An effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system will be part of your CRM strategy – a system alone is not enough

Often the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is confused with Customer Relationship Management, that is, the act of managing your customer relationships effectively so as to maximise sales conversions and customer retention in a profitable way.

An electronic CRM system is purely an efficient means of achieving this. At its most basic, a CRM system will contain customer details such as name and address and details of the product or service purchased from you. However, CRM systems can be used to identify sales trends and to segment the customer and prospect base in order to produce personalised and highly targeted customer communications, and to monitor ROI.

The role of a CRM system without any thought to CRM is limited

When a system is developed in isolation to a plan for managing customer relationships, it can lose direction. It becomes an expensive machine to maintain which will have little ROI. The system is a tool to assist and therefore must be built to reflect the way you communicate, or the way in which you wish to communicate. Like other marketing activity, clear CRM objectives should be set and the system should help you to achieve these objectives.

Ownership of the system should be shared

Whilst it is important that one team or one person retains ultimate control of the system, ownership of the system and the data within it should be shared throughout the organisation. If there is no dedicated CRM team, it is best managed by the marketing team as marketing touches each area of the business and has control over the organisation’s communications.

Build your requirements list before selecting a CRM system

It’s tempting to rush in and purchase and worry about the rest later. However, careful thought at this stage will save you time and money further down the line.

  • Take time to develop a requirements list from all areas of the business. The requirements gathering phase should take as much time, or more, as the system development itself.
  • Liaise with each area of the business, gathering details of how and where they communicate with customers and what type of customer information they hold. Do you need remote access?
  • Communicate with IT to understand the technical boundaries and how other IT systems may need to integrate or interface with it. Do you need to invest in a server or would they prefer a ‘cloud’ solution?

When selecting the CRM system


Take your time to consider and review the available CRM systems. Remember that the system will be a critical tool to your organisation, one that is used every day, and it is vital that you select wisely.


  • Ask for a demonstration on functionality of the system as it is when purchased ‘out of the box’, that is, with no development. Then ask what functionality can be added. That way you have a clear view of what it is you’ll be getting and what are the optional extras.
  • Check how development/customisation of the system can be achieved. Do you need to use specialised developers? Can some/all customisation be done by you? Remember that developer fees can be high.
  • Find out if it can integrate with other systems, in particular Outlook or the email software you use.
  • Involve each department. Getting feedback from each department may feel like you are over-complicating matters, but you’ll get better buy-in in the long run.

Managing the launch


The launch of a new system or system developments requires effective internal communication, change management and user training throughout the organisation.


  • Segment your user base and provide targeted internal communications to each segment – for example, you may wish to promote ease of use to customer service teams, and ease of reporting and ROI to the senior management.
  • Develop your internal communications plan at the project inception. This could include communications (as above) and the development of a working group of department champions to promote the system throughout the organisation.
  • Develop a training programme which should start before the launch so that users can familiarise themselves with the system before it is live.
  • Ensure that users have access to training materials. Video guides are particularly useful. Screen recording software such as Camtasia enables you to record your screen and audio (your voice for example), which you can then turn into a HTML. These reinforce the training and are more user-friendly than written instructions. Most systems will have their own user guidelines but your own materials can use more relevant examples and take into consideration your customisations, and how you want the users to use the system.
  • Make sure that there is a good IT troubleshooting process. In the early days users are likely to have many questions, and there may be teething issues once the system is in live use.