Is Your Organization Ready for CRM?
And, Are You Prepared to Implement It?

(Originally published as a feature article in the September 2001 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)

By William K. Pollock, Scott Cabral and Leo A.P. Moerkens

Do You Know What CRM Is?
What exactly is CRM? And how prepared is your organization to implement it? These are key questions that cannot easily be answered. The first place to start, however, is to agree on an all-encompassing definition - but even this is difficult to do.

For example, CallCenter magazine claims that there are actually "two ways to refer to customer relationship management (CRM). You can describe CRM either as a business philosophy or as a type of software product. The two are not the same thing. The concept of CRM is more difficult to pin down." The CRM Foundation defines CRM as "a discipline as well as a set of discrete software and technologies, which focuses on automating and improving the business process associated with managing customer relationships in the area of sales, marketing, customer services & support."

The CRMNewsLetter defines CRM as "a set of applications designed to help you:

  • Understand your key customer groups and establish long-term relationships with your customers
  • Discover what your customers need and value, and to get to know your customers well enough that you can engage them in one-to-one marketing
  • Identify customer groups to target for new or add-on sales
  • Define products and services to meet your customer's needs
  • Increase your company's sales while improving customer satisfaction
  • Optimize your delivery channels
  • Monitor and review your customer's response to your efforts"
Finally, the "official" definition for CRM is "a business strategy to select and manage customers to optimize long-term value. CRM requires a customer-centric business philosophy and culture to support effective marketing, sales, and service processes. CRM applications can enable effective Customer Relationship Management, provided that an enterprise has the right leadership, strategy, and culture."

So, is CRM a business philosophy, a type of software product, a set of applications, or a business strategy? The answer is - it is all of these. In fact, if you were to conduct a survey among the 25 leading suppliers or users of CRM solutions, you will likely obtain a list of 25 different definitions from each group. However, among our three firms, we prefer to define it as encompassing an overall business philosophy, articulated by a business strategy, and executed by a set of applications, that are powered by the right "mix" of software products and support. CRM is neither a "product" nor a "service". It is a "way of doing business" that focuses on the customer (Figure 1).

Figure 1

CRM is also big business - and at some point in the near future, your organization is going to need to address it. Gartner Dataquest reports that the customer relationship management (CRM) software application market has seen "tremendous growth during the past three years", with new license revenue for CRM vendors reaching US$3.7 billion in 2000. The average year-over-year growth rates of 60 to 75 percent also indicate that there is still much more market potential to be realized. Overall, Gartner Dataquest estimates that worldwide CRM software and services spending will grow to more than US$76 billion in 2005, up from US$23 billion in the present year. CRM is not about to go away. In fact, it is still very much in an accelerating growth stage.

Are You Ready for CRM?
Being ready for CRM means more than simply having deep pockets, a hand-picked team of available company personnel, and a regularly scheduled weekly team meeting. It also requires corporate recognition and sponsorship, design focus and an amenable organization culture before you even get started. In fact, there are at least 15 different areas of internal flash points that will indicate how ready the organization really is to move toward a CRM implementation. These include:

  • Corporate Initiative
  • Corporate Sponsorship
  • Design Approach
  • Organizational Culture
  • Sales, Marketing and Services Processes
  • Change Management - Management Issues
  • Change Management - Processes
  • Communications
  • CRM Software
  • CRM Hardware
  • Training - Pilot
  • Training - Rollout
  • End-User Support
  • Results Measurement
  • Path Forward - the Future
Each of these 15 areas address the key determinants of whether your organization is truly ready to implement CRM (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Corporate Initiative
As with the consideration and implementation of any project - not just CRM - there must be a strong corporate initiative that fosters the development, definition and acceptance of the underlying need to move forward. Perhaps the truest test of the perceived credibility of the CRM initiative is whether or not it is even referenced in the corporate strategic plan. It is practically a sure bet that if CRM is not mentioned in the strategic plan, the "powers that be" are not even thinking about it as a necessary component of the organization's overall mission. However, even if it is addressed in the strategic plan, it may only be included merely as a general, or vague, element of the organization's overall "wish list". In other words, it may only be included as "fluff", or "filler". The true measure of the "real" importance of the CRM initiative will be whether it is also justified on an ROI basis or, for example, if the sales and services organizations have included the their respective automation initiatives as key components of their plans for meeting future goals and objectives. The bottom line is that the CRM initiative must not only be included in the corporate strategic plan - it must also be directly linked to defined and measurable goals and objectives.

Corporate Sponsorship
Corporate sponsorship is essentially first acknowledging the corporate initiative, and then acting upon it. This is the area where corporate management takes its first steps to do more than merely pay "lip service" to the concept of CRM. This is the stage where the CEO and/or General Manager of the organization become aware of the CRM initiative, and begin to proactively support it in an increasingly visible manner. The vice presidents of sales and services then typically become the chief sponsors of the initiative within their respective organizations. A steering committee of senior level management is then appointed, and agrees to support and guide the CRM project team. Most importantly, this is the stage where the "true" project champions emerge, gaining the respect and loyalty of all sales, marketing and services reps, as well as all levels of company management.

