Case study of a successful CRM implementation: Addressing people issues

When a CRM implementation means a culture change within the enterprise, people issues become as important as technology and processes. This case study reveals how communication and training can make a major change as painless as possible.

In part one of this series on a successful CRM deployment, I described how our CRM implementation project began when the division president made the vendor selection. I wouldn’t recommend this selection process, but this is a case study, so I can only describe what actually happened.

We members of the rollout team recognized right away that this was not just a package implementation. This new CRM tool was going to require the sales force to make a fairly radical change in how they did their work. In other words, we looked on this implementation as a culture change initiative rather than just a technology rollout. To be successful, we’d need to think about the project in terms of people, processes, and technology. Let’s first look at some of the project considerations from a people perspective.

It starts with strong business sponsorship
Given the organization’s natural reluctance to change, the project may well have gone nowhere without strong business leadership and direction. Fortunately, we received strong sponsorship at the executive level. The head of the sales organization served as our initial sponsor, but fairly quickly the division president took over the executive sponsor role.

The project was important to the division president, and he was willing to provide both a carrot and a stick to the organization. He insisted that all of the potential users be trained, and he was adamant that this tool and new way of working would ultimately enable us to provide better service to our customers and increase revenues and profits. He also made a key decision: He would accept important sales forecasting information through the CRM tool only. This decision forced salespeople and managers to begin using the software to enter leads and prospects through the sales cycle.

Train everyone
We recognized that everyone needed to be trained to use the new tools. This training took several forms. First, everyone in the entire organization received an overview of the CRM tool and learned how it would help him or her on the job. Most of the users were scheduled to attend an upcoming sales conference, and we were able to get on the agenda and present high-level information to the entire staff. We also put together detailed follow-up training for users as they were about to go live. This in-depth training enabled employees to use the tool immediately. The training started off as personal, hands-on sessions for the first few groups to be deployed. Later groups received the training through Webcast technology with live audio over the telephone.

Provide follow-up support
Too often, after the training sessions are over, users are told to sink or swim. We were determined to supplement formal training with a long-term coaching and mentoring service. As people inevitably encountered problems after training, we were there to assist with further coaching, training, support, and hand-holding. Most of these problems were small. Frequently, users simply needed coaching on how to use certain features. Other times, people successfully entered customer data but then forgot how to find it again. However, in some cases, the users actually uncovered software errors that needed to be fixed or referred to the vendor. The personal assistance available from our team was critical to getting users over this learning curve.

Communicate often and proactively in many media
On projects involving a culture change, the value of proactive communication cannot be overstated. We put together a communication plan that identified the major stakeholders and their communication needs and detailed how we would satisfy those needs.

There were formal status reports, of course, but we also maintained a regular set of e-mail communications with the user base. Users learned what was happening now and what would be happening in the future. We tried to prepare people ahead of time, for instance, when their groups would be targeted for training and deployment. We also wrote updates in our company’s monthly e-mail announcing business accomplishments. The executive sponsor supplemented these efforts with a steady drumbeat of personal and e-mail communication reminding everyone the CRM rollout was coming and he expected everyone to participate.

This communication went both ways. We instituted a process allowing users to request enhancements based on their experiences. I think people felt good about being able to leverage their experiences to make the product better for others. We also set up and sought advice from a steering committee of managers from our customer base to make sure we were on the right track and kept them all on board during the rollout.

Roles and responsibilities
Many initiatives struggle because it’s never quite clear whose job it is to keep information flowing during the implementation. Our company identified individuals in each department who were responsible for updating and tracking various types of information in the CRM tool.

For instance, the salespeople were strictly responsible for customer sales cycle information, including sales forecasts. A central contact in the marketing department handled all marketing information and company collateral. Our telemarketing group was responsible for updating contact information whenever a personnel change was detected at a client enterprise. Our finance department assigned a person to ensure that customers’ accounts-receivable data was correct. By making sure specific people took ownership of the CRM data, we made the entire application more accurate and ultimately more usable for the entire user base.

Addressing process and technology aspects
In part three of this series, we’ll look at process and technology issues that arose during the implementation. Then, I’ll bring you up to date on the status of the CRM initiative and discuss some important lessons we learned.

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