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16 Min Read

How to Build the Perfect CRM Implementation Team

Building the perfect CRM implementation team is critical for gaining the success of a well-used CRM system. The most critical thing is understanding the people who will be using the system and how they'll use it. If you accomplish that, the risk of implementing the wrong system decreases significantly. 

"Good plans shape good decisions. That's why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true": Lester Robert Bittel.

Follow the 60/30/10 Rule

The secret of a successful CRM initiative is the right mix of people, process, and technology. It’s about enhancing customer-facing business processes (30% of success), securing people buy-in for enhanced processes (60% of success), and applying technology to support those processes (10% of success).

Executive vision and buy-in have occurred, and now it’s time to achieve the strategic vision with the “supporting cast.” Depending on an organization’s size, the implementation team will make decisions about and be held accountable for creating the foundation for business success with CRM. Missing steps greatly increases the likelihood that the CRM implementation will be bogged down, fail, or become a dinosaur soon after implementation.

Organization of the Project Management team


The size of your organization, the number of departments involved, and the number of users will affect the size of your team. Initially, a project team needs a:

  • Project champion. Preferably a senior executive, the project champion will ensure appropriate managerial and financial backing and will be involved in the project a few hours per week.
  • Project manager. The project manager needs business process and technical skills and will work daily on the CRM implementation.
  • User pilot group. A group of end users will be responsible for offering input to the project leader during the conceptualization phase; they’ll also test the system during the design and implementation phases, working on the project 2-4 hours per week.

In smaller and quick-start implementations, one person may serve multiple roles.

CRM Implementation Must be a Team Effort

Involving people in your CRM implementation is an opportunity, not just a task to be done. (You can learn more about that in our “People: An opportunity not a roadblock” e-book.)

Which people should you involve? We're talking about everyone in your organization, not just the head of your IT and sales departments – anyone who will use the system and can help you design a great one. Everyone remembers the leadership; not everyone considers that the cold callers, sales reps, customer service reps, and even marketing people also use the system.  Consider the people, roles, and responsibilities from the top down but also from the bottom up.  Align the system with how your people support customers every day. Get potential resisters to feel like their input matters – that they have skin in the game. Leverage their investment and gain their support.

Early in the CRM project, the executive management team should exert their sponsorship of the CRM project. The president and executive sponsor should further demonstrate their support with an “all employees” announcement; this communication should announce the project, describe expected benefits, clarify project management leaders, and request volunteers, opinions, and testers.

Department heads must communicate the role- and job-specific functions of CRM, demonstrate the intended attributes, and solicit feedback. Inclusion is the name of the game here. If people have a role and can influence the end result, they’ve started on the path to buy-in!

End users should see this as a project for the people, by the people. Ensure the employees understand the new system will NOT be Big Brother watching over them – it’s THEIR system, for making work faster, better, and easier. Once end users can influence the project, they’ll want to use it. Don’t think for them. Have a healthy mix of generations and personality types. At a minimum, have these personalities from each department:

  • The top performer –If you can emulate the behavior of your top performers in CRM, it will make the value hard to refute.
  • The resistor/complainer– This person is key because often they complain for good reasons; if you can remedy their issues through the functions of CRM, you can identify tangible wins. The complainer can become your biggest cheerleader.
  • The innovator – Identify a technology early adopter. This person can offer new ways to do it, allowing you to shed antiquated/obsolete business practices. (This might also be your project champion.)
  • The customer – If you don’t contact your customer base, why even do the CRM project? Ask what they need and make sure the CRM does it. 

Knowledge Transfer (Now and in the Future)

You can’t have a successful CRM implementation without education; it’s especially critical for new users. It’s impossible to learn a CRM overnight — it’s a complex tool that can take years to master – but everyone needs to understand enough to do their job. A CRM solution might have 101 features, for example, but only 20 of those features are relevant to the HR manager. By offering training customized to individual roles, your team’s CRM partner can avoid overwhelming people while ensuring they have the knowledge they need.

Where the Opportunities Lie

  • Design phase: Salespeople can tell you why they don't use certain fields in your CRM system, why they don't ask for certain data, and how they've adapted your sales process over time, which is knowledge you can transfer to other reps. In turn, marketing people can help salespeople understand why seemingly irrelevant information is critical to what they do.
  • Phase-in phase: When ordinary users (rather than leaders) are involved in the design and selection of new IT systems, they're more likely to use the systems and encourage others to follow, smoothing the way for users to adopt the new system and incorporate it into their jobs. 
  • Pilot phase: Salespeople can tell you how to order the information fields to make gathering information easier. Business rules may be relaxed, replaced, or redesigned in response to sales reps or customer service reps doing hands-on data entry. Management will also review how the data presents itself in their dashboards. 
  • New beginning phase: As your users become proficient in the CRM, you can create a virtuous cycle. Previous attempts to involve them in the process will lead to a more receptive audience as you communicate the wins and goals of the new system. And with the system now live, you have processes in place to measure progress. 


The Right Solution Involves a Partner to Bring It Together

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Having an optimal CRM system – one that addresses your business needs, serves your customers, and pleases your employees – is a high-stakes proposition. Unless you have dedicated staff to handle everything from choosing and customizing a solution to implementing the software and training users, you’ll need a qualified partner to do much of the heavy lifting.

Most businesses don't have the skills, resources, and years of experience in designing and implementing tailored CRM solutions, so it’s better to spend your business-critical resources on clarifying the expected outcomes, defined business processes, and how your people will be interacting with the CRM. Then you can communicate that information to the right trusted partner.

Engaging with a CRM partner early in the process – and making them part of choosing a CRM system – will produce the best outcome. They can draw on their knowledge and experience when evaluating questions like:

  • Do leaders across different departments agree that the system aligns with company strategy and supports both short- and long-term goals?
  • Will it improve the work lives of employees by simplifying and automating tasks?
  • Is it flexible enough to adapt to and meet the evolving needs of employees and the company?

Getting the Right “Pilots”

We recommend a user “pilot group” of three to eight people when designing and implementing a CRM system. First, it's essential to get the input of a representative mix of people from your organization. A field sales rep, for example, will have different goals and business use requirements than a customer service rep. A well-assembled user group will reflect these differences.

Your CRM partner should also choose people who are thoughtful, likely to give substantive feedback, and want to be part of the process. Finding employees who will use the system daily is another critical factor, as they have useful insights and a vested interest in optimizing your CRM solution. Often, pilot team members become the power users and first responders to end users’ questions after the CRM goes live.

Not everyone in a pilot group will use the CRM system right away, but they’ll likely use it in the future – so that interesting tidbit picked up from a customer service rep might come into play when the partner is tweaking the software down the line.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

After implementation, the CRM team can be a sounding board for decisions about upgrades, integration with other systems, and/or helpful enhancements. Their experiences can be leveraged, for example, when integrating a marketing automation system or an integrated business intelligence/analytics enhancement. Improvements will be implemented more quickly, tested more thoroughly, have more practical usage, and be more successful.

Capture user feedback with a user group and involve your CRM partner. Discuss how people are using the system and how it's tailored to their needs. Can you improve daily activities by removing unnecessary steps or utilizing automation? Can menus and forms be condensed or somehow made easier? Which groups and filters retrieve information the fastest? Which workflows can be reconfigured? Take notes, then use the CRM to alleviate problems.

The partner can offer insights from a different perspective along with appropriate best practices; knowing the CRM's capabilities will give the pilot members better ways of completing tasks.

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Related links:

Valuable outline for crafting a successful CRM implementation

15 actions to achieve better CRM user engagement and adoption

7 keys to success with CRM – People always come first