Creating a CRM strategy, not a CRM system

Key takeaways from our TechSmart 2018 Roundtable

At TechSmart 2018, Pythagoras hosted a roundtable about creating a successful CRM strategy. We were joined by 20 delegates at various stages of their CRM journey, including database managers, transformation directors and CEOs.

The aim of the session was to have an open discussion about what works and what to avoid when putting together a long-term CRM strategy. This blog covers some of the questions that were raised and the conversations that followed.

To what extent is your CRM strategy influenced by ‘the way we’ve always done things’?

One participant kicked off the conversation by discussing how they are very open to new ways of doing things, as long as it doesn’t disrupt some of the core business processes or systems. This mind-set was illustrated with the phrase ‘We want to break the rules, without sinking the ship’.

The group was open to experimenting with new ideas in developing a digital strategy, but felt there are some systems considered to be the bedrock of an organisation, like a finance system, that should be treated carefully and should rely more on experience and tried-and-tested processes.

Who should be the driving force behind the CRM strategy?

Attendees emphasised the importance of both a top-down and a bottom-up method in defining strategy. The vision, enthusiasm and commitment to succeed must come from the leaders. This ensures resources are readily available and users are bought into the concept of the new CRM system. It was recommended that leaders should consider their vision in terms of a 3-5 year plan, rather than an immediate need to resolve a particular issue.

The detailed requirements, however, should come from department leaders and end users; those who truly live and breathe the processes that the CRM system will be managing. These people are your experts and an incredibly important asset, so it’s important to involve, challenge and learn from them, as opposed to making assumptions about what they need to do their jobs successfully and efficiently.

What are some of the key ingredients to a CRM strategy?

The importance of working closely as a team was mentioned by many organisations, some stating that previous strategies had failed or had limited success due to a lack of communication across different teams or departments. For many, CRM is about creating a single source of truth which provides meaningful and relevant information to disparate areas of an organisation. To achieve this, the needs of any particular team should not be assumed by another.

This led to a discussion about the concept of departmental ‘champions’, as many organisations had had success connecting their teams by assigning representatives to shape the strategy, provide feedback and act as a liaison between users and the project team. Assigning champions has the added benefit of increasing user adoption, as champions can provide ad-hoc advice and training to their peers. One participant noted previous success with departmental champions, but warned that they must be quickly replaced by other colleagues should they leave or change role, to ensure the chain of communication and knowledge isn’t compromised for that particular team.

Who should you choose to be your champions?

Champions should be those with day to day experience of using the system, who will be able to answer their colleagues’ questions and proactively bring new ideas on increasing efficiency and data quality. The importance of choosing people who genuinely care about the success of the project was emphasised too. Depending on your strategy, there may be an expectation for your champions to juggle additional project or training responsibilities alongside their roles. It’s crucial to recognise this commitment, and encourage staff to use the opportunity to learn from being an integral part of a transformational project.

What are the difficulties in the journey to achieving quality data?

Many organisations were undergoing data reviews or data cleaning exercises. Some had been provoked by GDPR and new auditing rules enforced for membership organisations, while others were encouraged by higher data quality and the opportunities to power new technology with the resulting data.

Some participants mentioned that data hoarding is still rife among users, as they are reluctant to delete what they see as relevant data. Here, we discussed the concept of data ‘half-life’, and how data decays over time as people move, marry or die. As well as cluttering up a database, incorrect data can lead to negative brand experiences and compliance issues. This means it’s essential to put data retention guidelines in place and encourage good data housekeeping as an ongoing process, rather than an onerous clean-up task every few years, brought on by frustration at the quality that remains.

How do you manage CRM changes over time?

Having a detailed change control process was considered an essential part of maintaining a CRM system long term. There should be an agreed upon process whereby changes and enhancements can be put to a committee and approved, rejected, or put on a wish list for a future release. This is important to ensure reliable documentation of the system and to allow adequate impact assessments to take place.

While IT departments are frequently put under pressure to deliver a change quickly, our attendees invited others to exercise caution when fast-tracking seemingly innocuous changes through to production without proper analysis of the knock-on effects this might have for other areas of the system or roadmap. Therefore, a rigorous change management process should take into consideration each requirement as it sits within the greater CRM landscape.

Interested in joining the conversation? Register your interest to be invited to our next NfP and Membership CRM Strategy roundtable by emailing us at

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