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The 6 Steps of a Well-Planned CRM Implementation

Kate Mead

Director, Professional Services

Kate brings a wealth of fundraising and operations expertise to her client projects at JCA. Her areas of specialty include system needs analysis, business process improvement, and overseeing large-scale CRM implementation projects.
August 10, 2022

There’s a lot riding on a CRM implementation. Likely, you’ve already spent significant time on a needs assessment to determine your system requirements, made the case to leadership in support of a new system, and gone through a lengthy selection process to find the right solution for your organization. And you’re about to invest significantly more resources in the implementation. Though you are eager to make the switch and get going on the new software, it’s important to take a step back and make sure you’re ready for a smooth transition. Easier said than done, right? We break it down into six steps to ensure a well-planned and successful CRM implementation.

1. Create your CRM Implementation Team and Project Plan

The first thing you’ll want to do is determine your team that will be working on the implementation, and outline roles and responsibilities. Your vendor will have their own project management team, but you’ll need to establish one internally to accomplish the tasks required. Make sure you are representing the key functional groups that will be impacted by the CRM change. This could include:

  • Development
  • Advancement Services/Development Operations
  • Alumni Engagement
  • Marketing/Communications
  • Guest Services
  • Special Events
  • Volunteer Management
  • Artistic/Programming
  • Finance
  • IT

Once you have your team in place, you can create the project plan. This includes defining the key project outcomes, building out the schedule and budget, reviewing roles and responsibilities, establishing project controls, and kicking off the implementation. Pay special attention to any major risks already identified and be sure to have contingency plans built in. There are numerous project management methodologies available, but JCA follows (and recommends) the Project Management Body of Knowledge created by the Project Management Institute.

Hot Tip: Keep Change Management at the Forefront

Project Management and Change Management are two sides of the same coin. Successful change management starts at the very beginning of a project by listening to the concerns and ideas of the staff. It is critical that the staff know that their input counts and they buy into this process. Quick/short-term wins are a key component in helping to manage change, and you can learn more about this in Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change.

2. Design and Configure the New CRM

Start with a discovery and design process to gather information about how to best utilize your new system to meet your organization’s business needs. Through these sessions, you can develop an understanding of how you will use system functionality to complete critical tasks, such as tracking giving, selling tickets, or developing prospects. These sessions provide a good opportunity to familiarize your team with the navigation and functionality of the new system, while helping to identify areas where business processes may need to change with the implementation.

Hot Tip: Create a Work Product Inventory

As part of the discovery process, develop an inventory of your critical reports and outputs. This will be your guide as you make design decisions for your new system. The goal is not to replicate your existing outputs, but to ensure that the data you need is front and center in your new system, and that you’re taking advantage of new functionality to make this data accessible.

3. Analyze, Map, and Clean the Data

Conversion to a new system provides an ideal opportunity to clean and organize your constituent data. You’ll want to begin this phase by analyzing the data from your current CRM and identifying a list of key data issues, such as:

  • Repetitive code values
  • Improper use of fields
  • Data entry errors
  • Missing code values from records
  • Codes that are no longer relevant

Note data issues uncovered in the analysis and/or discovery meetings to address in your mapping phase. After the initial analysis, you’ll need to map the data, and develop cleanup and migration rules.

4. Convert and Test the Data

After mapping is complete, you’ll work with the vendor or consultant to migrate your data to the new system for an initial test conversion. Once completed, spend some time reviewing and analyzing the results. Is the data configured correctly? Are there mapping choices that need altered? After this initial review, you can apply lessons learned for a second (and third) conversion test.

During this phase, you should also review required system outputs, such as queries, exports, reports, and integrations, and how these function in the new system. Does your CRM need to integrate with other applications, such as online giving or event management? Is there a specific report that your finance team needs daily? You’ll need to develop the specifications for these reports and outputs based on your organization’s business and technical requirements, and you may need to explore custom solutions if the “out-of-the-box” software doesn’t fit your needs.

After the system configurations are completed, the data conversions have been tested, and the outputs have been prepared, conduct User Acceptance Testing (UAT). UAT involves your staff users testing the new CRM to not only ensure that specific functions in the software work as expected, but also that users understand how to accomplish their business tasks. UAT is a critical component of your implementation, and failure to get it right can lead to significant problems after go-live and loss of user confidence in your new CRM. It may be tempting to gloss over this step but trust us: it’s much better to unearth problems now, figure out a solution, and ensure your staff is prepared for launch.

5. Train Your Staff

Speaking of preparing your staff… don’t forget about training! Your vendor will likely have a designated program for training stakeholders on the new system, but you may want to dedicate extra time in this area, depending on the makeup of your staff. Training documentation is essential! Your staff will need ongoing reinforcement of what they learn. Two approaches to consider:

  • Super User Training – If your organization is large, you may want to take the “train the trainer” approach, which cascades the training through a core group of people who become your internal experts. This approach delivers detailed training to key departmental Super Users on the relevant areas of the CRM, which allows them to train additional users within their department.
  • End User/Process Training – If your organization is smaller, you may want to conduct user training based on new workflows and processes, so that users can apply software training to their daily processes.

6. Go Live and Celebrate!

Once you’ve completed the steps above, it’s time to make the switch. Create and communicate a detailed cutover plan—a tactical set of steps, with timing and assignments, which plots out the process of stopping the use of your previous system(s) and beginning the use of new software. And then, go live!

Congratulations! You’ve now made it through the official implementation. Take the time to celebrate with all the people who contributed to the success. There are many stakeholders involved in a CRM implementation, and this is the time to show your appreciation. There will inevitably be post-launch tasks and issues to fix, so lock in the “win” and capitalize on the accomplishment. You did it!

A Great Implementation Transforms your Organization

When implemented well, your CRM can ignite productivity and achieve your organization’s strategic goals. JCA’s independence from any single software vendor, along with our 30+ years of experience, makes us your trusted partner for a CRM implementation.

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