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5 critical things you must do to make CRM effective in your business

Written by:
August 2015
Categories: For the Business Leader, For the IT Leader, Podcasts

Reading time estimate Reading time: 7 minutes

CRM – Customer Relationship Management – you know what it is right? But why do you need a CRM? Do professional services firms typically use CRM, and if they do, is it better to have a sector specific CRM, or will any old CRM do? Should you use a cloud-based CRM, or have an on-premise one? Regardless of how it’s delivered, what if you need to change your CRM – how do you go about doing that?

To get answers to these questions, and more, I spoke with Don Wiid of Contact Edge CRM.

Don is an expert in Customer Relationship Management, better known as CRM. He has spent over 10 years working with CRM systems, and has written add-on programmes that have sold around the world.  His expertise as a business analyst and software developer has seen Don design and implement CRM strategies that have helped organisations both large and small to transform the ways in which they handle and manage their customer and client relationships. The targeted outcomes have included increased profits and greater market share by ensuring that food is not left on the table.

You can listen to the interview by clicking the audio play button above, or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. If you’d prefer to read rather than listen, I have summarised the Q&A below.

Question: What is a CRM and why do you need one?

Answer: Most businesses are now aware of CRM. It is technology that helps you to track interactions between your business and your customers or clients. i.e. phone calls; tasks; outcomes; demographics; sales. Most businesses start with a simple spreadsheet, and often an email campaign. This is where CRM needs start to be discovered.

As your email campaign progresses, follow up phone calls are made. Conversations and customer interactions need to be logged and tracked, which is where the CRM comes in. It should allow you to accurately model how your business interacts with its clients.

The CRM is a relational database, and the industry has been developing over the past 20 years.

Whilst spreadsheets are becoming more shareable, and are a nil-cost alternative to a CRM, a spreadsheet only provides a 2-dimensional representation of data. Once multiple phone calls and emails need to be tracked the spreadsheet quickly becomes limited.

Question: Do professional services firms, such as accountancies and law firms, typically use CRM?

Answer: Quite a few professional services firms use CRM, but often in a limited way. A challenge in professional services firms is that there are often multiple decision makers, typically driven by a partner hierarchy. There tends to be sensitive client relationships, perhaps counter to the openness required to make CRM effective. If access to data in the CRM is made freely available within the firm, there is a risk that a client relationship may be unwittingly damaged.

This creates resistance to CRM in professional services firms. Often when a CRM is implemented it is used in such a limited way that it almost becomes little more than a glorified address book. This is why security requirements are paramount to mitigate risk.

However, increased security can make things more complex, which means more onus on the users of the system. In turn this can drive people away from the CRM and back to spreadsheets. This is why CRM needs strong management, and a mindset change to ensure that it will work.

Question: Do you need a sector specific CRM, or will any CRM do?

Answer: There are differences across sectors. You need to figure out whether a standard CRM will do the job for you. There is a trade off between complexity and successful user adoption.

A sector specific system will benefit from having processes that match the industry it is designed to serve. However, if you then move into a different service line, or different target customers, the CRM may no longer be suitable due its sector specific design. However, those sector specific CRM’s should most definitely be considered when evaluating systems.

Question: Would you recommend a cloud-based CRM, or on-premise?

Answer: In a recent survey 96% of respondents stated a preference for a cloud-based CRM solution. The differences, or benefits, are mostly related to general cloud solution benefits over on-premise systems, such as flexibility, scalability, integrated backup, access to technical resources, etc.

However, like all cloud solutions, they do require fast, reliable internet connectivity to be used effectively. Data protection concerns must also be addressed. These may be limiting factors in adopting a cloud-based solution.

Question: Is it wise to switch CRM’s, and if so, how might you go about it?

Answer: There can be issues with integration between different cloud-based systems. And this can result in the need to change CRM system. As too could changes in the business or the services offered. A common reason is that the existing CRM is under-utilised and not seen to be providing a return on investment. This can often be down to the CRM being difficult to use.

Before throwing a CRM out, consideration should be given to ways in which to make it more effective. For example, improved user training. You should understand the underlying reasons why the CRM isn’t being used. Make sure that senior stakeholders, such as the CEO, show support for the CRM.

