Monday, June 27, 2011

Microsoft CRM Phase 1 Deployment

In my experience when a company decides to embark on a CRM initiative they almost always under estimate the impact that such a project is going to have. And I mean "impact" in a positive sense. The client is not to blame for this because they are invariably involved in their day to day activities and rarely have the time to dedicate to really appreciate what they are getting themselves into by having made such a decision. That is, in most cases a client will have decided that they need to be doing a better job with, say, tracking their sales process, or managing their client "touch points" etc. etc. and based on this they will likely come up with a set of scenarios that they will want their CRM solution to cover.

Therefore in my opinion, a CRM initiative is usually driven by something akin to an organizational "gut feeling". The client is normally somewhat educated about the high level features that a typical CRM product brings to the table - sales automation, marketing automation, service management, along with typical features such as workflow, alerting, and follow up - and their initial requirement will likely be a reflection of some these "high level" features that they know can improve efficiencies (customer experience, hand offs, visibility, oversight etc.) within the organization.

If a client is replacing an existing CRM solution or implementing CRM to replace a custom built or vertically specific application then it's likely that they will have a better idea of the features that they need the new product to cover and this will be reflected in their requirements as well as in the product selection process.

However, in most cases - during the project initiation phase and prior to that - the client is unlikely to have a much deeper appreciation of the myriad other capabilities that a product such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM brings to the table. And this is where it gets interesting...

The question therefore is - in light of this introduction - what is the best way of going about Phase 1 of a CRM deployment?

I would venture to say that the answer lies within the fact that a major factor of the Phase 1 deployment is education. And not only education for the organization undertaking the CRM initiative but education of those you have entrusted in realizing your CRM dreams. First and foremost the client needs to be educated about the features and capabilities of the product as it pertains to their business. A good consultant must help the client envision what the future can hold while at the same time grounding the deployment in real achievable chunks. And at the same time, the consultant must get educated about the client's business model, their unique requirements, the client culture and the intricacies of the client operation. This mutual education process is iterative and it is a discovery process that happens naturally and dynamically and should be controlled and driven by the consultant running the workshop (it's easy to get carried away, so it's important to know when a discussion needs to be tabled for later review in order not to take away from the core objectives).

A workshop session should also include - at some point - various other players within the organization. And it is again likely that most of these additional players will have had limited involvement in the run up to the project initiation and will have little to no knowledge of what this so-called CRM application is. There's a good chance that they will never have even seen the CRM user interface. But these players will also likely have key input that may have not been considered during the selection process. And while managing expectations and preventing the process from becoming a "free for all", the insights gained from such participation could prove to be very valuable indeed.

Unlike perhaps most other systems that a company may choose to implement in its organization, CRM is typically a very horizontal type of application. That is, because CRM is your front office and your interaction with your customer, prospect, partner vendor etc. - be it during the sales process or later on in the life cycle during customer service - it tends to be a reflection of way you go about doing business (or should be). And this may also explain the common refrain that consultants such as myself love to repeat that "no two CRM implementations are alike" because just as no two business are exactly alike, so too the CRM product and the way in which it needs to be configured for your specific differentiation, interaction with clients, or way of doing business, needs to be similarly different. Not to belabor the point, but I think this also demonstrates quite well why a CRM solution needs to be so configurable - especially one created for the masses such as Microsoft CRM - it needs to be able to be tailored to your organization and be flexible enough to model your business as it evolves.

And being a horizontal application, it typically needs to "serve up" whatever information is required by your end users in order to enable them to do what they need to do to make your business a success. And this might be tapping into your back end accounting system, your custom built ordering system or with some other data source or system within your organization. And once again, the way in which the data needs to be integrated, migrated or mashed up with your CRM application is realistically only going to come out of a workshop session where you have had time to dedicate and be educated as to the capabilities and possibilities that can be realized.

The challenge of fix pricing a CRM deployment based exclusively on the requirements provided by the client is that the process defined above (or parts thereof) will almost certainly occur in some way, shape or form but the project will be limited to the scope of the originally signed SOW. And this of course can in turn lead to strained relations and/or missed expectations. Or to put it another way, the risk is that the customer may get exactly what they asked for... instead of having the benefit of being educated and design the system so they get exactly what their business model requires.

Phase 1 of any CRM undertaking is without doubt the most difficult phase of the CRM initiative. It is an intense period of mutual education and if done well, it also lays the foundation upon which the business can evolve and grow. And therefore it is essential that it be performed with the proper due diligence, understanding and aptitude.

Therefore I would humbly submit that the best way of doing a Phase 1 deployment of CRM is by holding a workshop session with the client using a limited scope engagement for this workshop session. During this workshop, Microsoft CRM itself can be used to facilitate the discussion by configuring the application sufficiently so it can help with the envisioning process (a picture here is worth at least 1000 words). The output of the workshop session may be a partially configured CRM environment (the extent configured will depend on the size and nature of the undertaking) along with an SOW that will provide the client with a detailed breakdown of what is required to round out the Phase 1 deployment, along with outlines for future phases and an overall blueprint of the CRM landscape for your organization.

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