Design Approach
Design approach represents the first level that delves below the loftier heights of corporate initiative and sponsorship. This is the place where the CRM initiative finally begins to put "rubber to the road". At this stage, the proposed solution and system interface is reviewed by the sales, marketing and services reps. A CRM initiative that is exclusively designed, developed, tested and implemented by management or IT, without input and/or feedback from the users themselves, will fail. Since the prime design concern is to reduce cycle times on processes that will ultimately impact the customer, this is not a time for management to focus on reducing administrative headcount or making other cutbacks. Rather, it is the time to acknowledge that the needs of the sales, marketing and services reps are paramount to the overall design of the system, and that their direct participation in the process will be critical to the success of the overall initiative.

Organizational Culture
Once the design focus has been established, it is critical for the overall concept of CRM to be transformed into a strong and well-articulated customer focus that permeates throughout all departments and divisions of the company. The key elements of a successful organizational culture are a companywide mentality that believes that "it is more important to do the right things, than merely to do things right", and the ability of management and staff to communicate directly with one another on an interactive, rather than merely a reactive or proactive, basis. Further, it must foster an environment that is conducive to both personal and professional growth. The stakeholders that will be implementing and executing the CRM initiative need to feel that they, as well as the customers, are also benefiting from the outcomes of the CRM initiative.

Sales, Marketing and Services Processes
As it may be argued that all personnel within an organization are sales, marketing and/or customer service people at one time or another, it is critical that the factors that contribute to a successful sale and service event are well-known and communicated throughout the organization. Formal sales, marketing and services processes must be developed and documented, and formal training programs should be based on this model, as well as any additional required management "coaching". To facilitate these requirements, most organizations find that it is helpful to have a common and effective set of terms and definitions that may be used to describe all aspects of prospect-marketing and customer support at any given time throughout the course of the these processes.

Change Management - Management Issues
There are no two ways about it - CRM implementation requires change, and change requires change management. However, before any of the organization's processes can be changed, there are certain key management issues that must be changed first. In order to do so, senior management must recognize the need to support the sales, marketing and services automation initiatives, and show its commitment to new resource levels that are required for success. Further, management must ensure that the overall working environment is generally free of any significant "we/they" mentality between or among the departments or divisions, and that the field is not voicing concerns regarding a corporate "big brother" orientation. The overall CRM implementation and rollout process must be managed and monitored, but cannot merely be dictated. The overall corporate "buy-in" will be possible only if end users view the system as a "tool" that adds value to their prospect- and customer-contact personnel, and that everyone that has a stake in the system is enthusiastic about the "empowerment" that the new system will bring to them.

Change Management - Processes
While management issues are critical to get the overall change management effort "kick started", it will ultimately be the processes themselves that will determine the extent to which the organization will be successful. This requires that an assessment of the potential change impact be made and that management is given a set of likely questions and possible concerns with their corresponding answers - a sort of management-oriented FAQ "crib sheet". It will also be helpful if management has already been "educated" regarding the most common change management techniques through a series of management training or orientation classes, seminars or workshops. Similarly, all stakeholders in the CRM implementation must be included as part of the project team from the beginning of the project, and senior management must continually show its unyielding commitment to continuous improvement that it believes can only be accomplished effectively through the utilization of the new CRM system, processes and policies.

Communication must not only come from the "ground up", but from the "top down" as well. It is extremely important for senior management to communicate that it has created a mission and vision for the future of the sales, marketing and services organizations. This "message" should focus on both its commitment, and expectations, for the overall CRM initiative. Management should also provide an easily accessible forum for field reps to voice their concerns, ask questions and provide suggestions prior to the overall implementation. The status and conduct of the CRM implementation and rollout should be communicated to the field on a regular basis.

CRM Software
A predetermined list of CRM software evaluation criteria should be used as input to the vendor selection process. All vendors that are considered should be well-versed and very familiar with the environment and methods utilized by the sales and services field forces. The primary consideration of the software evaluation should be the ability of the selected software to fully support each organization's primary sales, marketing and services activities.

CRM Hardware
It is critical that the choice of CRM hardware is based upon the specific applications and environment in which the systems and equipment will be used. It is also strongly advised that management be made aware - well in advance - that there may be a need to upgrade certain hardware, as required, to ensure reliability and optimize system performance. It is also noted that, oftentimes, the need for system upgrades may be difficult to forecast. An appropriate service level agreement and an adequate spare pool must also be established to preclude any sudden "disasters" that could otherwise prevent users from using the system.

Training - Pilot
The best way to determine the types and levels of training that will be required systemwide is to conduct a survey of the skill levels of each of the respective user groups (i.e., sales and services). This is necessary to assess whether all relevant personnel have an acceptable and consistent level of general PC and CRM software application-specific literacy before the formal training program is rolled out. The pilot training should be well documented, and very similar to the approach that is proposed for the full rollout. In any event, a structured and quantifiable assessment of the overall adequacy of the training approach should be in place before the actual pilot begins. Results of the pilot training would then be monitored on a dynamic basis in order to define whatever changes will be required in the formal rollout or, in some cases, to the system requirements themselves.

