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Nine tips to avoid a disastrous CRM system integration

2nd Apr 2015
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CRM systems integration projects can be very risky. There are at least a dozen quoted industry analyst reports that estimate that the failure rate of CRM projects is between 18% and 69%. What is most concerning is what happens to customers, employees and the business, when an integration fails.

Recently, customers who ordered certain sporting goods on a European website last Christmas were notified two months later that the articles were out of stock. They hadn’t received any prior warning there would be a delay. The company’s Facebook pages were flooded with negative comments and customer service representatives received dozens of angry emails. All of these problems occurred because of an integration project that failed.

Here are some best practices that can help ensure that your CRM integration project is a success:

  1. Have clear and specific requirements. Requirements can change frequently and create chaos in a CRM integration project. Everyone, including IT, salespeople, customers, the software vendor, and integrators, has to agree on what the expectations are, how the project will be implemented, and over what time frame. And if it is too difficult to define the end product, then it is best to define the initial phases in detail.  

  1. Invest in the right infrastructure. Undertaking a CRM integration project with the wrong infrastructure to support your team can lead to serious issues and excessive costs. Avoid solutions that rely on manual programming or overly complex and heavy middleware. Focus on an enterprise class integration platform with a single-stack, single-studio solution.

  1. Avoid the big bang approach. Projects that attempt to integrate everything at once, are less likely to have a successful, timely, on-budget rollout. Breaking up the CRM project into smaller, more manageable components is critical because business needs change over time. It’s best to identify the portions of the project that can provide true and immediate business benefits, and start with those. Scale down the scope of your implementation and focus on quick, easy wins while allowing your team to build its expertise.  

  1. Avoid impossible schedules. Aggressive schedules are fine but impossible schedules must be avoided. Set realistic expectations by establishing an accurate estimate of the integration efforts required for your project. If necessary, bring in an outside firm to provide an estimate of the effort required.

  1. Define change management procedures. Some organizations lack the formal methodology to handle change orders. In addition, changes to the CRM and other systems being integrated may not be locked down during the integration project. The result can be chaotic from a requirements, implementation and testing perspective.

  1. Use consultants when necessary. CRM integration may be new territory for your IT staff and management. Try supplementing your experience with proven consultants or consulting firms that can leverage experience from a wide array of CRM integration projects, especially that of your particular vendor.

  1. Manage users resistance to change. Introducing change to an organization always carries with it the risk of institutional or market resistance. Make sure the processes have been vetted by stakeholders and customers, if relevant, and introduce them properly to gain maximum adoption and adherence.

  1. Secure ongoing support. New or unproven integration infrastructure represents a risk factor. Make certain vendor experts are available to back up your team, not only with technical bugs but also with implementation experience and best practice advice and/or services.

  1. Test early and often. Test plans should be introduced early. Test scripts and automated testing can help ensure accelerated and more complete discovery of problems early in the CRM integration project, allowing them to be corrected before general deployment.  

CRM projects are instrumental for improving customer service, facilitating intra-department communication, and automating and streamlining business processes. However, ensuring the success of CRM integration projects requires anticipating every hiccup along the way and taking necessary measures to avoid common mistakes. A CRM integration project is like heart surgery. If not performed properly, it can be fatal for the patient.

Stephan Romeder is general manager of Magic Software Europe.

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