Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

Leading CRM for Leader Dogs

Today's blog post was written by Kayla Silverstein, Marketing Specialist at Sonoma Partners.

Bogged down by an inflexible custom CRM solution (Quilogy), Leader Dogs for the Blind wanted a more efficient way to track operations and client records in Microsoft Dynamics CRM (now Dynamics 365).

Who is Leader Dogs for the Blind?

Leader Dogs for the Blind is a nonprofit organization based in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Founded in 1939, they provide guide dogs to the blind and visually impaired. Through their programs, Leader Dogs helps clients find and work with guide dogs for greater mobility, independence, and quality of life.

Leader Dogs Project Fast Facts:

  • Industry: Nonprofit
  • Workload type: Customer Service
  • # of employees: 65
  • # of users in deployment: 65
  • Platform: Dynamics 365
  • Fun fact: Leader Dogs operates as the only facility in the Western Hemisphere to teach deaf-blind students how to work with a guide dog.

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The Challenge:

  • Previously, Leader Dogs used a customer solution called Quilogy to manage operations, client services, puppy breeding, and training. While functional, Quilogy was an old system with limitations in both capability and scalability. For example, the outdated solution was not built to track puppy production schedules or many of the other unique operational components Leader Dogs required.
  • An outside consulting firm developed Leader Dogs’ custom solution several years ago and their relationship with the firm had since dissolved, making any opportunity to further customize or update the system impossible.

The Solution:

  • Replace Quilogy with Dynamics 365 to maintain all department records within the organization.

The Result:

  • Automation in CRM manages daily tasks with the dogs (such as flea checks, baths, etc.). Based on different triggers in the system, CRM creates Task records and assigns them automatically. When dogs are handed off between different teams, Leader Dogs can see which Tasks have and haven’t been completed.
  • The Breeding department uses CRM to trace dogs and their performance over their lifetime. A lot of analysis and science goes into picking the right dogs to breed for key traits that are essential parts of a strong guide dog. With CRM, they’re able to see how the dogs perform both in training and on the job, creating a strong feedback loop.
  • Their portal now meets accessibility standards for use by the visually-impaired.
Topics: CRM Best Practices Microsoft Dynamics 365

The Evolving Expectation on Customer Experience

Today's blog post was written by Adam Barr, Principal Consultant at Sonoma Partners.

What if I told you your ability to differentiate yourself from the competition will be dictated more by your Customer Service team than any Product Development or Innovation Office? Many organizations, several of them in your industry, have already experienced the impact of delivering a superior (or inferior) customer experience.

Various market studies forecast the increasing role of the customer experience in influencing buying behaviors and customer loyalty.

Gartner research predicts by the end of 2017, nearly 90% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator. Aberdeen Group studies show companies that provide a consistent service quality across multiple channels retain 89% of their customers, whereas companies that do not provide a consistent quality are only able to retain 33%. Complicating matters, Google research highlights that 98% of Americans switch between devices every day.

What do all these statistics mean to you?

This means your customers have a voice; they want it to be heard; and they want it on a channel conveniently available to them. Customers realize the amplification of their voice in the social marketplace and now have a higher expectation to influence the terms of their engagement with your organization. Companies in turn have made greater investments in providing superior a customer experience.

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In a 2017 Global Contact Center study, Deloitte identified that Customer Experience (88%, up from 71% in 2015) and Service Improvement (73%, up from 57% in 2015) are clear priorities for growth in the contact centers. More than 80% of organizations reported that customer feedback is “core to their DNA” or “a core input to business decision,” nearly doubling from 45% in 2013.

Omni-Channel vs. Multi-Channel

There is a distinct difference between multi-channel and omni-channel.  Multi-channel refers to organizations leveraging more than one channel (i.e. phone, web, email) to engage with customers, but it does not necessarily mean the experience is consistent or well-transitioned from channel to channel.  Multi-channel has become the table stakes for many customer support operations. Omni-channel also consists of organizations leveraging two or more channels to engage with their customers, however, with an omni-channel strategy, there is significant focus paid towards delivering a seamless and consistent experience regardless of channel or device.

