All Aboard: 5 Essential Tips for Planning a Smooth CRM Implementation

Liz Murray

Director of Professional Services

Liz works closely with clients to align their people, processes, and information systems to maximize fundraising and engagement activities.
November 22, 2023

You finally select a new Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system for your organization. You’re excited to get moving, but where to start? How can you make the most of your implementation project? How can you set your organization up for success? There is a lot to consider! Here are our top 5 tips to help prepare for a successful CRM implementation.

1. Get a Head Start

Investing in pre-implementation planning is like starting your project with a detailed roadmap and itinerary. The pre-implementation planning phase typically happens before the official vendor engagement begins.

In this phase, you may focus on negotiating vendor contracts, initiating the project, hiring additional resources to augment your internal capabilities, performing organization readiness assessments, and preparing your organization for change.

This is also a great time to assess the quality of your data and start cleaning it up prior to data conversion. Depending on your source system and the target, there will be specific areas to target to mitigate the differences in data models and constraints. For example, some CRMs allow you to add non-constituent records, whereas some do not. When you convert your data, the non-constituent records will create duplicate records in your new system.

2. Invest in Project Management

The project manager is akin to having an experienced and trusted tour guide on board, helping to charter new territory and navigate through any bumps in the road.

A CRM implementation project is a significant undertaking and is often a new experience for staff. By investing in project management, you invest directly in your project’s success.

The project manager will plan the project, define the requirements and acceptance criteria, and gain buy-in from stakeholders. They will document and manage the scope, establish a formal process for handling change, and monitor and control the schedule and budget throughout the course of the project.

The project manager is also highly skilled in the art of people. Project management is not just about managing spreadsheets. The project manager plays a pivotal role in managing stakeholders, communicating project information, and resolving conflict.

3. Assemble your Project Team

As you embark on your journey, you need to make sure you have the right composition and team size to support your project. A lack of resources or inexperience can lead to project failure or delays. Start by assessing the roles and responsibilities required for your project. Depending on the project size and scope, some staff may wear many hats and take on multiple roles and responsibilities within the project team.

Next, consider the available internal resources who could work on the project. Do staff have the required capacity and expertise? You may find that you need to augment your team with external resources, either to work on the project directly or to backfill for others.

4. Build in Significant Testing Time

Before you walk out that door, you need to validate that you are truly ready to go (keys, wallet, phone!). You don’t want to forget anything essential that could have been caught with a little extra forethought.

Timely, methodical testing is key to a successful implementation. When setting project scope with vendors, build in opportunities to iterate. You need to validate that your data has correctly moved to the new system and that your business processes satisfy your requirements.

Think critically about this area and trust your gut. You know your organization best and are responsible for ensuring that the project is tailored to best serve your needs (and ultimately, for success).

5. Don’t Underestimate Your Ancillary Needs

As you plan your project, consider the full scope beyond just the new CRM.

Your new system will likely speak a different language due to its unique data model. This change will require you to rethink your current reports and plan for analysis and report development as part of the scope of the implementation project.

The new CRM will likely need to be integrated with your data ecosystem. You may require single sign-on or a third-party hosting environment. All these components add to the project scope. You will want to identify all the work that needs to be done as part of the planning phase.

Once the project gets moving, it becomes increasingly difficult to add new scope, which could make a difference in whether your project sinks or swims.

At its best, CRM implementation is professionally rewarding, can bring your team closer together, and most importantly, can transform the way you as an organization work. By focusing on the above success factors, you can embark on your implementation adventure with confidence and ultimately make the most of your investment.

Ensure a Smooth Journey with Implementation Support from JCA

Switching to a new CRM is overwhelming— but it doesn’t have to be. Our team of experienced, expert consultants can guide you and your organization from start to finish, ensuring your implementation project is a success.

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