The Number One Thing to Ensure CRM Success

Posted by Chris Green


We get asked all the time, can you tell me the number one thing we can do to ensure that CRM is successful at our bank? The answer is easy, executive buy-in! But what exactly is executive buy-in and how do you know when you have it? Now those are hard questions.

What Executive Buy-In Is

There is something important to understand about executive buy-in if you are ever going to get to the heart of what it is. Often we assume executive buy-in for projects like CRM result from meetings where we get the “go-ahead nod” from executive leadership to proceed with the process. But often this first approval is seen by the executive leadership as a low risk way to explore options, understand potential benefits, and to learn costs. It’s a great first step, but it’s not the type of buy-in you will need to ensure a successful implementation of CRM, nor the type of buy-in you want. Even if you get the final purchase approval or agreement to “cut the check”, you still may not have true executive buy-in.

The buy-in you are looking for is the type that comes from doing! Your executive leadership needs to have sweat equity in the process to really buy-in and to have the genuine authority to demonstrate that buy-in to others in your organization. Buy-in comes from doing, not just talking. Walking the talk, as they say. So, give your executive leadership specific tasks to accomplish through each phase of your CRM search, selection, implementation, and go live. If your executive leadership seems unwilling to follow through on these tasks, then you can rest assured that you don’t yet have the right type of buy-in you are looking for. Executive buy-in is doing!

Here are suggestions and tips for gaining executive buy-in through various CRM milestones.

Buy-in to Initiate a CRM Search

The typical first step of executive buy-in is the act of approval for the search and license of a CRM tool. And while this is an important first step, the simple approval for a search should never be assumed to be true buy-in for CRM. If you are struggling to get this first step of buy-in to perform a CRM search, here are some helpful tips:

  • Form A CRM Search Committee: Assemble a small search committee, normally one to three people from a mix of marketing, sales, and operations and ask executive leadership to participate. It’s not necessary that executive leadership lead this search process, but it is key that they are involved and participate.

  • Define CRM For Your Bank: Agree on a definition of CRM. The definition of CRM will certainly vary from one organization to another, so it’s important that your search committee help identify the internal work processes that you hope to use CRM to facilitate and automate. This will help identify your process pain points and better define the CRM system that will best fit your organization’s needs. At this point, focus your discussions more on processes and potential gains than on the actual technology.

  • Identify Likely Paybacks or Measures of Success: Agree on what a successful implementation of CRM will look like for your organization by identifying the likely paybacks you will receive from CRM (e.g. increase cross-sell from better on-boarding campaigns, more efficient tracking of referrals leading to higher close rates, increased customer retention as a result of better relationship tracking) and define measures of success that you can track pre-CRM and post-CRM to provide meaningful metrics to determine your overall success from implementing CRM (e.g. the number of referrals you generated per quarter or year prior to implementation compared with after implementation, the number of customer trouble tickets generated prior and after implementation).

Present your findings to your executive leadership. If you get the go ahead to move forward in your search for CRM, you have cleared a first hurdle in terms of gaining executive buy-in for CRM. But, remember, this first buy-in is a rather small ask from your executive leadership. You will need a much greater buy-in during the milestones that follow.

Buy-in During the CRM Search Process

The CRM search process can be daunting and long. Most CRM searches take anywhere from several months to two years, mainly because CRM systems come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. But the work you put in to gaining your first step of executive buy-in to begin your search will pay off during this phase because having already defined what CRM means to your organization, the processes you hope to automate, and the gains you expect to see, will help you weed through potential systems more quickly.

Here are some tips to nurture executive buy-in during your search process:

  • Identify Potential CRM Systems and Costs: You may want to begin your search for potential CRM solutions by doing an internet search for CRM. You will quickly learn there are way too many options to thoughtfully sift through. Try narrowing your search to those who specialize in your industry, seek advice from industry organizations you belong to, read related articles that discuss CRM within your industry, seek out industry thought leaders and learn what they have to say about who provides the best CRM systems, and, most importantly, ask other peers what systems they use or have heard about. The more you narrow your search to include only solutions best suited for your industry, the better will be your executive buy-in for continuing your process.

  • Use Group Messaging to Align and Educate: Consider using a group messaging tool to enhance your group messaging during your search process. Group messaging will help you keep your executive leadership in the loop without burdening them with endless email or meeting updates. This will allow your executive leadership to jump in and out of the on-going conversation you and your search committee are having in regards to your CRM search. This is a key stage where your executive leadership needs to be kept in the loop and provided the same access to information that you have so that they can arrive at the same educated final destination as you and the rest of your search team. If you don’t have access to such a system, you may consider appointing one person to assemble this information and provide regular updates via email to your executive leadership.

  • Include Executive Leadership in Software Demos: You don’t want to overburden your executive leadership during this process, so you won’t want to include them in every system demo you sit through. But once you have narrowed the field a bit, you should ask each vendor to perform a strategic high-level demo for your executive leadership. This type of demo is very different from the very detailed demos vendors offer to show off all the complexity of their systems. The executive demo is geared to the big-picture functions of CRM. These demos can normally be done remotely at this stage. Once you have narrowed the field down to two or three final vendors, have each vendor come on site for a formal presentation to your executive team. It’s key that your executive leadership see first-hand the differences in how each system is presented and get the opportunity to ask questions to the different vendors themselves.

