A CRM strategy for early adopters and disruptors

A CRM strategy for early adopters and disruptors

February 24, 2021

Valerie Nechay

CRM software has got a ‘must-have’ label for customer-facing and data-powered businesses, which explains a colossal number of available CRM systems and the revenue in the CRM software segment, projected to reach $66,410.43m in 2021:

The revenue projected in the CRM software segment, 2021-2025

Unfortunately, the more CRMs are purchased, whether on-premises or hosted CRM, the more businesses have to admit they have failed their CRM projects. The mere fact of using a CRM isn’t enough—it’s a well-thought-out strategy that makes the tool efficient.

For this reason, we’ve decided to outline a strategy with the major steps of successful CRM implementation for: 

  • Companies that want to adopt a CRM platform as their major tool in place of a legacy system or other apps
  • Experienced CRM users who want to grow and boost their CRM agility

The strategy for first-time CRM adoption

You might be trying out CRM implementation for the first time or you’ve already started a CRM project but your employees treat the platform formally and keep getting back to habitual tools. For any of these scenarios, we’d like to give you points highlighting the important stages of your future strategy.

1. Outline your CRM implementation objectives

Most probably, you are getting serious about CRM implementation not because it’s trendy but because you have certain business expectations and want your CRM system to support them. Verbalizing these expectations as meaningful business objectives will give you an idea of the right direction. It can be yearly revenue growth, higher customer retention, customer service automation, sales team efficiency boost, or similar. 

In order to avoid diluting your focus, single out one or two key objectives that are both realistic and measurable. What’s more, your priorities may change in the course of the project, and global goals should account for such fluctuations.

2. Get stakeholders’ buy-in

CRM software can be pan-organizational, serving executives, HR, marketing, finance, or sales. First of all, it’s necessary to get top management’s buy-in. If the C-suite considers CRM implementation a temporary whim that doesn’t require serious investments, it will be difficult to set and pursue common goals. Under these circumstances, it’s important to build a compelling business case that shows executives how a CRM project will support the company narrative (more on the narratives in our guide to data storytelling).

Once there’s a global vision, it should be communicated to end users. The vision should be supported by specific benefits for each department in the short and long run to reinforce the value of everyday CRM use. For instance, communicate to sales reps that they will be able to access all the benefits of sales automation software. Be open about expectations and possible challenges and ensure that everyone will get extensive training and ongoing help.

As CRM implementation typically pushes cross-department collaboration, it’s recommended to bring together customer-facing departments, such as sales, marketing, and service, to discuss what tools they currently use, what features are must-haves and nice-to-haves, how to allow cooperation between their teams, and what data they should share across their departments. Having all these requirements and expectations at hand, it’s much easier to set priorities right.

3. Choose between custom and platform-based CRM

Actually, you can choose between three options:

  • A platform-based CRM that you can start with right away using its out-of-the-box features, thus saving time and money yet experiencing certain limitations.
  • A customized platform-based CRM that works like a custom product but still with some limitations and vendor-forced updates.
  • A custom CRM built from scratch, where full control means heavy investments in the development and support of this tool.

The trade-off between the first and third options is a platform-based CRM with a reasonable amount of customizations. If you are stuck with the ‘reasonable’ part and want to choose the best-fitting CRM system, you can make use of CRM consulting services. In most cases, packaged CRMs are scalable and can integrate numerous data sources and apps. What’s more, they are accompanied with extensive knowledge bases and tutorials which can facilitate the development of a training program and accelerate adoption.

To get the idea about CRM systems leading on the market right now, take a look at Gartner’s Magic Quadrant:

Gartner Magic Quadrant for customer engagement

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4. Develop an implementation framework

At this stage, you need to create an implementation plan and build a hub of people and resources engaged in the implementation cycle and beyond.

