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9 CRM implementation steps to choose and validate a new CRM

by Steli Efti, CEO

Last updated September 10, 2021

For your CRM implementation process to be successful, you must check these two boxes:

  1. Choose a CRM application that is right for your team and your business needs
  2. Get buy-in from stakeholders as well as the people who will use this tool every day

In this chapter, you’re going to learn the exact CRM implementation steps to start your journey towards an updated customer relationship management system. That includes:

  1. 9 different stages of CRM implementation
  2. Sample questionnaire for CRM implementation: what to ask before you start
  3. Why a CRM implementation plan is necessary

Pro tip: Already have your CRM picked out and your approvals checked off? Skip ahead to Chapter 2 to learn specific strategies to get you over the finish line and onboarded with your new CRM.

9 different stages of CRM implementation

Maybe you’re looking to update your CRM to a more modern system, or you’ve finally decided to upgrade from the infamous Excel spreadsheet.

Either way, the early phases of CRM implementation are the most critical. You need to make sure the system will fit your needs, as well as your team’s. Plus, you’ll need to communicate clearly why this is the right choice for your team.

Here are 9 steps to get you started on that road towards a new CRM (or if you're short on time, check out our CRM implementation checklist:

Step 1: Identify all your end-users

Your ideal CRM will depend on who is using it (and why).

Most commonly, a CRM is used by the sales team to keep track of important lead and customer data, log conversations, and manage their pipeline.

So, make a list of all the people on your sales team who will use the CRM, including everyone from the Director of VP of Sales down to each individual contributor on the team.

Next, find out who else in the company will be using this system.

Other customer-facing teams, such as Customer Success, may also use your CRM to keep track of the customer and their interactions with your company throughout their lifecycle. So, make sure to get their input before moving forward to the next CRM implementation steps.

Step 2: Understand how the team will use your CRM

Once you know who will use your CRM, it’s time to think about how they’re going to use it.

Ask yourself (and your team) questions such as:

  • How much time does your team currently spend in your CRM?
  • Is this more or less time than you want?
  • How much of this time is spent on sales activities, and how much is spent on data entry?
  • How does your team engage with leads and prospects?
  • Can they currently do these activities inside their CRM?

When you understand how your team spends their day, you can find the right software to help them make better use of their time.

For example, does your team do a high number of outbound calls in their sales process? Then a CRM with a Power Dialer or Predictive Dialer will significantly boost the productivity of the team.

Close, a CRM with integrated calling features

Know your team’s day-to-day process, and think about what they need to make that process smoother and more efficient.

Step 3: Give your whole team some skin in the game

Whenever a company makes a big software change, it’s important to have a project manager overseeing the process. (As the sales leader, that’s going to be you.)

But that doesn’t mean you have to run the whole project alone.

As you go through the different stages of your CRM implementation process, delegate tasks to your team. Brainstorm with them whenever possible. Be open to their ideas and opinions.

When the whole team has a share in choosing and implementing the new CRM, they’ll have skin in the game. Down the road, this will help with your adoption rates and the success of your chosen CRM within the team.

Step 4: Make a list of essential features and integrations

Together with the people who will be using this tool every day, make a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves for your new CRM.

In the early stages, have fun with brainstorming. Make a ridiculously long list that no software could ever contain. Later, pare down this list to the most essential features that your team will use day-in, day-out (not just the ones that sound cool).

And remember: some of those really cool features are probably available as separate software that will integrate with your CRM. You don’t always need an end-to-end solution. In fact, many times the tools that "have it all" are the ones that are so bloated that Salesfo… ahem, the CRM becomes very cumbersome to use. A modular system that has the core features built-in, and allows you to to add secondary features through integrations or an API often will help your team be much more effective.

Some companies opt for a CRM that lets sales, support, success, and marketing all use the same software. While it may work for some, remember that software that’s designed for everyone isn’t going to be as adapted to your team as you might need. In the end, you’ll probably end up paying for features and integrations your team hardly uses.

That’s exactly what Marko Mrkonjic, Director of Sales at Trufan, found when his team tried to implement a new CRM:

Trufan Testimonial

Need some inspiration? Here’s a list of some essential CRM features to get you started:

  • Lead tracking
  • Visual pipeline view
  • Deal and revenue forecasts
  • Outreach automation
  • Call/email tracking
  • Activity logging to minimize manual data entry
  • Easy integrations with the rest of your tool stack
  • Pricing transparency
  • Top-notch customer support
  • A dedicated Success team

Pro tip: Check out our CRM buyer’s guide for a deep dive into feature comparisons and use cases. You’ll also learn how this can help you make a more informed CRM purchase decision.

Step 5: Demo several different CRMs

Now you have a better idea of what you and your team need in a CRM.

It’s time to start testing your options.

It’s impossible to make an informed decision without actually getting your hands on the software that you want to purchase. That’s why free trials, demos, and chats with sales reps are essential at this stage.

While you demo your new CRM options, be especially on the lookout for:

  • How easy the software is to learn and use
  • Whether the software will easily adapt to your own sales process
  • How responsive the sales and support teams are
  • How well-developed your must-have features are
Activity overview in Close CRM”

Actually going in and testing different CRMs may take time, but it will save you headaches down the road.

Step 6: Document the problems you’re trying to solve

You’re getting closer to a decision (or maybe you’ve already chosen your perfect CRM). Now it’s time to start putting the right materials together to get buy-in from higher-ups.

First up: Define the problems you want to solve.

For example, are you trying to increase your team’s outreach rates? Spend some time digging into the numbers: What are your current outreach rates across the team? What about each individual? How many calls are they making or emails are they sending each week? What are their response and reach rates?

