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CRM Implementation: 6 Steps For a Winning Strategy

Customer relationship management (CRM) implementation is the process of centralizing all communications between a company and its customers.

This involves a CRM software with features that match your needs. These can include storing customer conversations, tracking leads you want to follow up with, and more.

CRM implementation process isn’t as simple as getting your employees to log in. Think about this: 73% of sales professionals use technology to close more deals. On top of that, sales reps using a CRM shorten their sales cycles by up to 14%.

In other words, CRM isn’t just another app you need to maintain. It’s a tool that powers up your sales and customer support processes from start to finish.

To get these benefits (and many more), your CRM has to be deeply embedded in your customer relationship culture. In this guide, we’ll show you how to make it happen in six steps.

  1. Define the ‘Why’ Behind Your CRM Implementation Process
  2. List CRM Products That Match Your Needs
  3. Dedicate The Person or Team to Run CRM Implementation
  4. Set Up a Timeline For Key Implementation Events
  5. Create a Feedback Loop
  6. Launch Your CRM and Monitor The Results

1. Define the ‘Why’ Behind Your CRM Implementation Process

What are the issues and challenges you’re hoping to address by implementing a CRM? What improvements will you make?

Here are some starting points you can use to answer these questions:

  • Increased team collaboration
  • Better ability to cross-sell
  • Deeper understanding of your potential and existing customers
  • Higher productivity and efficiency
  • Speedier and more complete customer support

Companies that use CRM software see an increase in sales, productivity, and forecast accuracy. Although all of these may come true for you, identify the most important improvements to start with.

The answer to the above questions are your ‘why.’ This should be driven by your business goals.

Defining your ‘why’ is also a great way to identify the features you’ll need from your CRM. Here are some features you’ll want to consider:

  • Pipeline visualization
  • Email tracking
  • Tasks
  • Automated follow-ups
  • Custom reports and dashboards
  • Multichannel integration for support
  • Lead routing
  • Lead scoring
  • Call history
  • Trend analysis
  • Forecasting

This list isn’t complete, but it hopefully helps you set expectations from a CRM.

Your current business needs are another aspect you should factor into this process. The best example of this is the distinction between a sales CRM and a customer service CRM. Here’s a brief rundown.

A sales CRM will help you manage your sales opportunities. Features like a 360º view of your pipeline, reporting, forecasting, and outreach tools will make your sales reps more efficient.

A service-focused CRM will enable the right support agents to always work on the right cases. It will help you manage all your customer support cases from a single place, build a knowledge base, and improve the overall customer experience.

2. List CRM Products That Match Your Needs

With a list of CRM features you’ve come up with in the previous step, you can go on a research spree. The goal here is to end up with a list of solutions that match most or all of your requirements.

Go into this process with all the roles that will be using the CRM in mind. For example, if you want your entire sales team to use the solution, make sure it can be tailored not only to sales managers, but to individual sales reps and other team members.

Here are some questions to keep in mind during your research.

Does the CRM solution fit your budget?

Consider the number of users you have as most software subscriptions will charge you per user per month, quarter, or year. Your growth is another thing to keep in mind. Will you be expanding your team in the future? Note how that might alter each product’s price.

Will the CRM work with your hardware?

Although 75% of all CRM solutions are now cloud-based and usually work on any browser and computer, double-check for compatibility. If the CRM solution has an option to connect with your phone system, make sure it will work with the one you have.

Does the CRM integrate with your emails and calendar?

As many as 27% of sales reps are spending an hour or more each day just on data entry. In other words, their systems aren’t working for them.

Look into integrations for each CRM option you’re considering. Will your sales or customer support emails be in it automatically? Will you have to manually enter appointments and calendar reminders? These may sound like a small thing, but they could save you—or cost you—a lot of time in the long run.

Lack of integration: 17% of salespeople cite lack of integration with other tools as the biggest challenge using their existing CRM. (HubSpot, 2017)

Can you manage multiple/all communication channels through this CRM? 

This is an extension of the previous point. If you’re talking to your customer on live chat first and over email later, do you have to track these conversations using separate tools?

Ideally, you’ll be able to integrate your CRM with every channel your customers are using to contact you. This won’t just save you time—it will keep the history of each customer relationship at your fingertips.

Can you tailor the CRM to your existing processes?

You likely have processes and workflows in your customer conversations that have brought you success.

If you pick any of the CRMs from your list, will you have to change them? Or will the CRM let you customize your settings based on your processes?

This includes the stages of your sales process and pipeline, your custom reports, templates, and more.

3. Dedicate The Person or Team to Run CRM Implementation

Before you build out your CRM implementation timeline and its main events, think about the best person or team to monitor and manage the process.

You need a project management role or team. They will be the owner of the CRM implementation process—someone that will be prepared to tackle any questions and challenges about this transition.

