In a modern digital economy, it’s not enough to run a business that puts customers at the center. Enterprises have to surrender to the idea that customers are in the driver’s seat. What that means is that enterprises must create a frictionless yet intimate customer relationship and then let the customer choose when and how to engage. There are a number of strategies and technologies to enable this, and for most, customer relationship management (CRM) will sit at the center. But enterprises often get tripped up on the complexities of global CRM initiatives, and end up spending too much time and too much money for too little benefit.

The trouble is not necessarily with the CRM software and services, but with how it is deployed. There is a smarter way. By starting  with a simplified solution based on fundamental business processes that stretch across the organization, rather than leading with a smaller, customized solution in a particular region or business line, enterprises can train a large swath of end users all together and capture broad benefits early on. From there, using agile practices similar to those in DevOps, enterprises can add customizations iteratively. The sooner CRM is working for the business, the sooner the business will succeed in today’s customer-driven economy.

Aim high, but start simple

CRM is one of those technologies that business users get, at least in theory. That’s because they know that improving customer  relationships improves sales, which in turn improves revenue. Putting CRM into practice is harder. Like any other enterprise application, CRM software is complex and data driven, so implementations need to be well planned, well executed and well supported, not only by C-level executives but also by the end users themselves. Employees need to have a say in CRM processes and practices and need to know how to use the system well, if the business is going to experience CRM’s rewards.

When it comes to implementing a new CRM platform, the business is always going to ask for the moon. But business users don’t have to implement CRM, IT does. And IT has to show success.

A simplified solution speeds the time it takes to acclimate users to a new platform and lowers the risk of costly project overruns. Starting simply with a global rollout and then leveraging agile customization in later stages of the deployment once all users are familiar with the CRM platform helps ensure that actual business needs and objectives are being met.

The risks of upfront customization

Starting simply may run counter to more conventional CRM implementations where all the customization decisions are made during the initial project scope, but designing a CRM platform solution with heavy customizations in the beginning can stifle flexibility, making it more difficult and costly to enact changes later as processes mature.

In software implementations, two factors affect costs the most: licensing and customization. Creating customization up front, especially when trying to redefine sales processes, can run the risk of needless spending.

Customizing solutions in the beginning also makes it difficult to integrate and expand the CRM platform to other business units such as product management, service centers, marketing and operations. And change is difficult for employees, especially when trying to learn a new platform. Standing up users on a predefined, customized and complex system creates complexities in training.

Beginning with a basic CRM template and then customizing along the way as more and more users work with the platform lets companies methodically plan for and choose the customizations that best suit their needs. It also helps them more efficiently manage the costs of the development team. Rather than engaging teams up front for the entire project, resources required for customizations can be brought into the project when needed, based on business outcomes rather than an upfront design.

The risks of region-by-region rollouts

More traditional CRM implementations typically run rollouts sequentially, in phases with smaller groups of users, often implementing the customized solutions region by region or line of business by line of business. The idea is to address each group’s specific needs with a custom system, then move on to the next. But the phased approach can drastically slow adoption rates, even as enterprises are still paying for the software.

Customizations might also affect implementations in the other regions. Additionally, there is a risk of missing deadlines, or of standing up new groups on a system that is still undergoing quality assurance (QA) for known issues, thus causing an unsuccessful implementation in terms of time, cost and user acceptance.

And no matter how beautifully designed and developed a solution may be, if users do not adopt and embrace the system fairly quickly, the goals of the initiative may be strained, and future adoption efforts may be affected. It can take 2 to 3 months after employees are given access to a new platform before an enterprise begins to see any measure of success and determines which areas need improvement. This time frame is particularly critical when there is a specific date for decommissioning an existing CRM solution.

Finally, regional rollouts run the risk of the “trickle effect.” Those waiting to be placed on the platform will hear other regions’ experiences, likes and dislikes, which can affect perception and user acceptance.

Simple in practice

Consider the global customer relationship management (CRM) implementation underway at a multinational networking and telecommunications company. The European telco had decided to decommission its existing CRM system and implement a new CRM system. Rather than make customization decisions early on and take the traditional, phased approach, the company decided to roll out a templated implementation to all users globally — an approach recommended and supported by DXC Technology. This will unite all the sales and marketing users, bringing them together to experience the new platform in a simple way. By the time the decommissioning of the prior system occurs, all users will be onboarded onto the CRM platform.

The telco has planned for some customization in the beginning, but it will be minimal. While the initial release is being deployed, the company plans to use a process methodology to engage business and process experts at the regional levels to gather information about the requirements specific to local user groups. This way, region-specific processes can be identified and analyzed for consideration as candidates to be rolled into the template. These data points can then be analyzed and prioritized for future releases.

Designated local and regional teams, identified during process methodology sessions and also made up of employees who want to be part of the process, will test the CRM software to make sure it can handle required tasks in real-world scenarios, according to specifications. As they use the new platform, the teams will collaborate with each other to begin analyzing the sales process, collateral and tools, and identifying what really works for them — the processes that close sales faster and make sense at regional and local levels.

This gives users a voice during the CRM transformation and allows for user feedback in the beginning of the implementation rather than afterwards. Feedback from user acceptance testing (UAT) will be used to refine processes and prioritize customizations based on business outcomes.

During the implementation, new features and enhancements will be shared bimonthly, along with training and knowledge transfer, establishing a cadence that gives users regular updates, but won’t overwhelm them with major releases that are too frequent.

Throughout the implementation, executive management will have quick and easy access to regional and global reports on sales performance, and will also be able to provide input as sales processes that need to be changed, discarded or added are identified. As the CRM deployment grows, it is expected that the reports will provide greater insights.

Bring in testing at the beginning

In traditional approaches, testing generally happens after the coding is done, prior to deployment. Implementing a testing methodology can cut costs for testing and QA because these processes are being automated all along. Developers can check their code while in the process of developing, rather than at the end.

Doing this will help ensure a well-coded CRM instance and best practices for the development team in the beginning, rather than correcting mistakes at the time of user acceptance testing (UAT) and deployment.

Transform through change management

When enterprises go through an enterprise application implementation, many fail to recognize the importance of organizational change management (OCM) — and its most important components. A professional OCM team can lead a company through the implementation process and help craft and deliver the right message around the CRM transformation.

Sharing a communications plan with users before, during and after a major implementation is critical; it provides them with an understanding of what is to be expected and helps ease the pain of change.

An OCM team can also take some of the burden off the development teams by creating knowledge content for the enterprise, conducting training and acting as a first-tier help desk to answer questions and guide users.

DXC Technology has years of CRM implementation experience, and that experience plays a significant role in discovering innovative new ways to help enterprises achieve success with their CRM transformations. Rather than design complex customizations up front, start simply with a basic CRM template. And rather than roll out that complexity region by region or business by business, give all users across the organization the opportunity to use the first-phase simple solution and then add customization through an iterative and agile development process.

This approach — a refreshing makeover of traditional CRM implementation approaches — will help maximize use of the CRM platform, mitigate the risks of complexity, control or even cut costs, and drive successful CRM. Companies will have the tools and processes they need to move beyond customer-centric business models and finally give their customers the keys, ultimately building better customer relationships that lead to better business outcomes.