How to develop an effective CRM strategy (and 7 signs you're not ready)

A CRM can give your company a strategic advantage – if, and only if, you tightly conceive and execute your CRM strategy. It’s not easy, but here’s how.

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What is a CRM strategy

A CRM strategy is a series of processes and projects focused on one goal: transforming every customer contact and conversation into a corporate asset. It’s a set of incentives and standards about how we and our channel partners interact with prospects and customers, and it requires sales and marketing and customer support and even finance to work together (perish the thought!).

If all you’re hearing is “I want to measure dials per hour,” “we need to accelerate the sales cycle,” or “we need to reduce our call queue depth,” you know that people are thinking tactically and probably aren’t up for a strategic effort.

Benefits and goals of a CRM strategy

The ultimate payoffs of a successful CRM strategy are pretty powerful: better marketing efficiency, more effective messaging, more profitable sales cycles, better forecasting, higher customer loyalty, better executive visibility and decision making, and even reduction in email volume.  In nearly any business, the cost of sales and marketing will dwarf all other cost structures—so even incremental improvements there have a big impact. A CRM strategy is all about decreasing the cost of customer acquisition and increasing customer lifetime value: fancy-talk for profitability.  

The goals for a strategic CRM investment need to be realistic: over-promising might get you budget, but practically guarantees under-delivery.  Be particularly careful when setting expectations about reports and dashboards, as these provide perfect distillations of every possible bug and data quality issue. 

Goals should be set along several axes, but focus on things that the business can see.  Typically, cost-cutting or efficiency goals aren’t as sexy as revenue-oriented ones.  But it’s not all about money: some goals will be expressed as percentage improvements in key performance indicators (KPIs) for each department.  To quickly discover a department’s KPIs, get ahold of the VP’s quarterly or annual presentations to the executive committee or the board. 

CRM strategy development process

Determine scope: A CRM strategy that actually works will span several quarters, but it must show some positive results every single quarter.  You’ve got to scope each of the phases so they can actually be achieved. The first scoping decision: how wide (how many different groups covered) and how deep (is more than one system involved with this quarter’s deliverables). 

The strategy should really be a roadmap showing the affected systems, people, and business processes, building incrementally on prior quarters’ deliverables.

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