AAM Minute - Best Practices

Advice for Beginning Your CRM Journey

Jennifer Cantero, Sensiba San Filippo LLP


Advice for Beginning Your CRM Journey

First, determine if the timing is right. Next, evaluate exactly what your organization needs and the correct tool to fill that need. Then, you have to get buy-in from not only management but your users as well. Finally, there is training and adoption. It can be exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming. I can attest to this from personal experience, but you will survive and can be triumphant.


Dispel a Myth & Set Expectations

Whatever tool you are looking to implement, first, there is a myth we need to dispel. It seems like every time an organization launches new software, it is thought of as the savior for all. This software will solve all our problems, and we will see the beginning of world peace! Well, not exactly. While a software tool can do a great many things, it is only as good as its users. Most CRM failures are a result of end-user adoption issues rather than issues with the software. For example, if you buy a pair of shiny new dumbbells it does not guarantee you will build muscle and become stronger. If they sit in the corner and collect dust, then of course ‘they’ do not work. Often times new software tools get the same bad wrap.

During this journey, I suggest establishing expectations early that the tool will not solely solve your problems, but the users will –with the aid of this new tool. Framing it the implementation this particular way will help take a bit of pressure off and set a more realistic view of the project.


Is it Time to Trade in Your Tool or Give it a Tune-Up?

Sometimes you have to do a major rip-and-replace of your tool, while sometimes a specialized training program for staff may be the only upgrade needed. Is the tool really not working or is it just underused? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to tell if you need a new tool:


  • Do your clients need to run through a recap of their history each time they visit or call?
  • Do you find yourself ‘hacking’ your existing solution to make it do something it was not designed to do or putting off important initiatives because the system cannot support them?
  • Every time a client calls, do you struggle to access supporting systems and information?
  • Do you know who all of your clients are, what industry they are in, and exactly what services they are currently buying?
  • Are all of your system contacts tagged in such a way that you can segment and pull any marketing list you require?
  • Has anyone touted a ‘new client win’ only later to discover they are actually an existing customer?
  • Do you use a nickname for your current CRM tool that you would not use in front of a small child?


    Now, if your system does do everything you want and you find it is simply not being used properly, then, you have a training issue. If you are noticing your system does not have the mechanical pieces, then you need a new system. In interviewing others on how they use their systems and knowing what your system can currently do, you will quickly see which direction to proceed.

    Which is the Correct Tool for your Organization?

    Read the fine print. All the tools offer to supercharge your funnel, improve efficiencies, and all with greater accountability. Once you really start digging into the differences between solutions, you will start to find if the promised functionality actually exists. For example, two solutions might claim to evaluate marketing campaigns; however, one might involve significant end-user input, while the other is more automated.


    I recommend starting with a full investigation of your firm’s CRM challenges before shopping for a solution. Individuals frequently only see how the problem affects them. You need to look at the problem from all sides and user perspectives and include their challenges into the equation. This also will help with buy-in later down the road.


    Based on your research, make a list of criteria. First, start with your absolutely must-have criteria. Next, list all the desirable criteria and rank each of those desirables with a one-to-five rating. If the desirable criteria item comes from another department, gather their feedback on how they would rate it. You also can host a meeting with your department heads and arm wrestle it out on the ratings. I understand that you might not want too many cooks in the kitchen for your implementation; however, providing opportunities for input along your process will definitely help you later on your journey.


    Once you have your list with ratings, you are ready to start calling solution providers. This list will help you logically sort through the different solutions without bias. If it does not match up to your list, then it is not the tool for your firm.


    Give yourself plenty of time to evaluate each solution. Even better, combine your evaluation with a proof-of-concept test and demonstration using a subset of your data and metrics similar to what you expect to use after the tool is in production.


    How do you Approach Management for Buy-In?

    When approaching your managing partner, first you need to show the real need for the new solution. Having feedback from department heads and key players in your firm on their challenges with your current solution, or lack there of, will help your cause. Next, back up the feedback with data. Accountants love nothing more than to see things on spreadsheets, so show them the numbers.


    Then once you start to see them understand the need, discuss the different solutions. I always like to show three options. The first two will sound okay, but point to a major flaw that makes them incompatible. The third option is the one you really want. Let them know you recommend this option, and spell out the full plan for implementation. Presenting management with multiple options will show your consideration for different options and gives them a choice in the solution.


    Like the old idiom says, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Allow for discussion and questions during your presentation, and be prepared for other ideas to surface. If you do not succeed the first time, do not give up. Save your research and continue to build your case; try again in another six months to a year.



    Gain Buy-In from Users

    Remember when I recommended you look at the problem from all sides and user perspectives? When you start the project off by talking one-on-one with users from all levels, you start planting the buy-in seed, so take time to really listen to their challenges and make note. Then, when you approach management again in a few months with a new tool that might help one, if not all, of their concerns, you will gain buy-in much easier. You also will find a few champions on your side. Building that rapport at the beginning will help you immensely in the adoption phase of your journey.


    When beginning your CRM implementation, start small. Be realistic; you will never get 100 percent adoption across your entire firm. Not to be a ‘Negative Nancy’ here, but we all have those two-three anti-technology individuals in our firms that will never participate. Start your implementation with, say, 25 percent of your firm. A new niche group or service line would be an excellent starting group as well. Measure the progress and success of that first implementation group. If you can show success with your first group, then others will follow. Once the word spreads on how easy it is to use or how awesome the reporting is, new participants will come to you.



    The last bit of advice I can offer is giving yourself a realistic time frame –then add two months. Rome was not built in a day and neither will your implementation. There will be a great need for evaluation, testing, training, dealing with adoption challenges, and still handling the daily duties of your job, while implementing a new tool. For your sanity, please give yourself a wide span of time and communicate that to everyone. That way, if it is done sooner, you look like the rock star we all know you are.



    In conclusion, remember the following:


  • Evaluate your current CRM position – do you need an overhaul or just training?
  • Research your firm’s CRM challenges from all levels, not just your own
  • Do not expect 100 percent adoption
  • Start small, measure progress, and show success before engaging the next small group
  • Give yourself a realistic timeframe and communicate that expectation to everyone