Customer relationship management (CRM) has made it through the buzzword stage in the IT world and has evolved into a legitimate enterprise solution. CRM, however, is not a mature market. While it is recognized as a valuable enterprise tool, the adoption of CRM is not yet far-reaching. Adoption of CRM is slow due to the lack of knowledge about the technology and stories of failed or botched implementations.

CRM is at heart an enterprise-enabling technology that records customer data from business-to-business and business-to-customer interactions. Recording, storing, and mining customer information with a CRM solution is seen by many industry analysts as the best way for an organization to retain and attract the best customers.

In the past few months, TechRepublic has covered CRM from a variety of angles. Here, we’ve compiled a number of articles that will help you make smart choices about your CRM investment.

What to consider first
The advent of the Internet has created a demand for better, faster, and more efficient customer service. Along with better call centers, competitive Web sites are a must but, as the adage goes, “Haste makes waste.” Deciding which CRM solution to implement is not an easy task and cannot be rushed.

In the TechRepublic article “The year of CRM: Five issues to consider,” we examine five steps to planning and implementing a CRM strategy, a process which should take about six to nine months.

Starting it right
The downsides to CRM are the high cost of solution suites and the drawn-out implementation time that many solutions require. Due to these disadvantages, it is imperative that the whole organization be on the same page before a CRM solution is deployed.

“While defining operating values and a CRM vision is often considered a senior management activity, I believe that many or all of a company’s stakeholders should collaborate in establishing the critical CRM prerequisites,” wrote Richard Artes, an expert in manufacturing management, in his article “Selecting a customer relationship management system: The first step.”

The IT department plays a critical role in this process. If the IT department does not understand the objectives that the executives are trying to achieve with a CRM solution, the implementation may be doomed. Read “IT managers need to keep on top of CRM” for Gartner Research’s take on how important it is to keep IT departments in the loop.

Now that you’ve got it, what next?
Incorporating a CRM solution into your organization deserves as much time and thought as deciding which solution to purchase. Linking databases across the enterprise is one of CRM’s strengths, but a bad implementation that does not link organizational databases together can alienate departments. Niche solutions exist to solve database linking. This process is described in “Measuring the benefits of CRM: How it helps financial and IT managers see eye to eye.”

Finally, know who’s in charge
The customer is the one who is driving e-business, whether that customer is involved in a business-to-business or a business-to-consumer relationship. CRM is designed to help these relationships and to put the organization in control of customer information.

“You have to recognize that this is a new economy and a new economic model, and the first vendor that hits that truth is going to fare very well in this marketplace,” said Doug Aldrich, consultant and author. Aldrich described how small- and medium-size businesses could use this to their advantage in “Organizations need to know the customer is in charge in the digital marketplace.”

Is CRM a passing fad or a new fact of life?

Is your senior management team talking about implementing a CRM? How soon might it happen where you work? Post a comment below or drop us a note.