Or, maybe you’re looking for a system that’s easier to use and scale for SMBs. That’s exactly what Kyle at High Kick Sales looks for when helping his consulting clients implement a new CRM. He’s documented a curated list of best practices for SMBs to assess their workflow and CRM and implement software that helps their team increase velocity and results.

“I fell in love with Close because it empowers a team to run a playbook that works. It allows sales leaders to pull their teams out of clunky Salesforce and into something SMB-focused––and awesome. As a rep, team lead, manager, and then director, I know the pains of CRMs from every point of view. In Close, I can just dish out leads, while my team focuses on closing deals. You can enable any rep in Close, which is the ultimate goal of a sales manager.”

– Kyle Stremme, High Kick Sales

Step 7: Set some clear, reasonable goals for your new CRM

Once you’re clear on the problems you’re trying to solve and your current situation within those problems, it’s time to set some goals.

Here are some best practices for setting these goals:

  • Avoid vague ideas, like “increasing productivity”
  • Make your goals measurable (eg. increase outreach rates by 15%)
  • Read customer stories and reviews to see what kind of results other businesses have had with this CRM (like the story of how software company Hownd cut CRM costs by 80%)
  • Consider the capacity of your team, the time of year, and the current market situation

Build goals that the whole team will buy into and give yourself a starting point to report on the success of your CRM down the road.

Step 8: Forecast a budget that factors in everything needed to get you up and running

When presenting your CRM business case to stakeholders and decision-makers at your company, you’ll need to present the estimated budget.

So, what does that budget include?

Remember, this is more than just the price of the CRM itself. We’ll talk more about the costs of CRM implementation in Chapter 6 of this guide, but here are some areas you may need to dish out some dough:

  • Data migration costs
  • Training or consulting fees
  • Reduced productivity of your team during the migration
  • Data backup and storage

It’s a good idea to double-check the final cost of your CRM itself as well. Don’t get surprised by expensive add-ons or price tier limitations once you’ve already committed.

Did you know…

Data migration is a hassle (and can add a hefty price tag to your final budget). But we’d rather reduce your stress than add to it—that’s why, when you sign up for Close, we’ll help you migrate all your data, from any CRM, for free.*

Talk to our sales team about getting your data migrated to Close.

* Offer valid for migrations that take place during 2021. If after 2021, please contact our sales team.

Step 9: Build a business case that proves the value of the CRM you’ve chosen

At this point, you’ve gathered enough information to be confident about your choice of CRM. But, how can you make your bosses just as confident in the decision?

It’s time to build a clear business case for your CRM choice.

This should give them the answer to two ‘why’s:

  • Why now?
  • Why this CRM?

Make the presentation short, digestible, and convincing. Use the metrics and data you’ve collected above to prove how switching to a new CRM will solve real business problems and benefit the company as a whole.

Sample questionnaire for CRM implementation: what to ask before you start

When deciding on the perfect CRM for your sales team and your company, it’s important to clearly define what’s currently working (and what’s not).

By asking the right questions for your CRM implementation project, you’ll have a clear idea of what you need, and improve the way you explain that to your bosses.

Here’s a sample questionnaire you can use for your CRM implementation process:

  • How is lead data getting to your reps?
  • How is your lead and customer data currently structured in your CRM?
  • How much time do reps spend in the CRM currently?
  • How much of the time your reps spend in the CRM is currently used for sales activities vs administrative work or manual data entry?
  • How does your team communicate internally to collaborate on deals and share reporting?
  • How does your team communicate with leads and prospects?
  • How much of your current sales process is automated?
  • Which pieces of the sales process are more cumbersome for reps?
  • How visible is lead and customer data to the rest of the company?
  • Which teams, apart from sales, are currently using the CRM?
  • Which teams would benefit from using the new CRM?
  • Do you need any special features that are specific to your industry or type of business?
  • Which integrations are absolutely necessary for your team?
  • When do you need to start using your new solution?
  • How much time do you have for onboarding and training?
  • How many users will your new CRM have?

By asking these questions for CRM implementation before (and during) your decision process, you’ll be better prepared to make a good decision for the right CRM and handle the implementation smoothly.

Why a CRM implementation plan is necessary

Any big project that doesn’t follow a plan has failed before it even begins.

Want to get buy-in from company leaders? Then you need to prove that you’re ready to take this project over the finish line.

In the next chapter, you’re going to learn the exact steps to take in order to build a successful CRM implementation plan.

Thinking about skipping ahead and buying your CRM without a clear plan? Here are 3 reasons you should think again:

  • Success is dependent on how end-users feel about your CRM choice: Low adoption rates can kill any good software implementation. With the right strategy and plan in place, you’ll get buy-in and higher adoption rates from the end-users on your team.
  • Bad migration of your current sales data could end in disaster: Ever lost an important conversation in an email thread? Imagine that, but multiplied by a million. Avoid data migration disasters with a good plan.
  • Without executive buy-in, you’ve failed before you can even start: In almost every situation, the person who holds the purse strings needs to sign off on big software purchases. With a clear plan, they’ll be more willing to send some dolla-dolla-bills your way.

Your plan can be a simple checklist that lays out the steps with dates that you can share with your team and CXOs. In chapter 7 of this guide, you'll get a CRM implementation checklist that you can download, annotate and edit to make it fit for your own process, independent of which CRM software you choose.

Get ready to implement your new CRM

So far, you’ve learned that, in order to choose the right CRM and get buy-in from stakeholders, you must:

  • Get all the end-users on board, and understand how they’ll use the new CRM
  • Test different systems against your list of must-have features and integrations
  • Measure and analyze your problems to set clear goals based on real data
  • Build a business case that is rock-solid

You’re ready. But if you want to make your CRM implementation process smooth from day 1, you’ll need a clear plan to follow. Jump to Chapter 2 to build your own CRM implementation strategy.


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