of the CRM, vouch for its effectiveness, and promote its adoption throughout the organization, your overall implementation process will go much, much smoother.

4. Solicit Constructive Feedback

As you’re rolling out your new CRM system, don’t discount the feedback you receive from your testers. Even if they’re skeptical of the new platform. In fact, encourage such feedback. They may see a flaw in the setup process that your developers have missed. Catching (and fixing) such issues early on will prevent a lot of hassle and frustration when the CRM goes live throughout your organization.

Remember that your testing team should include representatives from every department that will end up using the CRM on a regular basis (e.g., sales, marketing, customer support, and so on). These testers will no doubt provide valuable insights into the CRM’s “pros and cons” in relation to their own department. Even better, once the testers become familiar with the system, they can mentor other employees on best practices.

5. Forecast the Benefits vs. the Costs

As you work to complete the setup process, collaborate with your CRM team and testers to project the impact that the system will have on your business moving forward. Start with the initial implementation phase. You can then forecast out to six months in the future (the time frame in which your employees may still be somewhat unfamiliar with the CRM), and then 12 months (by which time the majority of your workforce should be fully acclimated to the CRM).

“Crunching the numbers” on these cost-benefit analyses will help you to manage (and possibly adjust) expectations, and maintain buy-in from upper management. You’ll be able to refine your SMART goals to more closely align with the reality of the implementation process. You can also persuade believers and skeptics alike to stay the course.

6. Migrate/Integrate Your Data

This may be the single longest part of the implementation process. Whether you’re migrating your data to the CRM from an old legacy system or integrating the data into the CRM from an existing system, it could take several weeks or months to transfer all the needed information over to your new platform. Make sure to identify which data sets need to be moved first, and then make them your number #1 priority.

7. Train, Test, and Refine

Once your CRM is fully armed and operational, it’s time to train all of your employees on its use. Members of your dedicated CRM team, as well as testers, will be an invaluable resource in promoting the use of the platform and coaching your staff on best practices.

Many CRM systems also include “built-in” training programs to help companies obtain the maximum benefit from their investment. Why not take full advantage of such programs? At the same time, have your IT department continue to perform QA tests on the system. Have them fix any bugs they come across. In addition, keep your ear open to employee feedback. Look for ways to continually refine your CRM’s functionality for end-users.

Granted, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to implementing a CRM system. However, with some forethought and planning (and maybe help from a team of CRM experts), you can make your implementation process a resounding success!