Implementing Successful CRM and ERP Solutions

    December 20, 2005

One of the most common mistakes, we see, organizations make when implementing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions is allowing the technology and features to drive the process.

Unlike most software applications – from operating systems to email and office suites, which rarely require complex configuration and/or customization – effective CRM and ERP solutions must both address user productivity requirements, model key corporate business processes and best practices. CRM and ERP are ultimately only effective if they model the organization’s business, and are updated to incorporate changes over time.

There are two keys to making CRM and ERP solutions successful: the elimination of the Mars / Venus relationship between business users and information technology, and the ongoing review of application functionality by business stakeholders.

Whether we are working with clients that are implementing their first enterprise application, or customers that have been using CRM and ERP for years, one of the first hurdles we face as trusted advisors is facilitating conversation between the business and IT stakeholders. Like many things in life, this relationship is strained due to a lack of effective communication between the groups.

Business stakeholders rarely appreciate the time it may take to properly configure and implement required functionality; IT stakeholders, we find, often miss opportunities to offer the business quick solutions that increase productivity (and reduce annoying application tasks) while allowing the time to properly architect more complex solutions.

We have found that facilitating conversations between business and technology stakeholders in an organization – including evaluating functional requirements by business value and technical complexity – has helped our clients to better phase their CRM and ERP initiatives, providing for both the quick wins and the longer, more complex solutions.

As with most things in life, business solutions are only successful if the organization is committed to long-term evolution of investment. While more functional tools like email and office suites are upgraded every few years with new features and functionality – who remembers the days of word processors without spell check – business applications like CRM and ERP need to evolve to support the every changing needs of the business and the users.

Developing a steering committee that incorporates key users and stakeholders from across the organization is a great means of managing this evolution. The Steering Committee should be tasked with evaluating ongoing business requirements, customer requirements and productivity enhancements and empowered to approve the necessary changes in the applications. This ongoing evaluation ensures that the CRM and ERP become part of the corporate fabric and culture, as well as improved productivity and customer satisfaction become entrenched core values of the organization.

We have seen this approach be effective in clients across industries, but particularly in financial services. One of our customers, prior to implementing enterprise CRM, managed customer contacts in their legacy banking applications, and prospects through a variety of applications including ACT! and Microsoft Outlook. Many users were concerned about the loss of autonomy in moving from their typical contact management solutions, and were confused by the standardized business processes that were implemented in the new CRM application.

In response our client developed a CRM Steering Committee consisting of key users, business leaders, and information technology representatives to review input from users across the organization and set the course for CRM development. One key outcome of the Steering committee has been the development and implementation of a standard, streamlined process for client management – from searching, to adding and updating contact information, to creating or updating a sales opportunity. The implementation of the just this one process has dramatically improved adoption and usability across departments.

While it is not always easy to strike the proper balance between business needs and technology investments, perfection is not the goal. All things considered, the only reason to implement a CRM or ERP system in the first place is the facilitation and growth of the relationships among internal employees, customers, and business partners – all of which results in corporate growth and organizational success. Developing the Steering Committee does not ensure against mistakes, but it guarantees that the organization will both identify and respond to issues affecting customers and employees in a fraction of the time, and will empower business users to make targeted changes that directly impact customer satisfaction.

Richard Smith is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Green Beacon Solutions, LLC.