Build a team

People are the ones who will make your project happen and who can make it a success. Your CRM implementation team will be changing as your project progresses, but the basic setting can look like this:

  • A project manager who oversees the project flow and provides tools for solving ongoing issues
  • A data scientist or data analyst who will help orchestrate data
  • Software developers who will be in charge of customizations and integrations
  • Software testing engineers in charge of CRM testing
  • Ambassadors from key departments for uncovering specific needs and encouraging their colleagues to use the system
  • A CRM admin who will be responsible for CRM adoption and smooth operation

Never ignore the role of ambassadors. Users usually resist change so if they can’t see how the new system is valuable particularly for them, they will revert to the old ways, which will considerably slow down adoption.

Think of the features to include

A system overflowing with features at the early adoption stage can lead to high costs and low productivity down the line. Even if you plan deep customization, it’s better to try a gradual rollout. This way you will let users successfully adopt the first set of features and move to the following increment. 

It’s also possible to enroll a small user group in beta-testing of such increments to analyze their pain points and shortlist those features that bring real value.

Draft a budget plan

The CRM project budget is the most obscure part in the strategy. There’s always a risk to either overspend on customization or underestimate the total cost of ownership. 

First of all, make your budget draft exhaustive and account for each spending, such as the software licensing costs for the total of future users, additional features or services, salaries of each CRM implementation team member, consulting services, training and support programs, etc. Include possible losses due to lower productivity in the initial period and add a safety buffer of 7-10%.

Don’t forget to assess possible risks that can chip away at your budget. For instance, at some point you may need to expand your team with expensive specialists, purchase more data storage, or change the course of training for certain users. 

Set realistic timeframes 

Like the budget, a CRM project timeline is hard to estimate accurately, even with a clear understanding of the project’s scope. It can be a good idea to treat each stage as a mini-project and estimate time for it instead. More often than not, requirements change in the process, which can affect overall time estimates.

Prepare data for migration

Data is the fuel of your future CRM. For this reason, data migration is an essential part of the operation, which also requires a strategy:

  1. Decide what data to migrate.
  2. Check the data structure and formats against your new CRM requirements.
  3. Check data quality and, if necessary, clean and de-duplicate it.
  4. Map corresponding objects and fields in the CRM.
  5. Make use of tools for automated data migration.
  6. Migrate data closer to the final deployment stage to avoid losing data entered in the old system post-migration. Consider migrating data by subsets to react to quality issues in a more agile way.

Take care of quality assurance

When data migration is over, it’s possible to move the system configuration to a sandbox environment and test this CRM copy. Your QA team can assure the data migration quality by spotting duplicates, data mapping blunders, lost data, and more while checking how the system works with your data. They can also run sets of performance and usability tests to make sure the system corresponds to the specifications and user expectations, prevent errors when the system goes live, and boost user adoption.

Establish success metrics

Strategic actions need to be backed by KPIs. For this reason, define your strategy success and try to quantify it. It will help you measure your progress, understand whether you’ve taken the right course, retrace where something went wrong, or find opportunities for optimization. For example, you can take into account:

  • User activity: log-ins, time spent in the system, data input, field updates, etc.
  • Team-level success: the number of leads, closed deals, conversions, closed tickets, etc.
  • Business-level success: higher revenue, higher customer retention, more leads, etc.

Design training and adoption programs

The trick with successful CRM implementation is that your employees need to be familiar with the system prior to its final deployment. This familiarity can be nurtured by an early access to the CRM copy in a sandbox environment and beta-testing. 

Once the system is live, teams need to get access to training materials and sessions. Platform-based CRMs usually have learning hubs to facilitate the adoption of their complex systems. For instance, Salesforce’s Trailhead learning center provides guided learning paths for different roles, levels, and products:

Salesforce’s Trailhead learning center

You can incorporate these materials in your training programs designed for each user role, combining offline and online learning sessions and practical training to cover use cases that employees are likely to face on a regular basis. Once the training is over, make sure your users know whom to consult in case they have any questions or difficulties. Consider running additional or refresher sessions in case some problems persist or when new updates are rolled out.

