How to Develop a CRM Implementation Plan

Beginner's Guide to CRM

Before you start implementing a new CRM, it’s important to create a plan of action. Your implementation plan should include everything from your timeline to your design strategy to who will help test your CRM’s success.

Our previous chapter touched on the key benefits of using a CRM. This chapter will discuss how to create a CRM implementation plan, as well as some best practices.

The Beginner's Guide to CRM
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How to evaluate CRM

Take a moment to reflect on why you’re looking into a CRM in the first place. Maybe your sales team needed a centralized database to keep track of all your prospects. Maybe your marketing team needs a clearer picture of who to target for their marketing campaigns. 

Regardless of what the reasons are, it’s important to keep these factors in mind when evaluating which CRM platform to adopt.

You need to consider the following factors:

  • Features: This is where your “why” comes into play. Keep in mind that there are CRMs on the market that are geared toward sales, marketing, and customer service departments. You can also look for more general features, such as the CRM’s ability to keep track of reports, encourage collaboration, share internal files, etc.
  • User Interface (UI): An intuitive UI makes it easier for your users to perform tasks and manipulate data within the CRM. A visual CRM that allows users to generate easy-to-understand reports, directly see how records move through the process, and reduce overall number of clicks will help you increase CRM adoption in your organization.
  • Number of users: Larger companies tend to opt for a more robust solution, like Salesforce, as they offer the widest range of features, customization options, and flexibility to help them scale. Due to the complexity of some CRM solutions, other businesses choose a simpler platform — like HubSpot. Make sure to consider your future growth goals and choose a platform that can grow with you. 
  • Cost: Plan ahead when considering the cost of the platform. CRMs are usually priced per license, based on your number of users. If you’re planning on expanding your organization, make sure you can afford to have every new user adopt your solution. 
  • Security: A key benefit to using cloud-based CRM is that your vendor is primarily responsible for your platform security. Make sure to choose a vendor that’s credible in this field. We also recommend choosing a CRM that allows you to restrict users’ access to certain data, based on their role, so that sensitive information is not visible to those who don’t need it.
  • Mobility: As the world transitions into a hybrid office environment, mobility is key. Make sure the CRM you choose is user-friendly on the devices your teammates use. That way, your users can access work from anywhere, anytime. You’ll also want to choose a solution that can integrate with your other tools.

Once you select a CRM software that can address all of your needs, it’s time to create a future-proof plan that ensures everyone’s productivity and morale remain high during the transition. To get started, you’ll need to put together an implementation team.

Creating the implementation team

An implementation team is a group of people within your organization who build the CRM architecture, guide the project, and help you test out your new CRM in a smaller, controllable setting. This is a chance to make sure every department is heard when rolling out the new CRM.

The key benefit of creating an official implementation team is that you can get real-time feedback in a wide range of settings. The implementation team can also act as mentors for your new CRM users once the CRM has been deployed.

CRM Implementation Team

This implementation team should have the following players:

  • Executive sponsor: This person should be someone who has a direct influence on decisions. Ideally someone from the C-suite, they fully support the new CRM, help garner buy-in from others in the organization, and are ultimately accountable for success. 
  • Project manager: This person will spearhead the CRM strategy and guide the entire implementation process. Many organizations choose to hire an external CRM consultant who is experienced in addressing specific business needs and challenges.
  • Administrator: Your CRM administrator is responsible for the majority of technical setup. They should be knowledgeable about the platform and its capabilities. Your admin may be someone from IT, sales operations, or can be hired specifically for this role. 
  • Pilot group: This test group should be made up of a few users with different backgrounds (i.e. seniority and department). Alternatively, you can also focus on a single team to test out collaboration.

An important aspect to think about for your pilot group is their attitude toward adopting the CRM. While you’ll want people who are generally positive about the change, you’ll also want to include people who are critical as well. This enables you to catch as many downfalls as you can ahead of time to make sure that every user has a seamless experience.

How to create a CRM implementation plan

You want to ensure that everyone involved knows what each step entails during the CRM implementation process. For some, this means preparing for platform migration. During this time, make sure all content, data, and files are downloaded and backed up from your existing software.

Here are the general steps we recommend for creating your implementation plan:

1. Assess your current process

Take the time to evaluate your current internal processes. How do you plan on improving these business processes with a new CRM? You’ll need to define what success looks like, and keep the KPIs realistic. That way, it’ll be easier to prove ROI to both resistant users and upper management skeptics.

2. Designate responsibilities

With a clear understanding of the goals behind your CRM implementation, it’s time to figure out who’s going to set up the CRM and help you test your CRM before launch. This is when you’ll create your implementation team.

During the developmental stages of the project, remember it’s important to invest in a seasoned CRM administrator. Some organizations even choose to outsource their administration in order to gain access to an experienced admin and because they want to keep overhead costs low. If you’re considering outsourcing, we’ve outlined the top 5 benefits of outsourcing your Salesforce administration in a previous post.

