I Think We Need a New CRM—Now What?

December 06, 2018

You’ve been running your development shop on The Raiser’s Edge, Donor Perfect, FileMaker Pro, or that loosely strung-together Access database one of your board members built for you in 1997. As your organization has grown and evolved over the years (or decades), you’re settling into the overwhelming understanding that it’s time to move on and consider a new system.

“No problem,” you tell yourself. “I’ll just Google some other software products out there, call a few vendors, get quotes, and buy it. Surely, they’ll have someone who can plug it in and get us started.”

Nothing, as you actually know, could be further from reality. The above scenario is a recipe for disaster. So, if not that, then what?

In real estate, it’s all about “location, location, location.” In technology, it’s all about “preparation, preparation, preparation.” Before you even consider going out into the great wide unknown, take a few steps back and really think about what your organization actually needs. A thoughtful planning process will set you up for the creation of an RFP, allow you to properly weight and score vendor responses, prepare your data for an eventual conversion, and ultimately make the best, most informed decision on a replacement CRM.

In technology, it’s all about “preparation, preparation, preparation.”

Preparation comes in two stages: a Needs Analysis and Pre-Conversion Data Review. In other words, figure out what you need and why you need it, and make sure you know the landmines that may exist in your current database.

  • What are your objectives? What do you want to gain from this exercise? Is this a new goal or objective? Is your organization unified in its decision to replace the CRM, or are there varying opinions?
  • Who is doing what? Each person involved in the analysis must have a clearly defined role and a set of responsibilities. This holds each person accountable for something and avoids unnecessary duplication of efforts.
  • Who is affected? Identify and define the departments involved in the CRM replacement decision process. Who has a stake in the current CRM? Who uses the CRM daily? Who uses it occasionally? Who never uses it, but relies on the reports which it generates?
  • Whom should we talk to? A critical element of a needs analysis is a thoughtful and deliberate interview process. You’ve already determined which departments are affected by the CRM. Now, you need to identify who from each of those departments should speak on behalf of the organization. Think leadership as well as staff doing the day-to-day work.
  • What troubles you? A CRM replacement is needed because you can no longer bear the pain caused by inadequate systems or dysfunctional processes. Be sure you express the challenges you are facing, who is having problems, the nature of the issues and the pain it’s all causing.
  • What is working well? It can be easy to focus on challenges, and overlook key functionality you have today that you don’t want to lose. Which functions are tied to important strengths of your programs, and what things might make sense to change?
  • Tell me about your data. First thing’s first—let’s talk. Share your thoughts about the data, its integrity, its organization, the data schema, and the various integration points. Share any documentation you may have and be prepared to discuss the nuances in your coding structure.
  • Show me your data. We will ask you to share a copy of your database, so that we may run it through our proprietary conversion utility.
  • Analyze your data. Our analysts will examine your data, the table structures, coding schemas, and content. We will generate a Code Frequency Report (CFR) which allows us to truly analyze what’s going on and how ready you are for a conversion. We will take all that we’ve learned and write up an analysis document, making observations into your data readiness, priority areas for data cleanup, and items which can be cleaned up through conversion programming. If warranted, we can develop a high-level cleanup plan for you.

You might be tempted to skip the above preparation tasks and just get right underway with a new software implementation. Don’t do it!

Imagine your CRM replacement is like paving a new road. You could pave the road over rocky, sandy, muddy, or hilly land. At the end of the day, sure, you’d have a road. But in a year or two, that road is going to buckle, crack, or wash away and you’ll have to start the paving process all over again. The preparation steps are like buying the rights-of-way, surveying the land, properly grading the road, and laying down the asphalt—ensuring a smooth road for many years to come.

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