The CRM strategy for agility and growth

There comes a time when each CRM owner needs to make the next step. It can be connected with the company’s growth, need for flexibility, customer-centricity, or employee empowerment. In any case, it pushes business owners to look at their CRM systems at a new angle and ask themselves—what can I do better? Here are a few considerations to improve a CRM strategy at this stage.

Check your CRM’s shape

You might have been using your CRM for years as your major tool. But even though you praise its advantages and got used to its disadvantages, it may happen that the system is not able to support your vision but limits your possibilities. 

In this case, consider running a comprehensive audit of your current system state as a whole and by components (the structure, workflows, integrations) to check whether all the necessary aspects of your CRM strategy are covered. Of course, migrating to a new platform is not always an option. Instead, you can consider moving to another edition of your CRM, contacting the vendor for a custom plan, or commissioning CRM developers to upgrade the system.

Employ or expand AI capabilities

Most CRM platforms have AI built into the systems. If yours doesn’t, it can turn into a serious impediment in the near future. When updating your CRM strategy, think how AI can become a part of your data analytics strategy. For example, it can help you to:

  • Streamline workflows and manual tasks, freeing up employees’ time.
  • Provide a consistent and personalized customer experience across multiple touchpoints.
  • Employ chatbots and pursue voice marketing.

AI technologies can also empower companies with real-time analytics and accurate forecasting. AI looks for patterns, trends, and outliers in your data and forecasts possible outcomes for individual user groups and entire businesses. Real-time insights can help reveal non-obvious or abnormal activities that can help manage a business during the times of crisis and uncertainty.

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Turn your CRM into a single source of truth

A CRM turned into a hub connected to essential data sources and supporting barrier-free communication is a powerful tool for moving to a new level of customer engagement. To make it happen, businesses need to complete a few tasks.


This operation is a vital part of any CRM strategy. However, when you already have the platform up and running, you need to think how to optimize your integration setup. For instance, you need to check whether all data sources are valuable and all integrated capabilities are useful. You also need to think about the sources and apps currently lacking or third-party apps you still use, thus making employees toggle between multiple screens. 

Now that you understand more about how CRM empowers your business, try to accumulate everything under one roof while sticking to the ‘less is more’ principle.

Employee empowerment

In a way, employees need to empower themselves by developing the mindset for sharing. They should dismiss the idea of keeping essential data in silos within their teams or even individual access. The company, in its turn, should create conditions for employee autonomy by providing all teams with a single source of truth, encouraging interdepartmental communication, and fostering the idea that every employee plays an important role, directly or indirectly, in keeping up the quality of customer experience. CRM software is an ideal tool for such tasks. 

Focus on customer experience

According to Salesforce’s 2020 State of the Connected Customer report, 80% of customers treat their experience as important as a brand’s products or services, 76% of customers expect consistent experience across touchpoints, and 49% have no patience for disconnected experiences. 

For this reason, your strategy should focus on using the CRM power combined with customer experience technologies to provide contextualized customer engagement along the entire journey, from the first online search to the purchase and product use. Luckily, advanced technologies such as AI, IoT, and the cloud—all present within an advanced CRM system—move personalization and connected experiences to the whole new level. They provide the foundation for breaking silos and allow different departments to act in a coordinated way, reflecting a customer-centric mindset. 

A CRM platform can also streamline the accumulation of customer and employee feedback. It helps employees go beyond the myopic view of customers and get hold of a bigger picture that uncovers pain points, opportunities, emotions, and other factors influencing customers’ decisions. Additionally, CRM systems can be used to nurture customers’ trust by showing how a brand manages their personal information and follows personal data privacy regulations.

A CRM strategy is a choice of leaders

CRM implementation and optimization is a complex, multifaceted operation. If you accompany this endeavor with a well-thought-out strategy, it won’t limit you. Quite the opposite, it will let you be more flexible and perceptive to changes as they occur. It will give you space for experiments while serving as a guiding light that prevents you from drifting too far from your customers.