The love-hate relationship with CRM is real. Although they have been widely adopted, CRM solutions often fail to meet the promises made during their selection and implementation process, and they can fall short of the potential they have for generating profitable growth.

Horror stories abound—from overly complex implementations to poorly planned, "just have the sales team put their stuff in there" solutions.

If you want to get more from your CRM investment, whether through improved adoption or more robust use, asking yourself these two questions will help pave the way.

1. Is it easy for users to get information out of the CRM solution?

The focus of a CRM is often to ensure that accurate data is uploaded and acquired, but the CRM should not serve as a place where data goes to die; its purpose is to store readily available information that helps to serve customers and make business decisions.

The reporting of information, across all user levels, is the most important role that a CRM solution plays in an organization.

Perhaps Marketing needs to know where leads and prospects are in the sales funnel so it can support Sales by sending the right messaging, or the sales team needs to view other departments' client interaction status, or the leadership team needs to accurately forecast sales for financial and planning purposes. In all those scenarios, it is vital that each department have timely access to the customer, opportunity, and sales information found within the CRM.

But understanding how the data is acquired is only half of the equation: The other half is communicating how the information will be used to better serve the client and support the business. The users armed with knowledge and understanding of how information gathered from clients and deals (won or lost) will be used across the organization are more likely to view a CRM solution as the "carrot" that helps business growth, and not the "stick" wielded in relation to quotas or lost opportunities.

Therefore, assessing which reports each user group requires to make decisions and how easily those reports are accessed is the first key in making improvements to a new or installed CRM solution.

2. Does the CRM support your sales process or, alternatively, have you adapted your sales process to meet the needs of the CRM?

A well-planned CRM solution should be a guide for the entire sales cycle: As more information is gathered and the relationship built, the sales team should nurture the lead, prospect, or client through the sales path, step-by-step, in tandem with the CRM solution.

Unfortunately, however, many implementations serve merely as repositories of contact information with a "forecast" of deals and dates appended. As such, those implementations have less value in making business decisions and they are more likely to be used as the "stick" in the above metaphor.

Every company has its unique sales process—steps that lead a prospect through initial contact, quote, sales order, and delivery. Many companies have a different sales process for each product they sell, customer base they serve, and sales cycle they face in the market.

A well-planned CRM solution can support one process or multiple sales processes, but first those processes need to be mapped. If you have not made the time and effort to train your team on the sales process or the customer journey—or, worse, you haven't taken the time to map that process or journey—then you can't rely on your CRM solution to meet the promise or potential it offers.

A simple way to start the mapping process is to gather a representative group from the sales team and ask what happens when they receive a lead. Document the responses (for both the positive and the negative path) and continue to ask "What happens next?" until you've arrived at the delivery of your product or service to a satisfied customer.

Through that interactive process, you will learn what data is required from the customer at each sales interaction, to be able to get to the next step. For example, is it necessary to gather information on a client's current environment prior to being able to provide a quotation, estimate, or proposal for your product or service?

It should also become evident at which points in the process additional information and reports become both available and required for the company to provide service to the customer, or to make other business decisions.

* * *

So why do CRM solutions fail to live up to their promises and fall short of their potential in helping us profitably grow our businesses? Why do we have such an intense love-hate relationship with our CRM solution?

If the solution doesn't match the true sales process of your organization, its use can be cumbersome. Instead of focusing only on what information needs to go into the CRM solution, think about what information people need out of the CRM system and whether they can access it with ease.

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Assessing Your CRM Implementation: Two Questions to Ask Yourself

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image of Tom Sattler

Tom Sattler is the president of Tom Sattler & Company, which delivers feasibility, project planning, and project management services across multiple disciplines, including marketing operations and marketing automation.

LinkedIn: Tom Sattler