  • Include Executive Leadership in Reference Site Visits: Once you have narrowed your field down to two CRM candidates, arrange to go onsite for a reference visits, and include your executive leadership in on the visits. This is an important step for long-term executive buy-in. Your executive leadership needs to see first-hand how a similar organization is using the software. This will help them better understand how CRM will benefit your organization and enhance their ability to be a vocal support during your CRM implementation. This is a key step for gaining the type of executive buy-in you want for your CRM of choice, so ask your executive leadership to participate in these visits.

If you have managed to get your executive leadership to participate in meaningful ways during your search process, you are well on your way to true executive buy-in.

Buy-in During the CRM Implementation Process

The CRM implementation process normally does not all happen at once. It normally takes place over many months. In fact, it’s likely you will choose to roll out your CRM in phases so as not to overwhelm your internal resources and to not overwhelm your employees with too many process changes all at once. It’s better to go for small wins during this phase than big ones.

Here are some important ways you can ask your executive leadership to show buy-in during this time:

  • Announcing Your CRM Choice: Once you have chosen a CRM system, have executive leadership announce your choice to your entire organization. This sounds like a no-brainer, but so many forget to do this step. It’s important that this first announcement come directly from your executive leadership as this helps set a tone of importance for CRM within your organization. Employees simply need to hear executive leadership announce the choice, explain why you went with this system (e.g. what made this vendor and system stand out from all the others we looked at), and hear directly from executive leadership why CRM will play an important role in the future strategy and growth of the organization. This is normally the first public display of your executive leadership being a cheerleader for CRM. Don’t let them miss this important moment.

  • Making The Case for CRM: Task your executive leadership with making the case for CRM to your entire organization. What processes is CRM going to help automate and improve? Why is CRM important now? How can CRM help us all better understand our customer? These are just a few examples of questions your executive leadership needs to answer during this time. This is not going to be accomplished in one grand meeting, speech, or email, but rather it is an on-going task that will take continual effort and communication. People are hesitant to change. Your executive leadership will play an important role in convincing your people that change is necessary and that CRM is important in helping facilitate that change.

  • Supporting A Culture Change: It’s at this point where executive leadership should start talking about CRM as a culture change. After all, CRM is much more than a purchase and implementation of technology, it requires a true culture change in order to be successful. In fact, the proper mix for a successful CRM implementation is something like 50% culture change, 30% process change, and 20% technology change. The biggest piece is the culture change. And a change in your organization’s culture to support and use CRM is only going to happen with executive buy-in and promotion. It doesn’t so much matter the manner in which this message is delivered at this stage, but simply that the message is delivered.

  • Developing and Delivering a Simple CRM Mantra: It’s at this point that executive leadership needs to begin sharing a simple mantra, a speaking point, if you will, that can be repeated time and time again to sum up how executive leadership sees CRM. It could be something as simple as, “Going forward, if it’s not in CRM, then it didn’t happen”. This is an example of a simple mantra we have heard used frequently, you may want to use it or work with your executive leadership to come up with your own, but it’s important that everyone hear a clear and simple message of support from executive leadership every time CRM is discussed.

People are resistant to change, so executive support for why change is necessary at this stage is critical. Your executive leadership needs to be CRM’s number one cheerleader within your organization in order to effect a cultural, process, and technology change such as CRM successfully. If your executive leadership is not a visible cheerleader for CRM at this stage, then you do not have the type of executive buy-in you will need for a successful CRM implementation.

Buy-in After Go Live and Ongoing

Once you go live with CRM, executive buy-in and support will be more important than ever. This is really where your executive leadership can have the most impact on the long-term success of CRM in your organization.

Here are the two most important ways your executive leadership can show buy-in during this phase:  

  • Managing Through CRM: The number one way your executive leadership can support CRM once you go live is for them to manage through CRM. When executive leadership is conducting a meeting, they should use data and reports taken from CRM to facilitate their meeting discussions. There is nothing like coming to a meeting where your boss is discussing activities and metrics taken from a CRM system that you are still dragging your feet to use to make you want to immediately go back to your desk and start using CRM. When employees learn that executive leadership is relying on CRM to manage and reward their efforts, they will start using CRM, it’s that simple.
  • Leading By Example – Use CRM: The next most important way executive leadership can demonstrate buy-in for CRM once you have gone live is by them using CRM! We can’t tell you how many times executive leadership complain about their lackluster results after implementing a CRM only to discover they themselves have never logged in to the CRM. It seems impossible to imagine that executive leadership would allow their organization to go to such lengths and investment to facilitate change only to never make any change themselves, but it happens all the time. Do not let your executive leadership miss this moment of opportunity. Impress upon them their need to USE CRM!

We hope this article has helped you understand why executive buy-in is the most important thing you need in order to ensure the overall success of your CRM. While executive buy-in may be elusive, the suggestions we have offered should help make it easier for you to gain. Remember, true executive buy-in is about doing, not just talking. Share these tips and suggestions with your executive leadership and help them walk the talk to ensure your organization gets the most out of your CRM.


Topics: Profitability, Sales & Marketing, Goal and Incentive Plans, CRM