3. Build a roadmap

Now comes the fun part: building a roadmap that outlines your CRM build and testing phases and your estimated go live date. Make sure you’re sensible with this timeline, as you want to take the time to properly set up your CRM platform.

Example phases of the implementation process

Because each organization will have its own unique challenges, it’s important to split the entire implementation up by phases. Be sure to attach a timeline associated with each phase to make sure your project stays on track.

  • Design phase: This is the time to define requirements for your CRM build, including how best to address business needs and processes with the platform. Plan out key aspects of your CRM architecture, such as user roles, page layouts, and automations.
  • Build phase: This is when your assigned CRM architect (typically your CRM administrator) takes the time to build out the platform in a sandbox environment using a combination of configuration, customization, and integrations where applicable. 
  • Testing phase: This is when your pilot group starts using (and championing) the tool. You’ll need to undergo rigorous UAT (user acceptance testing) to make sure you catch as many potential roadblocks as possible before deploying your CRM. Testing should also be done in a sandbox, as you don’t want to mess with your real data until you’re confident in your architecture.
  • Deployment phase: Before you roll out your CRM, management reviews the CRM architecture and workflow to see if anything needs to be changed. Once they’re confident in the result, it’s time to launch the CRM.

4. Review user profiles & roles

Next, your CRM administrator will need to create user profiles and user roles based on who’s going to use your CRM. The admin needs to have a full grasp on exactly how you envision each team member is going to use the platform.

User roles can act as permission sets for different groups of users, which control what data a certain user can view, edit, and share. This means that your admin will need to take the time to understand how your teams are structured. 

They need to ask themselves:

  • What do departments need to see?
  • What restrictions do you need to put on certain groups of users?
  • Should certain users have editing privileges or only have viewing privileges?
  • What is the hierarchical structure of the company?
  • Do different business units need to see each other?
  • If it’s a worldwide organization, do these units need to see each other?

5. Create a key

It’s now time to create a key that defines what fields each team member will be using, and how to appropriately use those fields in the shared database. Be sure to make this document accessible to your team members in the future, as they’ll be referring to the guide to ensure  they follow the correct processes and minimize errors.

6. Configure objects

Objects are entities within the CRM that allow you to store data. For example, some objects you’ll likely use are accounts, contacts, and leads. Objects and data models will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.

Along with configuring objects, your admin may need to customize the page layout that appears for each object. This means customizing which fields or properties display when you view a certain type of record, such as a customer’s account.

7. Import data

Now that your CRM architecture is set up, it’s time to import data into the platform and map it to your objects and fields. If you’re migrating platforms, you’ll need to export data from your legacy system.

To save you time in the future, you should make sure you’re only importing clean data. Take the time now to review your data beforehand and make sure you’re purging any outdated or duplicate information. 

If you’re having trouble cleaning your database, there are data services out there that specialize in helping you maintain a healthy database. For example, our data specialists can perform a one-time data scrub that identifies which records are verified and which records should be removed or updated. You can learn more about our data services here.

Make sure each record you’re importing contains a unique identifier. Unique identifiers tell your CRM which information belongs to a single record — preventing records from being incorrectly duplicated or combined. Some companies use email addresses as unique IDs, but we recommend using a more distinct combination of characters to avoid any errors. As a best practice, unique IDs should be case sensitive.

When migrating from another platform, you may be able to use an external identifier from the legacy system. Otherwise, a unique ID will need to be created.

8. Final review

Before you introduce your pilot group to your new platform, take a moment to perform a final review. Partner with upper management and executives to evaluate everything from your CRM architecture to your user testing process. 

Once the architecture is approved, it’s time to begin pilot testing. Use feedback from the testing phase to address improvements and issues before going live.

Beginning the CRM onboarding process

After building and testing, you’re ready to roll out your CRM to the rest of your organization. However, you’ll also need to train new employees on how to use your CRM platform on an ongoing basis. 

Make sure to develop an onboarding process that includes training on how to use the platform properly based on their user role and daily responsibilities. This includes creating an internal playbook that explains the standard operating procedures for your users in line with your unique business processes.

Remember that your CRM setup will inevitably evolve as your vendor rolls out new updates and best practices change. That’s one reason many organizations choose to outsource their CRM administration and training

Not only will that take the pressure of training new users off of you, but your outsourced administrator will also be able to advise you on improvements and new features that are relevant to your organization.

The Beginner's Guide to CRM
Don’t have time to read the full guide right now? Download the Beginner’s Guide to CRM to read at your convenience.
Chapter 3: Understanding data management in a CRM
In Chapter 3, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about CRM data management, including how business records can be organized in the tool.
Download The Beginner’s Guide to CRM
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