How to implement a CRM system (part 1 of a four-part series)

Preparing for CRM

This is part 1 of a four-part series focused on how to implement a CRM system.  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 and key features of a CRM system.

The information in these posts will have provided an essential preface to the implementation process.  Before implementation starts, everyone in the business must be clear about the following:

  • What is a CRM system?
  • What is it designed to do?
  • What isn’t it designed to do?
  • How does it integrate into the business as a whole?
  • Where does responsibility lie for maintaining and optimising it?

The information that follows in four posts details our recommended process from start to finish.  Each section describes an element of the process in detail but also highlights what further guidance, efficiency tools and support are available to supporters of CRM Turbo.

The journey of CRM implementation is a meticulous one, broken down into four parts:

1. Preparing for CRM

2. Selecting your CRM

3. Installing CRM

4. Thriving with CRM

The most critical part of a CRM system implementation by far is preparation.  Your CRM will be a digital representation of your business processes. It makes little sense, therefore, to build it based on incomplete or inefficient processes, loosely notated workflows and ill-defined or ambiguous data requirements.

Your CRM will willingly take the strain of a high workload and amplify the processes it is programmed to follow.  What your CRM can’t do is to take a collection of bad processes and turn them into good ones.

If you are tempted to apply a ‘light touch’ to the following preparation recommendations, a few words of caution:  changes to CRM systems can be time-consuming and costly.  The greater the change, the greater the time, the higher the cost.  The expense is unpleasant, probably unbudgeted and definitely unnecessary.

Preparation is hard work and unglamorous but will save your business significant cost and boost your productivity multiple times.  If you don’t intend to commit to the level of preparation recommended below, then please reconsider.

your CRM can’t take a collection of bad processes and turn them into good ones

Preparing for CRM will follow four stages:

  1. Business Operations Review
  2. What Can CRM Do for my Business?
  3. Business Process Review
  4. Workflow & Field Mapping


1. Business Operations Review

The Operations Review is a run-through of all Operations’ functional responsibilities to decide whether they are efficient and relevant to the company’s current business objectives.  Surprisingly,  quite often, they are not!

CRM Turbo provide an Ops & Reviewer tool.  This tool guides you through the review process, putting forward over 250 questions and statements for you to consider about your business.  In addition, an automated feedback report clarifies your current operational position in an easy-to-share format.

The CRM Turbo Operations Review takes a deep dive into three distinct operational areas. Each area is essential to re-affirm the joined-up nature of your business in preparation for implementing your CRM system:  Corporate Overview; Operations; Operations Control.



This overview takes a big-picture look at the business, comprising Q&As to relevant directors, proprietors or perhaps senior operations managers.  These Q&As will relate to the vision, long/mid/short-term objectives and strategy of the company.

To implement business operations successfully, the operational team need to understand what the company stands for and what goals it is looking to achieve.  It needs to recognise how to deliver these goals and how they can be measured.

Areas covered include:

  • The Business Plan: vision statement; long/mid/short-term objectives; strategy; change; communicating the plan
  • Tracking Performance: targets/key metrics; business intelligence
  • Directors/Proprietors: personal development objectives; personal achievement targets; exit plans; exit timings



This first pass at Operational responsibility comprises Q&A sessions targeted at senior operational management. It includes aspects such as sales, customers, marketing, delivery, after-sales service, competition, suppliers, infrastructure, I.T., human resources, accounts, cashflow, environmental and health & safety.

Areas covered include:

  • Sales & Operations Working Together: planning; communication
  • Sales Funnel Management: administering leads; nurturing prospects; tracking performance
  • Customers: customer engagement; customer concentration & diversification; managing customer debt
  • Marketing: managing marketing processes; maintaining brand integrity; managing marketing data
  • Information Technology: T. strategy; I.T. operations; software for productivity
  • Human Resources: strategic H.R.; H.R. operations
  • Cashflow
  • Environmental Policy
  • Health & Safety



This second pass at Operational responsibility addresses the Operations team immersed in the detail of operations on a day-to-day basis.

Expect to see divergence between management and Operations team’s view of operational detail!  Elements covered include processes/procedures, data management, reporting, documents/ templates, entities (i.e. how the data is segmented, worked and reported on) and accounts.

Areas covered include:

  • Processes/procedures/workflows
  • Data: sources/volumes; security; access control; quality
  • Documents/Templates
  • Company Accounts

As some effort will have been applied to bring people together for this review, it makes sense, in some cases, to develop themes that arise from the sessions.  However, it is important at this stage not to over-analyse the information you are collecting.

