There's no mistaking it. CRM (customer relationship management) is currently the hottest buzzword, and everyone is rushing to jump on the CRM bandwagon.

Analysts estimate that companies will spend billions of dollars on CRM solutions in the next few years. Those same experts also tell us that the failure rates on CRM-related projects are up to a whopping 80 percent. That's a lot of money down the drain – and a lot of wasted time.

CRM projects can be successful and will pay off if implemented correctly. The ray of hope lies in another hot buzzword that may have some traction in the world of information technology (IT) trends: actionable.

Developing an actionable plan is the key to success in any CRM initiative. The success or the failure of your CRM implementation depends on the development of an actionable plan – one that includes a detailed road map of goals and the actual steps that will get you there.

Asking the right questions up front, getting objective answers and having buy-in at the executive level are the precursors to success. Skip these fundamental steps or view them as unimportant, and you will soon be joining the ranks of the 80 percent league.

10 Steps to CRM Success

  1. Get executive buy-in first. Without buy-in and drive from the top, there aren't many middle- to lower-management types who are going to support the project.
  2. Perform an in-depth needs analysis. Determining the business drivers – why CRM is needed – is crucial to defining the priority of the initiatives and the potential return on investment.
  3. Clearly define business objectives. A clear definition of what is to be accomplished is the goal line. All other steps should march you in this direction. Be sure that objectives are measurable.
  4. Set measurable project goals. Set achievable milestones that show success is being made in small steps. It is better to set two short milestones that show small successes than it is to set one larger, long-term milestone that shows the combined success.
  5. Determine what needs to be automated and take an incremental approach. The journey of CRM starts with a single step. Pick one functional area or business unit in which improvement can be made. Make sure that the incremental changes tie into the overall business strategy.
  6. Build and train the right teams. Don't skimp on staffing and training the people who will ultimately implement and be responsible for the ownership of the relationship changes you are going to make. This step is one that is most overlooked and under-budgeted by companies embracing CRM.
  7. Manage organizational change. Change is inevitable; if you don't experience change, you are not going about CRM the right way. Managing change includes selling it internally before it happens. Many companies assume that they can operate under old processes and still see improvements in results.
  8. Choose a business partner to help with implementation. Selecting an organization that has experience implementing CRM will help you avoid pitfalls and shorten the implementation cycle. The organization will also be able to help you define business strategy and determine a workable, measurable approach to a return on your investment.
  9. Define and set measurable metrics. Setting specific measurable goals to view the success of the implementation is fundamental to how well each step of your incremental approach will be received by management and by others in the company.
  10. Let business processes drive the implementation. Technology is an enabler, not a reason for making changes in the way you do business. Defining the business areas and the processes you want changed will determine the appropriate technology and how it should be used.

CRM is changing the way the world does business on a business-to-business and a business-to-consumer level. The success or failure of your CRM implementation begins with a well-conceived plan that includes definitive, measurable, incremental goals.

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