How to Generate a Faster ROI with CRM

By Geoffrey James
CRM vendors often try to convince sales managers that the more system features, the easier it is to achieve a positive ROI. Don’t you believe it! Experience has shown that bloated, feature-rich CRM projects have more than their share of problems. Because they’re more complex, such systems frequently miss implementation deadlines and sometimes don’t work at all. Worse, CRM systems that have too many features tend to scare sales reps away from using them.
Sales reps don’t care about esoteric functionality. What they want is a system that’s streamlined and easy to use. Because of this, you should insist that your CRM vendor provide you with a customized system that only presents the features that are absolutely necessary to improve the productivity of your sales process. No matter how technologically advanced a feature seems, it doesn’t belong on your CRM system if it doesn’t drive more sales and save money. 
Stripping your CRM system down to the essentials makes it easier to provide quality training to your entire sales force, relieving them of the need to sit through a long training session to learn about screens they’ll seldom use. This is not to say you shouldn’t have a broad vision of what you’ll eventually be able to do with your CRM system; there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. While you may have an ambitious vision, however, it’s important that you prioritize and implement the features that will have the greatest impact with the least effort on the part of the sales team. In other words, your planning should be big and broad, but your implementation should be small and simple.
An incremental approach to adding CRM functionality has several major benefits. First, moving forward one step at a time helps ensure that no one involved in the project – from vendor and integrator to sales team and IT group – bites off more than they can chew. Second, an incremental approach gives the affected organizations time to figure out more effective ways to use each element of the system. Finally, an incremental approach allows you to start your implementation with the 10% of the functionality that provides 90% of the benefit, resulting in a faster ROI.
One warning though – even with an incremental approach there’s sometimes pressure to shoehorn future functionality into the CRM project today. As the CRM project proceeds, sales reps and managers often start thinking of additional things they’d like to see and can get quite vocal in demanding them. Unless there’s a massively compelling reason to add a feature, however, it’s better to stick with the implementation as originally planned.
Tacked-on features always create expensive delays because programmers tend to be enthusiastic about that technology and thus often underestimate the amount of time it will take to implement a particular feature. Often CRM projects are delayed simply because the implementers try to accomplish too much too quickly, which is likely to be the case if additional functionality is squeezed into the development cycle. In other words, make certain your CRM project addresses the real needs of the sales team and the corporation at large. Once you’re sure you’re on target, stick to your guns.

The above is based on a conversation with Larry Caretsky, CEO of Commence Corporation, a leading CRM vendor headquartered in Oakhurst, NJ.