CRM (customer relationship management) is a strategy that enables companies to manage their interactions with customers or clients on a one-to-one basis.

Marketing messages can be personalised and automated based on user data, resulting in improved customer satisfaction, sales and retention.

An effective CRM strategy relies on clean data and synchronised digital channels, which isn’t an easy task due to legacy systems and contracts with different vendors.

So to give some insight into how businesses should approach CRM implementation, I asked three experts for their words of wisdom.

This is the first of two posts on this topic, but for more information download Econsultancy’s best practice report investigating CRM in the Social Age

1. What processes do you need to have in place before you can implement a CRM system?

Ben Barrass, Data and Digital Marketing Manager at Econsultancy

The processes that need to be in place should be driven from business objectives – what are you trying to achieve with any CRM implementation?

The business will have existing ways of dealing with customers and therefore any CRM implementation will tend to build on this previous experience. This should then be mapped together with defined objectives as to what they want to be able to achieve. 

Often overlooked are people issues as you dive into process, such as clearly defined roles and responsibilities for an implementation.

Also, is there a customer champion, are staff motivation and change issues considered, is there a process to manage the change within the organisation no matter what size?

Andrew Campbell, CRM Consultant and Econsultancy trainer

Successful CRM implementations are built on total clarity regarding what the value creation priorities are for the consumers and the brand, and how they can be addressed.

You will always make more money from doing the right CRM things than from doing them right!

CRM programmes should be viewed as a business strategy to meet customer and organisational goals. Integrating these with the broader business, brand and channel strategies will deliver high payback on CRM investments. 

CRM success starts from the top with executive sponsorship and direct involvement in the strategy, planning and programme design processes is vital.

Matthew Eccles, Managing Partner at Matthew Eccles Associates

Before talking about process I’d say that the critical elements to have in place are:

  • An acknowledgement by key stakeholders of why a CRM system/focus is needed. What business problem is it going to help fix?
  • A clear set of objectives and associated business case.
  • A roadmap for the marketing activities that the CRM system will enable – i.e. what new and more efficient/effective customer communications the CRM system will enable and in what order they will be implemented.

Following this, you need processes for vendor selection, implementation and system management.

Typically organisations don’t put enough effort into creating effective processes across these three areas. In my experience the problems arise because they fail to manage responsibilities between marketing users and IT project owners.

Too often IT has control of CRM implementation projects and the marketing (user) requirements are lost. 

2. How do you work out which data channels can provide valid information and which are the most important?

Matthew Eccles

For an organisation to get the most from any CRM programme a test, learn, and deploy approach is key. That’s why data analysts are a critical function in any CRM team.

There are three things that can inform a test and learn development plan:

  • Looking hard at where customers engage with the brand and to what degree in each channel. Social CRM is a hot topic in the CRM world and for some categories and brands this strategy makes sense as many of their customers engage with them through social channels. However that’s not the case for all brands.
  • Reviewing what has worked in the past. Another task for the analysts. Data can tell us which channels have historically been effective sources for driving customer engagement and value historically. These are good places to start in testing data sources for new CRM strategies.
  • Understanding the potential value of new data sources. Over recent years CRM has been energized through access to new data sources that have enabled CRM managers to create more relevant and timely communications. 

We can reasonably expect that new data sources will continue to become available and that CRM managers will need to use their knowledge and experience to decide which have potential value and should be mapped into a test and learn programme. 

Ben Barrass

I tend to start with the outcomes – whether that be customer scenarios or marketing plans for example, map the ‘ideal’ customer relationship management program based on the evolution of the existing processes in order to achieve objectives. 

Then just work backwards. Figure out what data flows are required at each step, and then audit whether this is in fact possible. 

It’s also important to review the data quality: 

  • Is it linkable with other sources?
  • Are customer iterations from touch-points tracked?
  • What system does it appear in, can this be moved (and how easy is that)?
  • What are the consequences and risks of failures in processes feeding a CRM system and how can they (if at all) be mitigated? 

You’ll then have a pretty clear idea of what is possible, what needs work, and what is required against your business objectives.

Andrew Campbell

To determine the optimal data strategy you have to work backwards from the value-adding actions you want to take and the insights that will underpin them.

For example, if the priority is to maximise cross-sell at point of purchase you will want to know what product customers are most likely to buy as a cross-sell, what price to charge/terms to offer and whether they will purchase the cross-sell immediately or after the event.

To create these key insights you should collect and test data from:

  • The customer at checkout that will indicate likelihood to cross-sell to them.
  • The web logs to analyse immediate cross-sell patterns and A/B test results e.g. offer tests.
  • The product system to analyse after the event cross-sales.
  • Social media platforms to see if social interactions correlate to cross-sales.
  • Email platform to see if email interactions correlate to cross-sales.
  • Mobile app and web site platform to see if mobile interactions correlate to cross-sales.

Data is cost and so any data collection and management must have a business case that demonstrates that the insights it provides delivers incremental sales or reduced costs that make for a positive ROI.

3. What does great CRM look like?

Matthew Eccles

Great CRM is evidenced by the customer response. It delivers measurable incremental value to the organization across sales, brand engagement and brand affinity. 

CRM justifies the resources invested in it by understanding customers and delivering relevant and timely messages to them.

Andrew Campbell

Great CRM is a seamless blend of sales, marketing and service messages that combine to surprise and delight the customer with a timely, personalised and value adding experience.

When a brand proactively predicts future needs and delivers to these or reacts instantly to customer actions in a relevant, personalised manner you know that not far beneath the surface of that customer experience is a well planned and executed CRM system.