Communication is critical to rollout success and CRM user adoption. Make sure to include customers in your communications for the parts of the project that will impact or be visible to them.
Rolling out, or deploying, new procedures and the systems that support them always should be carefully planned. But when those procedures and systems are visible to your customers and directly affect them, special care is required.
Taking a phased approach to the CRM system rollout is one way to lower the risk of business disruptions and other problems, as well to minimize the costs.
The practice of doing a ‘complete’ deployment to all users of all functionality at the same time is not advisable. You need to factor in the additional planning and support required, which will substantially raise the costs of the rollout.
Breaking It Down
There are no absolutes when it comes to phasing. Breaking CRM system rollouts into manageable phases must be determined by the organization, but typical phasing decisions are made on the following bases:
- User job functions – sales, call center, customer service, marketing
- Lines of business – products, services or customer segments
- Geographic location – HQ, remote locations and international
Another aspect of rollout phasing is determining the amount of system functionality for each phase. For the initial system rollout, it is best to include the minimum usable functionality. Additional functionality can be turned on or otherwise revealed to the users either on an as-needed basis on in later phases.
This minimum-functionality approach is designed to be less taxing on the users and to minimize risks. Working closely with the users of the application and careful planning are required to determine what constitutes minimum usable functionality. Pilot testing with a small number of users is a recommended way to learn whether the correct amount of functionality has been selected.
Another best practice related to phasing is to have a short breather or regroup break between phases to assure that stabilization of the system and the users has been achieved, and that the organization is ready to begin the next phase.
There is no magic time to roll out a CRM system, but there are some definite times to avoid. In general, rollouts should be planned during off-peak times for the business. The end of the quarter or the end of the fiscal year should be avoided. Other times to avoid are peak user-vacation times, such as during the summer and around major holiday periods.
Special planning is required for remote locations and geographically dispersed or mobile users. Sales meetings can be a cost-effective time to train and roll out systems to field sales users, but effective training and ready access to support after the meeting are key.
Organizational and I.T. Readiness
Two additional aspects of CRM system rollouts are important: proper organizational readiness and I.T. or systems readiness. The keys to organizational readiness are communication, metrics, support, training, and contingency and fall-back planning. The keys to I.T. readiness are system testing, network and server-capacity validation, and contingency and fall-back planning. If you selected a hosted CRM solution such as salesforce.com, you don’t need to worry about I.T. assistance. You will, however still need an CRM administrator to configure the system.
System and business metrics should have been established well before rollout planning, but be sure the mechanisms are in place to capture the agreed-upon metrics before, during and after rollout.
One often-overlooked planning activity is contingency and fall-back planning. Before beginning a rollout, determine what to do when problems are encountered and what would trigger a decision to fall back to existing procedures and systems. Develop and test plans for how the fall-back will happen, including how long it will take.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to delay ‘go-live’ if the system, support, or the users are not ready. Nothing is worse than going live on time — but with an untested system, untrustworthy data or untrained users.