Apart from the primary objective of helping you complete a key planning stage for your CRM implementation, the Business Operations Review also provides…

  • a checklist for all operational responsibilities
  • a record of business performance to highlight areas for development
  • the basis of an operations strategy
  • the agenda for an annual operations performance monitor
  • part of an induction programme for new operations team members
  • a foundation for performance-related pay

Don’t forget; the review is primarily a top-level fact-finding mission to achieve the outcomes mentioned above. Attention should be focused on accumulating quality information, not dissecting it.  That will follow in the Business Process Review.

Preparation - the 5 Ps


2. What can CRM do for my business?

You will have now completed an extensive evaluation of current operational processes throughout the business in the Business Operations Review.

Your operations processes have been interrogated and confirmed to be as efficient as possible while remaining consistent with the company vision, objectives and strategy.  You have identified some quick wins and been able to refine specific processes. Your CRM will be designed around very robust operational processes.

As importantly, you have also highlighted areas of operational weakness that a CRM system may be able to address.  Having read through the key features of a CRM system, you will be able to compare your operational weaknesses directly against available CRM functionality.

As previously mentioned, CRM Turbo provides an Ops & Reviewer tool.  This tool will take your responses from the Business Operations Review and automatically provide you with a summary of CRM functions which most directly relate to the needs of your business.

Whichever way you have gathered this information, it can now form the basis of a briefing document.  You have a clear vision of what CRM can do for your business and can share this vision with potential CRM vendors later in the process.


3. Business Process Review

The Business Process Review takes a more granular look than the Business Operations Review at the step-by-step actions undertaken within each business workflow or process.  The review comprises notating actions (or tasks) within each process, deciding who is responsible for them and confirming what information needs to be recorded along the way.  It also reflects on what kind of customer journey/experience is being provided by the business now and how that journey could be improved.

It is impossible to build a CRM system without a clear understanding of these steps.  In any case, how can a business repeat excellent processes if they weren’t recorded in the first place? Remarkably this is how many companies operate; relying on employees to ‘remember’ to carry out the same actions in the same way with the same outcome each time.

Ultimately, Operations will look to oversee as many of these processes across the business as it can.  With respect to CRM preparation, Operations will likely confine itself to considering:

  • Marketing/lead generation
    receiving, analysing and segmenting large quantities of leads for distribution to the salesforce; sending bulk personalised emails; telemarketing; tracking campaigns.
  • Sales
    sales funnel management; integrating warm leads into a standardised prospecting process and administering efficiently to salesforce; tracking performance down the funnel.
  • Product/service delivery
    i.e. receiving sales orders and processing as specified.  May comprise the production of physical products or the delivery of a service according to a series of well defined, repeatable steps.
  • After-sales service
    defining a transparent process to respond to customer queries/ complaints and ensuring service level agreements (SLAs) are achieved without fail.
  • Any significant bespoke process which falls outside those mentioned above


The Business Process Review can be divided into four parts:

  • Preparation
  • Business Process Mapping
  • Customer Journey Mapping
  • Bringing it all together



Now is the time to bring together your implementation team for an introductory meeting. The team’s primary function at this stage will be to build the business process map.  However, they will also start to work as a unit to help to create ownership of the project and ease the introduction of new processes to the wider group when going live.

Choose your team carefully. Consider those who are affected by current operational issues as well as those most likely to resist change.  Think about securing a project co-ordinator, senior/directorial champion, department champions and a CRM administrator to provide ongoing support.

Share or re-iterate the company’s vision, goals and objectives.  Introduce the idea of change, why change is needed, and why the team have an essential part to play in this change.  Clarify the forthcoming process, timelines and what is expected from each member of the team and don’t forget to emphasise the need to spot quick wins at all stages.

Finally, prepare the environment, this could be a long first session.  Think about preparing as much whiteboard, flip-board and wall space as possible.  Provide a multitude of different types and colours of writing implements and, of course, make sure lots of tea and coffee is readily available.

You’re good to go.



Start by mapping a chronological representation of the critical processes highlighted above, e.g. marketing/lead generation, sales, product or service delivery, after-sales service.

Keep the format as natural and relaxed as possible.  Don’t apply too many rules. Use as many different types of visual media as possible and include everyone in the process.  Ask lots of questions, why, why, and again why? Encourage debate, expect to produce some heat, but above all, make it fun. When managed well, the outcome will be invaluable.

Lots of colour tends to help, but most importantly, the team should buy into the evolving processes.  Your objective is to take current practices and turn them into highly efficient processes/workflows.  This process may take hours or days. Stick with it.

Once the workflow has been outlined, consider the following and represent the outcomes on the map:

  • Who is responsible for each process?
  • Who provides backup for each process?
  • Who signs off what?
  • Where is the critical path?
  • Which documents are required at each point?
  • Which communications are triggered with who at each point?
    (e.g. email, text, telephone.)
  • Where are conversations recorded?
  • What systems capture what data at each point?
  • Who can see and/or edit data at each point?

