Quick growth within a company is usually a blend of good news and bad
news. The benefit is that the enterprise is successful, and increased
hiring and beefed-up operations are an indications of momentum.
But there can be growing pains, as well. If an enterprise hasn’t
anticipated more employees or planned more robust strategies, it can be
tough for systems to be flexible enough to accommodate the change.
Host with the Most
For a company that’s likely to balloon in the next few years, a viable
option has become on-demand CRM systems, which allow a company to
increase the number of users without buying additional licenses.
In the past, many enterprises tried to anticipate growth by
buying licenses in bulk, but ended up not using all of them, says Al
Falcione, director of product marketing at CRM vendor Salesforce.com.
"Because on-demand is browser-based, it’s really fast to get it
up and running, and to add new users," he says. "You can add 100 users
right in the system if you want. Companies might start small and scale
Indeed, Salesforce.com has built a very successful business providing Web-based CRM applications that implement this "no software" strategy.
However, some enterprises still prefer to have their
applications in-house, for greater customization and integration with
their other systems. But those preferences don’t mean an enterprise
will be doomed to no scalability, says Jason McNally, director of sales
at software firm TechExcel.
"You just have to make sure that the application captures the
process in the proper way," he advises, "so that it can adapt as you
grow or change tactics."
Often, just as important as the technology is the planning that goes
into how to scale. Purchase of software tends to be reactive,
particularly in the smaller enterprise space, says Craig Sullivan,
senior director of international products at NetSuite.
That type of short-range planning tends to be counter to scalability.
"IT budgets are a lot more modest than they were previously, so
companies will go out and find the cheapest solution they can," says
Regardless of whether on-demand or in-house is chosen, Sullivan
recommends that companies take a step back to look at the bigger
picture, particularly in terms of how the entire company will be
It is also important to keep in mind that planning for growth in a CRM
system doesn’t always have to do with employees. Although many
situations in which scalability is important involve hiring, sometimes
the growth comes as a natural part of operations.
For example, an airport using a CRM system may be routing calls through the system, and could see customer service needs increase from a few hundred calls per hour to thousands of calls during bad weather, flight delays, or an emergency.
Companies planning for scalable CRM should think not just about how
quickly the staff will grow, but also about the different ways that
usage of the system might spike.
Staff training is also key to a successful CRM growth plan, particularly when there is a sudden surge in employee numbers.
Ensuring that employees can accommodate the change to a new
system, or new features and functionality in an existing system, can go
a long way toward achieving scalability. After all, there’s little
point in making a huge investment in a system that people hate to use.
"We’ve seen companies get into a situation where they buy into
a vision, instead of looking at what was really appropriate for their
organization," says McNally. "That’s resulted in workarounds, like
email trees, and sales reps sharing information by stopping by
someone’s cubicle. None of that information is getting captured,
because people don’t like the system."
That danger can occur when there’s an acquisition, and new
employees are being brought into an existing system. But it isn’t just
sales reps and support personnel that need to be trained properly —
upper management can use some lessons, too.
Metrics and Performance Indicators
Harris Interactive is one company that learned through
experience about the importance of having a scalable CRM system. The
company first signed up with Salesforce.com in 2003, when Harris was
still a fairly small company. After significant growth through
acquisition, Harris found that it was using many more of
Salesforce.com’s customizable features. The growth caused a shift not
just in how reps used the system, but in how management adapted to such
a swell of success.
"When you become larger, you can’t do the one-on-one management
of a smaller company," says Daniel Chiazza, director of global sales
operations at Harris Interactive. "Now, it’s more important for us to
rely on metrics and key performance indicators. We make sure we have
the structure that will help us plan our strategies."
When putting scalable CRM in place, in other words, a company
should be aware of how it will change operations all the way down the
line, from the CEO’s office to the warehouse delivery driver. That type
of end-to-end business intelligence is part of what will allow for a
flexible CRM system to be used properly.
"We knew that to be successful, everybody had to be using the
system," says Chiazza. "For the typical sales person, it’s easy to pick
up new contact management features, because they deal with it all the
time. But the user adoption curve for [departments] like research and
development is usually different, because they’re not used to tracking
Planning for growth with a scalable CRM system, then, doesn’t
require a rip-and-replace of a current system, but rather a multi-level
strategy of understanding how growth could affect the organization,
both in terms of operations and training. Putting in the right system
for the enterprise and teaching employees the importance of its
functions will go a long way toward creating a CRM system that can
bloom as the company does.