Training - Rollout
Based on the results of the pilot training, an adequate budget should be set in place to support the implementation, rollout and ongoing system maintenance. All trainers - both internal and outsourced - must be properly certified, and all training materials must be well-defined, articulated and documented. Both management and support personnel should be included in the training, with the timing of their respective training being consistent with the operational and change management requirements for the system. It is also advised that the training documentation include quick-reference materials that can be used both during the training classes, as well as on a continuing basis.

End-User Support
End-user support is critical. Without full end-user support, not only may the CRM systems crash, but the entire CRM initiative may also "crash and burn". To ensure that the required resources are always available, an adequate budget must be set and followed. It must provide reasonable coverage, and quality of coverage, for all levels of support services. There should also be a plan that provides for all of the necessary materials, resources and budget for training new hires over time. A technical support help desk should also be in place, complete with a formal and comprehensive set of escalation procedures, that is available to all end users, at all times, regardless of their locations or resident time zones. A hardware replacement service should also be in place that provides for the repair or replacement of a failed unit within a specified period of time (e.g., within 4-, 8-, 24-hours, etc.), fully configured with direct access to the sales or services rep's database information.

Results Measurement
Without the appropriate measurement tools, it may be next to impossible to measure whether the CRM initiative is succeeding or failing. A set of specific - and quantifiable - criteria must be established to evaluate the success of the pilot and, subsequently, the organization's readiness for CRM implementation and rollout. The measurement system should be formally structured and well-documented so that it can be used to validate whether the rollout is meeting its anticipated goals and objectives. The system should also have built-in, and user-friendly, input and feedback channels to accommodate both the sales and services management and field organizations. The measurement system should also be conducive to future goal setting and "coaching".

Path Forward - the Future
The future success of the CRM implementation and rollout will be heavily dependent on the processes that will have been developed and communicated to the field thus far in the overall CRM initiative development. To maximize the prospects for future success, all information regarding system enhancements and priority-setting must be immediately communicated to the field to ensure both compliance, and continued "buy-in". Adequate budgeting must also be ensured to support the ongoing maintenance of the system, and to provide for any required hardware, software or support upgrades. Appropriate staffing levels will need to be monitored to keep the system fully operational. Throughout this stage, the role of the "system champion" will need to be protected - and sanctioned - by senior management.

Are You Ready to Move Forward?
Is your organization ready to move forward with a CRM initiative? Are all of your "ducks in order", or do you need to get your act together "big time"? To a certain extent, getting ready for CRM is like "cleaning your house before the cleaning lady comes." For many organizations, it may be much easier to determine if they are not ready, than if they are ready. However, this is the nature of CRM. CRM is nothing new - it is merely the application of new technologies, concepts and resources to rally around the needs of your customers, and gearing your entire business operation to provide the support that will be required to keep them happy - and loyal.

Some organizations may already be half-way there simply by having a customer-oriented mentality, customer-attuned support personnel, and a complement of applications, functions and processes that work together in providing the required levels of support. If this is your organization, then moving forward may focus primarily on the formalization of all of your existing processes, policies and procedures, augmented by the latest advances in CRM hardware and software technologies.

However, if this is not your organization, then you may not be ready to embark on a CRM initiative. The appropriate analogy here would be going for your MBA with an Associates Degree. You can still get there - but there will be a lot of credits to make up, and not many requirements will be waived.

So, how ready do you think your organization is for CRM? To find out, you can take a free, confidential "Are You Ready for CRM" online survey, accessible on the Internet at (Figure 3).

Figure 3

The survey is an excellent tool that you may also want to use continuously, as a "sanity check", as you proceed with the implementation. Based upon your responses to the questions, the survey will tell you where you need to spend more (or less) of your focus, or shift priorities along the way, in order to keep you on the path to success. If you are interested as to how you measure up to other organizations in your industry, at the end of the survey, you can compare your organization against aggregate data from other survey participants in similar segments to see just how well you are doing. (For confidentiality reasons, all participants remain anonymous, and no company names or company-specific data are disclosed.) You may be surprised as to how ready you already are for CRM - or not!

Look for our other CRM-related articles coming up in future issues of The Professional Journal. Once you are ready to move forward, there will be a great deal of additional information and guidelines that you may also want to review.

William K. Pollock is President of Strategies For GrowthSM, a Westtown, Pennsylvania USA-based consulting firm specializing in business planning, customer service and customer satisfaction research. He may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at

Scott Cabral is president of Peritum Consulting, Inc., a firm specializing in CRM solutions design and implementation. Scott can be reached at 302-235-1253, or via e-mail at

Leo A.P.Moerkens is president of Hands-on Management Consultants, Inc., an international management consultancy firm that assists clients in developing and implementing business improvement programs. Leo can be reached at 203-888-1671, or via e-mail at

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