The objective of your project manager(s) will be to:

  • Determine key dates in your transition to a new CRM
  • Build out a list of tasks for each stage of transition
  • Answer employees’ questions leading up to the switch
  • Monitor the completion of tasks across the board
  • Arrange CRM training
  • Look out for CRM adoption issues after roll out

A recent report showed that CRM investments fail to deliver because CRM is focused on management. It seems like front line employees—customer support and sales reps—may find the experience of using a CRM less rewarding than sales managers and other executives.

With a dedicated person that monitors not only the CRM project as a whole but the individual experiences as well, you’ll gain insights into how everyone feels instantly.

You can assign this role to someone already working with you (make sure not to relieve them of other projects in that case!) or contract a project manager just for this process.

Less than half of all businesses with a CRM have a user adoption rate of over 90%—make sure you’re one of them.

Check out the 2020 Business Communication Report
Actionable insights from 1,000+ business professionals.

4. Set Up a Timeline For Key Implementation Events

With a project management role in place, you can work out your CRM implementation timeline.

Here are the main events that need to be in your calendar:

  • Backup and migration of your existing customer data
  • Customization of CRM settings
  • Running custom test reports
  • Training for all roles that will use your new CRM

There’s no universal rule to how long each of these events will take or how far apart they should be. Take a look at the details for each of them below to make the best decision possible.

Backup and migrate your existing customer data

This could be your existing CRM data, information from spreadsheets and other DIY tools, or a combination of both.

First, make sure that this data is safe and always retrievable, even if something goes wrong during importing into the new CRM.

Then, start importing. The importing process itself will be done in less than a day. However, keep in mind that you may need to spend some time making sure it’s imported correctly. For example, are phone numbers in the right format based on their country codes? Do you need to create custom fields so you can categorize your leads and customers correctly?

You can start by importing a smaller customer data set as a test and adjust from there. This will make future data entry much easier.

Customize your CRM settings

Even if your new CRM has all the features and integrations you need, you still have to set them up correctly.

This includes:

  • Your sales pipeline stages
  • Permissions for various roles
  • Templates
  • Automations (follow-ups, reminders, etc.)
  • Custom fields
  • Filters

List all the roles that will be using your new CRM solution and make sure you’ve customized settings for each of them so they can get started quickly.

Run custom test reports

Peter Drucker, a business leader and management thinker, famously said: you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

As you set up your CRM, use the initial data you’ve imported to run reports you find useful. This will help you verify their accuracy and notice any discrepancies or areas you want to customize further.

Need inspiration for what CRM reports to run? You can start with total sales, forecasted sales, deal loss, number of tickets per day, response time, or customer experience rating.

A key best practice here is to broadcast these stats publicly to your company, using a sales gamification tool like Hoopla.

The key is to run tests that make sense for the data you already have so you can get a realistic report. For example, a response time report won’t make sense if you haven’t been tracking the time to respond to a customer query.

Train your teams on your using the CRM and your CRM strategy

The final part of this stage is making sure everyone is confident when it comes to your CRM.

Your CRM training will have the most impact when you combine proactive training (like in-person workshops) with self-paced resources (such as pre-recorded videos and a written knowledgebase).

On top of that, ensure you offer training on the role of your CRM in your company’s big picture and overall direction—your CRM strategy. This includes:

  • Determining company goals
  • Mapping the customer journey
  • Making a CRM configuration plan
  • Measuring results through key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Evaluating your CRM

If you want to map out your CRM strategy and build it into your CRM training, check out our CRM strategy guide.

5. Create a Feedback Loop

Just like you’ve dedicated a project manager for your CRM implementation, define a process of providing feedback for your CRM.

If everyone emails you the moment they uncover something’s off (or even just to say something’s great), it will hinder your productivity (and theirs!).

Instead, set up an easy way to provide feedback that you can review on an ongoing basis. A great way to do this is to set up a form your CRM users can easily fill out in their own time. It should have space for free-form text input and role-specific questions that will help you sort feedback.

Commit to reviewing this feedback regularly. If you can reply to the reps that provided you with the feedback, even better—it will make them feel like more than just end users and they’ll feel heard and understood.

6. Launch Your CRM and Monitor The Results

After all the prep work and testing, launch your CRM across the board. If you’ve done a thorough job up to this point, this switch should be an easy one.

The job of your CRM is to improve your sales and/or customer support overall, from customer retention and satisfaction to your bottom line and beyond.

Remember: 74% of CRM users said their CRM gave them improved access to customer data. That’s where your company’s power comes from.

To increase your chances for success, make sure to monitor these two indicators of your CRM adoption.

Business metrics

As more time passes by, you’ll have more insights into your sales, revenue, efficiency, and customer satisfaction from the initial implementation of your CRM.

How have the numbers changed? Is there any correlation with your new CRM? What do you need to do more or less of?

System activity

About the author

Cameron Johnson is a market segment leader at Nextiva. Along with his articles on Nextiva's blog, Cameron has written for a variety of publications including Inc. and Business.com. Cameron was recently recognized as Utah's Marketer of the Year.