You should end up with a colourful and highly detailed map.  It may look a little like a spider’s web but, importantly, means something to your team.  Put this to one side for a minute and move on.



Customer Journey Mapping is an art and science in its own right.  Today, customers hold all the knowledge. So, it is more important than ever to provide them with exactly what they want, when they want it and how they want to receive it.

What does your business look like from your customers’ perspective? Are they well informed? Are they loyal? Do they have a reason to be? Do they have a reason not to be?  Can they choose how they want to communicate with you (e.g. telephone, email, text, social media)? Are you sure that you can provide every proceeding customer with the same magical experience as the first?  Your CRM system is there to help.  You tell it what your customers’ perfect experience is and it will help you to repeat it every time.

The Customer Journey Mapping process is similar to Business Process Mapping, i.e. plotting a chronological path of your customers’ journey through your operational pipeline.  This journey should be sketched on top of the relevant business process map previously created.

Bear in mind that there is one significant difference between Business Process Mapping and Customer Journey Mapping. In the customer journey, we need to understand how our customers feel about our business. That is why it is called a ‘journey’ and not a ‘process’. Their feelings will ultimately decide whether to buy from you or not.

As with the business process mapping, allow the conversation to run and encourage everyone to share their thoughts.  Your employees are consumers too. Expect the outcome to look quite different from current practice. Perhaps consider inviting real customers to share their thoughts (though choose carefully!).

Don’t forget, your customers…

  • ‘discover and research’, they are not marketed to
  • ‘explore, evaluate and purchase’, they are not sold to
  • ‘receive’, they are not delivered to

Once the workflow has been outlined, consider the following points to add to the map:

  • How does your customer choose to reach out to your business?
  • How is the communication recorded?
  • Who is responsible for each touchpoint?
  • Which documents are triggered at each touchpoint?
  • When authority is needed, who signs off what in the business?
  • What are the decision timelines for the customer?
  • What systems captures what data at each point?
  • Who can see and/or edit data at each point?



The process of mapping workflows and the customer journey will inevitably have uncovered a range of issues and thoughts for improvements.

Depending on the size and complexity of your business, you may feel swamped with workflows and workflow detail.  Before going any further, contemplate the following list to understand better what should be included in the specification for your CRM and what could be left out:

  • Prioritise, highlighting the ‘nice to haves’ over the ‘need to haves’.
  • Can any processes/workflows be automated?
    e.g. repetitive tasks, those with the highest likelihood of errors, where company rules apply, where speed is of the essence
  • Should new documents/templates be created or current versions revised?
  • Which further customer touch points would benefit now/future?
  • Have any new opportunities been identified?
  • Has each team member contemplated their own specific needs
    e.g. “I would like ‘xxx’ so I can do ‘yyy’ ”?

You now should have a comprehensive understanding of what your ideal business processes/workflows look like, and this is excellent news for the construction of your CRM system.  But remember that you have uncovered some, perhaps many, gaps between this idealised situation and how your business currently operates.  You will want to close these gaps through a programme of change before moving forward with your CRM implementation.

At the end of this process, you will have crafted new and improved business workflows.  You will have integrated a customer journey harmoniously into a single workflow for the business.  You will have constructed the basic building blocks to develop and implement an efficient and powerful CRM system.


4. Workflow & Field Mapping

Workflow & Field Mapping comprises taking the collection of thoughts, ideas, notes, sketches and doodles from the Business Process Review and translating them into an unambiguous instruction in practice, for the benefit of the business and the successful implementation of the CRM system.

CRM Turbo provides time-saving workflow and field mapping templates to help you structure both these elements.

You’ve reached the point between a big-picture understanding of operational workflow and the implementation of the CRM system.  A tranche of detailed and granular work is now needed to notate this workflow in detail. This detail can form the basis of an operations ‘bible’ and will provide clarity to your CRM vendor when constructing a plan for your implementation.



The quality of work carried out to define workflow, identify fields for data capture and formalise their relationship to each other will have a direct influence on the quality of the end product, your CRM system.  If you are tempted to leave this rather time-consuming work to your chosen CRM vendor, consider these three points:

  • No-one knows your business and processes as well as you do
  • Your CRM vendor is only in business to sell CRM systems
  • CRM vendors will always say yes to extra work – and they know how to charge!

Each action, communication and data record need to be notated precisely.   Alongside this, responsibility for each activity and how it should be carried out must be recorded.  This notating is, potentially, a significant piece of work.  However, the process need not be as arduous as it sounds and can be (or perhaps should be) completed over time, not in one sitting.

