CRM systems integration projects can be very risky. There are at least a dozen oft-quoted industry analyst reports that estimate that the failure rate of CRM projects is between 18 and 69 percent. Projects can go over time and budget when risk factors are not identified up front and necessary adjustments aren’t made. Here are some best practices that can help ensure that your CRM systems integration project is a success:
1. Avoid the Big Bang Approach. Projects that attempt to integrate everything at once, are less likely to have a successful, timely, on-budget rollout. Breaking up the CRM project into smaller, more manageable components is critical because business needs change over time. It’s best to identify the portions of the project that can provide true and immediate business benefits, and start with those. Scale down the scope of your implementation and focus on quick, easy wins while allowing your team to build its expertise.
2. Have Clear and Specific Requirements. When the use case has been poorly thought through, requirements can change frequently and create chaos in a CRM integration project. Everyone, including IT, salespeople, customers, the software vendor, and integrators, has to agree on what the expectations are, how the project will be implemented, and over what time frame. And if they can’t define the end product, they should define it in pieces. There is nothing wrong with using an agile methodology, but it still helps to have a clear vision before you begin.
3. Invest in the Right Infrastructure. Undertaking a CRM integration project with the wrong infrastructure to support your team can lead to serious issues and excessive costs. Avoid solutions that rely on manual programming or overly complex, heavy middleware software sets. Focus on single-stack, single-studio solutions with an enterprise class integration platform.
4. Avoid Impossible Schedules. Aggressive schedules are fine but impossible schedules must be avoided. Set realistic expectations by establishing an accurate estimate of the integration efforts required for your project. If necessary, bring in an outside firm to provide an estimate of the effort required.
5. Minimize Staff Turnover. Changes in project management, business analysts, developers, and stakeholders can complicate completion of a project. Try to avoid turnover by gaining commitments from participants that they are available for the expected duration of the project.
6. Define Change Management Procedures. Some organizations lack the formal methodology to handle change orders. In addition, changes to the CRM and other systems being integrated may not be locked down during the integration project. The result can be chaotic from a requirements, implementation and testing perspective.
7. Use Consultants when Necessary. CRM integration may be new territory for your IT staff and management. Try supplementing your experience with proven consultants or consulting firms that can leverage experience from a wide array of CRM integration projects, especially your particular vendor.
8. Manage Users’ Resistance to Change. Introducing change to an organization always carries with it the risk of institutional or market resistance. Make sure the processes have been vetted by stakeholders and customers and that they are introduced properly so as to gain maximum adoption and adherence.
9. Secure Ongoing Support. New or unproven integration infrastructure represents a risk factor. Make certain vendor experts are available to back up your team, not only with technical bugs but with implementation experience and best practice advice and/or services.
10. Test Early and Often. Test plans should be introduced early. Test scripts and automated testing may be able to help ensure accelerated and more complete discovery of problems early in the CRM integration project.
CRM projects are instrumental for improving customer service, facilitating intra-department communication, and streamlining labor-intensive processes. However, ensuring the success of CRM system integration projects requires anticipating every hiccup on the way and taking necessary measures to avoid common mistakes because of the complexity of these projects and their impact on all customer-related business processes.