Thursday, 26 February 2015

How-to: Start Planning your CRM Landscape

Tibet landscape by Luo Shaoyang from Beijing, China (Tibet) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons For its foundation stones, CRM requires some basic building blocks in terms of storing data.

As with any technical solution, using CRM successfully depends on storing data in the right place and in the right way, which can only happen with careful consideration and planning; mapping your data into a sensible structure that the CRM can support.

That means planning for the general rule and carefully corralling the exceptions; just because you can go wild with custom fields for any and every occasion, doesn't mean you should.

It is the same as any requirements analysis, think about the current systems used to store and organise customer data. That includes spreadsheets, other databases, paper files, email servers and in staff heads. Somehow the patchy and often inaccessible staff collective memory - one of the reasons you want to deploy CRM in the first place - needs to find its way into a consistent, logical structure, with no gaps.

Consider all the information held about your contacts and their interactions with the organisation; talk to the staff, those who have been around the longest and those who have just joined; talk to those who know the old problems and limitations; talk to those who can think outside the constraints of "we've always done it this way" - those are often experienced staff who want to see a change before they get frustrated and leave.

Talk to as many people as possible to get a complete picture of their interactions with all kinds of contacts. This CRM needs to cover the whole life cycle, from prospect, to warm lead, to signed contract to operational support and renewal.

Don't make the mistake of excluding a whole segment of contacts, just because they are not live customers. In our case, associates, trainers, facilitators, venue managers, equipment suppliers, and caterers are all contacts. Some of them may have multiple roles over time; an event organiser now, an event attendee next month, a facilitator the month after and a venue manager the month after that. Don't forget your authors, artists, proof-readers, drivers, taxi firms.

Some important questions to ask yourself about your current contact information:
  • Do you have an existing database? Is is complete, consistent, accurate, timely and searchable?
  • Do you have spreadsheets with information about your contacts, suppliers, contracts or other valuable data such as finance and notice periods?
  • Do you have any post-it notes or file cabinets containing vital snippets of information?
  • Who within the organisation knows a lot about your contacts and the networks in which they operate? Are they regionally or professionally based networks?
  • How does money come into your organisation? Where is the finance interface?
  • What are the day to day tasks your staff and associates carry out?
  • How do you communicate with your contacts, and is it always the same? How do you segment your audience? How would you like to communicate with them?
  • How do you track activities and communications (emails, meetings, webinars, other events) that you have with your community?
  • Do you have a list of contacts' interests and preferences?
  • How do you handle new contacts?
  • What tags or labels are you using for your existing contacts? How do you group them? Do you have nested sub-groups? Can you tag contacts sufficient to find them in the giant haystack?
  • What are the reports you need to create both internally for management and daily operations and externally, client-facing?? What information will they contain?
It is almost certain that whichever CRM you choose, however flexible and adaptable, it may not map exactly to the way your organisation currently works. Which means you either have to adapt your working practices to it, or engage in some system development so that it better fits the way you work. Take care with the latter, as the on-going cost of development and maintenance could cripple that key enabling CRM project; instead of a keystone, you get a millstone.

The whole notion of CRM was built on opportunities to interact with your contacts in new and better ways; this is the advantage of moving to a CRM, right? New possibilities can lead to positive changes and improvements.

But first you have to know where those opportunities are. RC

Image credit: Tibet landscape by Luo Shaoyang from Beijing, China (Tibet) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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