If you are forced to switch CRM, the fact that you already have one is a benefit. Your data will already be better structured. Your business users will be familiar with using CRM, and what the capabilities are. This means that they will specify their needs better in future.

Regardless, there must be a real will at the top, and a good CRM sponsor with appropriate authority.

Question: Where does the driver for a CRM typically come from?

Answer: In bigger businesses the Marketing department typically drives the need for a CRM. In smaller businesses it is often the Sales department, who wish to track, monitor and convert sales opportunities.

The bigger business will want to analyse marketing trends – demographics, recency, frequency, monetary value of clients. The small business is more focused on the ‘now’. The sales team is frequently overrun and looking for a better way.

Question: What are your 3 top tips to get a return on your CRM investment?


  1. Look long and hard at adoption. A lot of people implement CRM and expect users just to get on with it. This is the wrong approach. Consider both a stick and carrot approach. Create a user group. Undertake regular monthly meetings. Have a league table on who has recorded the most in CRM. The stick approach is to say to Sales, ‘If it’s not in CRM, it doesn’t exist and you won’t get commission’.
  2. Identify at the outset what the future looks and feels like 6 months from now. How do people work; where do they create efficiencies; how do they interact with each other. Set KPI’s that can be easily measured from the point of implementation. Unless you define what CRM means to you, it is almost doomed to fail.
  3. If the CEO is not on-board, then you need to understand why not? If the CEO is a technology laggard, there needs to be a plan to ensure that the CEO is well briefed and supports the CRM initiative.

Question: Can you go it alone, or is it beneficial to engage outside help?

Answer: The challenge with CRM adoption is that you don’t know what you don’t know. There are some new concepts in CRM that, if you haven’t heard of them before, you won’t know what will be useful to you. For example, case management, opportunity management, activity management.

Going it alone is suitable if you want to make use of the very basic feature set. The more complex your business, and the more critical it is to manage opportunities, implementing a CRM system on your own would be short sighted. If the CRM is not well understood it can result in garbage in, garbage out. This will undermine adoption. A year later you might find that the CRM is viewed as being less beneficial than a spreadsheet.

When you first implement a CRM it is a big change, and people resist change. It’s  another thing they’ve got to learn. This is why ‘big bang’ approaches are not recommended. Design what you can see and understand now, rather than forcing people to design something that they don’t yet understand.

Identify and design the things that will give a ROI in 3-6 months. Once these are achieved the whole team will be in a much better position to understand the benefits from a CRM, and to develop the system further.

Start simple, with a simple system and simple requirements. And be prepared to have an ongoing investment in your CRM system design.

Question: Where is CRM headed? What can we look forward to?

Answer: There will be ever more systems, making the decision process ever more difficult. It is important to understand the lineage of your product. For example, Hubspot recently started to provide a CRM that they have stated will be ‘free for life’. Hubspot’s DNA is in marketing automation. So it is necessary to determine if their CRM is a marketing automation system first, with bolt-on CRM capability. This might be the right approach for your CRM needs, or it might not.

Microsoft’s approach with its Dynamics CRM system has been to build upon its capabilities through acquisition of companies with complimentary products.

There is no one direction that will suit everybody. Regardless of complexity, the challenge is to find the right platforms, tools, and functionality that will provide ROI to your business. You should consider if you can integrate data from your other systems, such as marketing automation, and sales.

A world where everything is in one CRM system seems a stretch. It would likely be too complicated or too compromised.


In summary, the 5 things to take away from this interview are:

  1. Consider your adoption approach: Make sure that if you are going to implement a CRM you think about how it is going to be adopted by the business
  2. Identify the desired outcomes: For what purpose are you putting a CRM in place, and how are you going to measure that it’s been effective
  3. Engage stakeholders: If you don’t have senior stakeholder engagement then your chances of success are somewhat more limited
  4. Design what you can see: Rather than taking on a CRM and trying to have it do everything, focus on identifying quick wins within a 3-6 month timescale
  5. Get to know the CRM product that you are looking at: What is its background, its lineage? Find out how it might apply to your business.


If you would like help with your CRM challenges – whether it’s to introduce CRM to your business; get better value from an existing CRM; or transition to an alternative CRM solution, then get in touch.


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