How to implement a CRM system (part 3 of a four-part series)

Installing CRM

This is part 3 of a four-part series focused on how to implement a CRM system, “Installing CRM”.  It is based on our comprehensive guide CRM Turbo – A Small Business Guide How To Implement A Turbocharged CRM System.

Before reading this page, I would encourage you to familiarise yourself with our previous posts; what is a CRM system, what can CRM do for my business, key features of a CRM system, How to implement a CRM systemPreparing for CRM and Selecting your CRM.

Your journey to learn how to implement a CRM system continues.

At the end of the previous post, you reached a critical stage in the journey towards a successful CRM implementation. You had selected and signed a contract with the CRM vendor who best fits your company’s requirements to support this implementation.

The good news is that you have completed the hard yards. You have reviewed your company’s operational health in relation to its stated mission, objectives and strategy. You have worked hard to review your business processes, and you have been able to represent this as an efficient and relevant workflow, supported by a detailed and accurate field mapping summary.

Further, you have created a comprehensive CRM vendor brief which not only highlights the detail mentioned above but has added additional information regarding CRM design & structure, administrative requirements, hosting and licence requirements.

As a result of your discussions with a shortlist of CRM vendors, you have now been able to refine and develop this original brief to the point of producing a final CRM vendor supplement. You have reiterated the costs and terms on which the development has been agreed. Finally, you have added detail regarding issues such as access control and data migration.

It is time to prepare for installation. You have controlled the process of CRM preparation, and now you need to control the process of CRM installation. As such, checks and balances need to be worked through in the period between signing the contract and going live.

The installation process will vary depending on which CRM vendor you have opted for, but inevitably the timetable will look something like this:

  • Contract signed and payment transferred (you)
  • Provisional CRM installation timetable created (vendor)
  • Scoping of the system carried out (you and vendor)
  • Statement of Work (or similar) (vendor)
  • CRM system construction (vendor)
  • Data preparation (part 1) (you)
  • Provisional system presentation (vendor)
  • Familiarisation and testing (you)
  • Final amendments & train the trainer (you and vendor)
  • Sign Off (you)
  • User training (you)
  • Data preparation (part 2) (you)
  • Go live! (you)
  • Contract signed and payment transferred (you)

    Payment is the trigger for your vendor to start implementation work. Don’t expect to negotiate payment terms; your CRM vendor will want cash in the bank. After all, they live by charging for time. You are about to use their time, and since you have no track record with them, they will be disinclined to take any credit risk.

    Provisional CRM installation timetable created (vendor)

    The point at which your money reaches the CRM vendor’s bank account is almost certainly the first time they will provision developer time for your system. The timetable will list their allocated time and the time you and your implementation team will need to provision for testing the system. You must ensure you have assigned time and resources as summarised to avoid any unwanted disputes with your CRM vendor.

    Scoping of the system carried out (you and vendor)

    Now you will appreciate the benefits of adopting a proactive approach to your CRM development. At the first scoping meeting, the CRM vendor is looking to re-affirm your overall objectives for the system, your requirements for design, structure and administration and a clear understanding of your business process workflow.

    Often this turns into a full-blown internal debate on exactly how that workflow looks and what information is required for the efficient management of the business. As the day rate for a CRM planner/developer is not insignificant, this isn’t going to represent value for money. However, by preparing for CRM diligently, you have put the company in a healthy (and cost-effective) position to move forward with an efficient implementation.

The scoping day should be of great value to you. The process of communicating your requirements to an individual who will design your system can be extremely beneficial in re-affirming (or otherwise!) your proposed setup.

A good CRM vendor will become your team member for the day, immersing themselves in your business and making proactive suggestions as to how you could improve your current requirements. Use this time to discuss details of your currently held data; what format and condition is it in and how will it need to be cleansed and prepared for eventual import?

As a rule of thumb, the scoping session really should not last more than a day. If it does, then it will signal either a weakness in elements of your preparation or flag a warning that your requirements may be just too complex to construct at this point.

Statement of Work (or similar) (vendor)

The culmination of the scoping day will be the creation of a Statement of Work by the CRM vendor. This statement is their bible as far as your project goes. It will specify in detail what they are expecting to do and within what time frame.

Unless scoping has uncovered some previously hidden processes or requirements, you should expect this time estimate to be pretty much the same as that quoted in their original estimate to you before signing the contract.

It is important that you read through this thoroughly and compare it with your original brief, your supplement to the brief and any notes you took during scoping. Some detail in the Statement of Work can be a little sparse in places, and your reference to the brief will bring some detail and clarity to each particular point.

Once you have signed the Statement of Work development can begin.

CRM system construction (vendor)

From your perspective, this period will be relatively quiet. You may get one or two requests from the CRM vendor for clarity but broadly speaking the system will be under development according to Statement of Work and therefore there should be very little reason to trouble you.

Data preparation (part 1) (you)

Now is an excellent time to consider preparation of your company’s data for importing into the system as you will soon need some test data in the system for familiarisation, testing and training. The more realistic the test data, the more valuable the testing and training.