The following sections suggest how best to build up a complete picture of workflow and associated data fields.  This simple ‘painting-by-numbers’ approach will ensure that a comprehensive operational picture will come into view steadily, ultimately to settle in glorious technicolour.


The table on the following page shows part of a simple template which can be used to build a workflow map.  It is an illustrative solar order fulfilment workflow map for the fictitious company Simply Solar Ltd, a supplier of solar energy systems to commercial businesses.

The template partitions each stage of workflow into actions and data points. As each step is completed, it can be marked off (yes/no field). Importantly, it also defines who is ultimately responsible for each stage and where, within the CRM system, the relevant field can be found.  This map will form part of your business operations ‘bible’ and provide clear instructions for the CRM vendor who will build your system.

CRM Turbo Workflow Map
A clearer version of the full workflow map is available for followers of CRM Turbo.

The same template can be used to map out workflows across marketing, sales and any other related areas of the business that may benefit from this unified approach.  Depending on the complexity of workflows in your business, these workflow maps may extend to several hundred lines of data/action points.



Data fields are the alphabet of CRM.  Combined in a sensible, cohesive manner, they provide the vocabulary that creates the stories which describe your company, your products and your customers.  They provide you with knowledge. But beware: not enough fields and the stories remain incomplete; too many fields and the plot is clouded in a fog of data, the essential understanding is lost.

So, it is necessary to define fields carefully, to ensure each one has a reason for existing, to be specific and unambiguous.

“If you’re proactive, you focus on preparing. If you’re reactive, you focus on repairing.” John C. Maxwell

The process of field mapping is meticulous and essential. The CRM vendor will build your system to your instructions.  You will need to ensure that your revised business workflows are described by the accurate vocabulary discussed above.  The business story must be clearly represented.

A field mapping template is available for followers of CRM Turbo

The field map is essentially a spreadsheet which, when completed, will tell the full story of your business and enable you to translate this to your new CRM system.

The CRM Turbo process recommends that your field mapping spreadsheet includes the following columns:

  • Section and Sub-sections
    (primary sections are usually referred to as entities or modules; then sub-sections may be known as forms, tabs or sections.)
  • Workflow Stage
    This column is a helpful identifier for where and when the data is supplied for any given field. Refer to your Workflow Map previously completed.
  • Workflow Order
    As work progresses on CRM structure, these fields tend to get moved around.   It can be helpful, therefore, to be reminded of the actual workflow order at any time.
  • Field Display Name
    Field display names are the visible descriptors given to each field that will be seen by end-users.  They need to be long enough to accurately and unambiguously describe the nature of the data, but not too long as to be unwieldy. 
  • Field Name
    Field names refer to the underlying reference applied to each field.  In other words, it is what developers and in-house administrators will see, but not end-users.  As the number of fields grow over time, similar names can get confusing so take care.
  • Source of Information
    It is essential to understand the primary source of data for each field.  Data may be currently stored in a physical application form, a spreadsheet or perhaps another piece of software.
  • Required (mandatory) field
    Required (mandatory) fields force a user to enter data before the record can be saved. 
  • Data Location
    To clarify; ‘source of information’ (see above) refers to the source of new and ongoing data for the CRM system. In contrast, ‘Data Location’ refers to where the data will be held on the new CRM system.
  • Current Field Ref
    You will need to record current field names as they will often differ from the names defined for your new CRM system. 
  • Field Type
    Identifying the type of field, e.g. text, unlimited text, integer, decimal, percentage, currency, date, calculation or dropdown.  It is essential to get these types right from the outset as it can be hard/impossible to change them at a later stage.
  • Field Level Security
    Sensitive fields will need to be restricted to authorised individuals.  Field level security will manage this for you.
  • Maximum Field Length
    Look to apply consistency to similar field types.
  • Dropdown Lists
    Where a field represents a choice from a pre-defined data set, it is advisable to use dropdown lists.  This discipline can be beneficial for restrictive purposes and to keep data accurate and unambiguous.
  • Notes
    The more notes, the better!


So, there you have it.  When considering how to implement a CRM system, preparation is key.  The business has now completed the significant task of preparing for CRM.  You have updated, improved and notated its processes and associated data records.  The Business Process Review uncovered the workflow and total data requirements for the entire customer journey.

Subsequently, the Workflow & Field Mapping process has documented this in a form ready to share with internal staff and external stakeholders – most notably the CRM vendor.

You may end up with 100’s or even 1,000’s of action points and data fields.  The critical point is that you have specified the optimum workflow and fields required to construct the foundation of an efficient, unified and powerful CRM system.  This specification is core intellectual property to be cherished and nurtured.

With the hard work behind you, it is time to consider selecting your CRM by converting this information into a targeted briefing document for distribution to a carefully selected list of CRM Vendors.



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