It is only at this point that your CRM vendor will have created all required fields and so be able to provide you with import templates for you to check that the correct field data is mapped into the system.

Since you have constructed a detailed field mapping table (refer Workflow & Field Mapping), you already have all data fields and field information that are needed for importing.

Ultimately, data will be imported into the CRM from a spreadsheet (in .csv format). It follows, therefore, that data from associated software will need to be exported into a spreadsheet first. Most current software will allow export to spreadsheets, so this should be reasonably straight forward.

The following 6 steps will help you to create appropriate data sets in a spreadsheet (.csv) format;

1. Download templates: Download the templates that your CRM vendor will now be able to send you. Typically, therefore, you will end up with spreadsheets named ‘Accounts’, ‘Contacts’, ‘Leads’, ‘Opportunities’, ‘Bespoke Entity 1’, ‘Bespoke Entity 2’ etc. These templates will represent all fields that the CRM vendor has set up for you on the new CRM at this point.

2. Export data: Export all current data that will be required for import out of the various software packages in which they currently reside into spreadsheet (let’s assume Excel from hereon) format. If the sources of information hold large quantities of data, you may be able to limit the number of records that you export. At this stage, only samples are needed, and in fact, a small amount of records is preferable.

3. Rename column headers: Using your Field Mapping spreadsheet as a guide, rename all the column headers in the spreadsheets with the corresponding name from the templates sent by your vendor. You are officially mapping your old data fields to the new ones. Not surprisingly, it is vital to get this right! Make sure all fields have been updated and that none are outstanding on either side.

You may need to work some gentle Excel magic on one or two pieces of data which don’t naturally fit into your new structure.

4. Copy and paste: Copy and paste data, field by field, to the allocated column in the relevant vendor template.

Check for:

  • Dropdown anomalies: You will have specified a dropdown list for specific fields. You need to ensure that data in your spreadsheets for those fields only includes data options featured in the dropdown lists.
  • Field lengths: Check that field data is no longer than the maximum specified for the CRM system.
  • Date fields: Check that they are in a format which will be recognised by the CRM system.

5. Sense check: Sense check the data. For example, don’t lose the leading zeroes from the area codes of your telephone numbers and pay particular attention to email addresses as they are so integral to much of the functionality of a CRM system. Check that data is in the correct field. For instance, does ‘City’ data appear in the ‘City’ field or is it in ‘Address 3′?

6. De-duplicate: Manually de-duplicate the records. The data won’t import if mandatory fields hold identical data. As you are hopefully dealing with a relatively small number of records at this stage, then this manual process should not be too arduous.Now you should have clean data for each module ready for import into your new system. Hold onto this data, ready to carry out your first import with your vendor shortly.

Provisional system presentation (vendor)

The CRM vendor is ready to reveal your provisional CRM system, as specified by the Statement of Work. It will be a priceless opportunity not only to see the system and discuss the development work to date but also to familiarise yourself with the way your CRM system works in practice.

One of your first tasks with the vendor will be to import the test data that you have prepared into the system. Without meaningful data from your actual business, it is challenging to assess how well the CRM system will work for you (see ‘Data preparation (part 1)’).

By the end of the day, you may be stirred to put forward improvements or additions. I would, however, recommend that you try and stay true to the Statement of Work at this stage. It is critical to get the foundations of the system stable and well-rooted before starting to explore the multi-dimensions that your new system will open up to you.

Familiarisation and testing (you)

With the core structure of your CRM system in place and a batch of meaningful data imported, you and your team can now immerse yourself in it. You have spent a day with your CRM vendor looking over the system, and you will now be left alone to familiarise yourselves and test the system as thoroughly as possible.

Ensure all members of the implementation team participate; entering new records, deleting, editing, searching, exploring. Encourage them to make notes, to work in pairs or groups as the whole is generally greater than the sum of its parts. The timetable will have allowed a set number of days for this testing, and you should ensure that your team has exhausted all avenues before this time is up.

When you are ready, share feedback with the CRM vendor. Don’t forget that you are trying to limit the amount of changes the CRM vendor needs to make at any given time. It is all charged time. You would be better off saving some of this time for training or keeping up your sleeve for future requirements.

Final amendments & train the trainer (you and vendor)

These two elements of your CRM implementation are grouped to maximise the benefits from the availability of your CRM vendor/trainer and to enable you to extract every last drop of wisdom and knowledge from them within the time allotted in the Statement of Work.

Decide which of your implementation team will assume the role of trainer/s for the company. They should have been part of the ‘Familiarisation and testing’ process and so will have an excellent working understanding of the system.

They will now assume the additional role of in-house trainers whose task is to monitor and ensure every system user is fully trained in the correct way to exploit the system to its full potential. So, it is time to ‘train the trainer’, to ensure that the CRM trainer has imparted as much knowledge as possible to the in-house trainers to allow them to be able to do the same.

For most small to medium-sized companies, this approach makes sense. To continue to use your CRM vendor for in-house training can be an expensive process and, in any case, no-one knows how you want your system to be used as well as you do.

You should ensure that this period addresses three functional areas which, while necessarily left until last, are some of the most critical elements of the system:

  • Reports, charts, dashboards, views
  • Access control
  • Business rules, workflows

Reports, charts, dashboards, views.

Time and energy to date have focused on ensuring quality data into your CRM. Now you can concentrate on quality information out. Business Intelligence. How is the system going to inform you about daily, weekly and monthly progress effectively? How are you going to be alerted to practices that fall outside company rules?

How will your sales team know how they are performing against targets? How will you know? Are your customers receiving calls when they should be? Are their issues being addressed in a timely fashion and in a way compatible with your company persona?

You will have considered what you want during your preparation. No doubt you had created a range of visualisations of data from your old systems. Now is the time to implement these on the new. Your trainer can set up the first few reports, charts and views.

You will soon have taken control and be in a position to create your own. By the end of the process, you should have your core reports, charts, dashboards and views in place and be comfortable about creating the rest yourself.

Access control

Access control provides a powerful means of managing who can view, edit and delete data. With mainstream CRM systems, the capability of access control can be impressively granular and, therefore, it is challenging to map this out accurately in advance. So, while some basic

How to implement a CRM system - Access Control

requirements for access control may have been applied during development, you may find now that this is allowing too much access or perhaps is too restrictive.

Setting the correct level of access control is both critical and challenging. Poor setup will frustrate all camps. In the worst case, users can’t access what they need while administrators are powerless to prevent them from accessing areas they shouldn’t! Make sure new users feel welcome when using the system, not like outsiders reluctantly allowed in.

You will be able to resolve much of this during this session. However, you may want to adjust these access control settings on an ongoing basis, so make sure you have a thorough understanding of how to do this before the day is out.

Business rules, workflows

One of the great benefits of a mainstream CRM system is its ability to support your business with automated processes. The ability to automate is limitless, but it is important not to load every conceivable automation from the outset. A more practical approach would be to familiarise yourself and your staff with the new system first in its relatively basic form. Then as the confidence and belief in the new system grows, automation can be added bit by bit.
However, while you have the luxury of a developer/ trainer onsite, it is worth building one or two automation examples together. You will then be ready to introduce further automation yourself without paying for extra development work.

Sign Off (you)

Once the CRM Vendor has satisfied you that the highlighted amendments have been updated, you should now be ready to sign off on a completed CRM system. Don’t worry unduly about missing minor issues from your testing before signing off. Any reputable CRM Vendor will willingly put these right at a later stage.

User training (you)

The CRM system is now in its launch state and still contains a batch of test data. It is time to introduce the system to all potential users. Your in-house trainers should schedule the appropriate amount of time with each identified user. They should be able to reach a level of comfort to adopt the new system without hesitation, as soon as it goes live.

Data preparation (part 2) (you)

It is time to re-populate the module/entity templates with current data in preparation for going live. You will need to re-run the data preparation exercise, which is similar to that carried out in ‘Data Preparation Part 1’. The difference will be the quantity of data to handle.

Remember to check that unique records are unique. Check for gaps in the data and general data errors. Do you need all of this data, is it historical and out of date? Are those five-year-old leads relevant any more or do they contradict the requirements of the European GDPR? Clean. Clean. Clean.

One final point, make sure you leave this data preparation process until you wish to go live, most practically in an evening or over the weekend. You want this data to be entirely up to date for going live. Ask all users to ensure their current data sources are as up to date as they can be.

Go live! (you)

You are now at the point where your system is ready to go live, but just before you give the go-ahead, there are a few remaining tasks:

  • Register all remaining start-up users in the system with appropriate teams and roles allocated
  • Ensure the system is set with your optimum backup configuration
  • Ensure that you have agreed on a suitable ongoing support package with your CRM vendor
  • Clear system of all test data then import new real-time data and run necessary checks to confirm success

The first few hours after going live will be exciting and, perhaps, a little nerve-wracking. But, remind yourself how diligently you followed this process through, how much detail was considered and how you and your team robustly tested the system before uploading the live data.

You are in a good position, and any arising issues will most likely be secondary. Your reliable CRM vendor is in the background and will be alert to any new problems you may encounter. Your mind starts looking to the future, thriving with CRM, not just surviving.
Your installation is complete!



If this post has been helpful and you are contemplating how to implement a CRM system for your business, take a look over at CRM Turbo – A Small Business Guide How To Implement A Turbocharged CRM System. The guide is a Logical Business publication produced to help small enterprises introduce a CRM system into their businesses in the most cost-efficient way possible.

The result should be a CRM implementation of which they can feel immensely proud and, most importantly, that delivers real value for their business for many years to come.

The series of posts to which this post belongs (see below) consists of extracts from CRM Turbo to allow you to sample the value of the information.  I hope you have found it helpful.

All about CRM

  1. What is a CRM system?
  2. What can CRM do for my business?
  3. Key Features of a CRM system

How to Implement a CRM System…

  1. Preparing for CRM
  2. Selecting your CRM
  3. Installing CRM
  4. Thriving with CRM

Alternatively, feel free to contact me directly at