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The complexity of the interaction will still dictate the initial channel with which the customer engages your organization. Remember, from the customer perspective, the channel must be fluid and dynamic while still maintaining a consistent experience. Across the 450 global leaders surveyed in Deloitte’s Global Contact Center Survey, many indicate their organization invests less in voice solutions while focusing more effort in providing a variety of options. Voice is expected to remain the most prominent channel, but is predicted to fall from 64% of total interactions today to 47% in 2019. Web chat is expected to grow from 6% to 16%. SMS, video, and social are all expecting to double, although remaining under 10%.The channel preferences for customers are not only evolving; they are dynamic. An effective omni-channel solution needs to account for the fact that Customer A may phone you in the morning, follow up with a chat conversation, review an article attempting to resolve their issue, then email a support agent to close the day. All interactions must be captured in a centralized, logical, insightful fashion to appropriately meet the customers’ expectation for service. 89% of customer’s express frustration having to repeat their issue to multiple representatives. At its core, an omni-channel strategy is one in which all independent channels work cohesively as one unit to provide a superior customer experience.


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Consumer interactions will only continue to increase in volume, due to additional channel access, and complexity, with the ever-increasing expectation of superior customer experience. These trends are not exactly new. Numerous market research firms have been forecasting the need for organizations to adopt a more customer-centric model for years. However, what has changed in the marketplace is the availability of tools for organizations to truly enable an omni-channel experience while minimizing internal business disruption.

In my next post, I will detail the technologies leaders are embracing to appropriately compete in a consumer-centric marketplace and explain how you can setup an omni-channel solution with CRM.  For more information on how we can help you build further upon – or develop a new – omni-channel solution, contact us!

Topics: CRM Best Practices

Can Users Really Change?

Today's blog post was written by Kristie Reid, VP of Consulting at Sonoma Partners.

How hard is it really to change the minds of who you hope will embrace your CRM system? Unfortunately, it depends on the user. You can implement the best CRM system in the world but without user adoption, the program will be considered a failure. And without a plan of attack for that user adoption, your chances of success are slim. In fact, studies show that slow user adoption is the biggest threat to CRM projects.

So…get a plan of attack! Unlike the technical solution of implementing a new CRM system, gaining consensus of users must take on a more individualized approach. Let’s consider the following three stakeholders in our “fictional” CRM implementation (even though these people are made up, I’m sure you will recognize them):

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In our Change Management Methodology, we focus on 5 main areas to address individual plans for change:

  • Readiness
  • Strategy
  • Sponsorship
  • Communication
  • Learning

When thinking about a plan of attack for each individual personality that will need managed throughout a CRM program, we address these five key areas.

Let’s go back to our team and see how we can address these areas with those individuals:

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Need help coming up with your plan of attack? Contact us!

Topics: CRM Best Practices

Driving Project Value Through Change Management and Project Management Integration

Today's blog post was written by Scott Hinton, Principal Consultant at Sonoma Partners.

I have had the opportunity to work as a Project Manager and with Project Managers throughout my career, and I've have experienced the value of change management and project management function integration directly. Although the Project Manager's primarily focus is the "Technical" aspects of a project and the Change Lead primarily focuses on the "People" side of change, the roles are complementary and share objectives. According to Prosci, "Project management and change management both aim to increase the likelihood that projects or initiatives deliver the intended results and outcomes. The most effective approach is to integrate change management and project management to create a unified approach to implementing change on both fronts." 

When I look back at my most successful projects as a Change Lead, the commonality is a good working relationship with the Project Manager. We worked in lock step and had each other's back on these projects. These Project Managers were advocates and understood the value and general tactics of change management and consistently allocated time in project team meetings for change management updates. This article highlights benefits and tips for integrating project management and change management functions and roles with system changes.

Integration Benefits

Increased project synergy
Change management and project management integration and alignment creates greater synergy between the people, process and system project components. Project benefits can be realized when the disciplines function independently, but integrating change management and project management creates a unified front to designing, developing, implementing and reinforcing the change which significantly increases the speed and degree of change and overall project success. "The efforts of both can be focused toward a singular objective—improving the performance of the organization by successfully implementing a change that delivers the intended results and outcomes," according to Prosci.

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Integration helps uncover potential blind spots and facilitates a more holistic and faster response to schedule, scope, resource and budget changes. This also includes project risks and issues. The people oriented issues and risks should be assigned to the change Lead. I use the Project Manager as a sounding board and provide another vantage point on technical project aspects in my Change Lead role.

A unified approach also eases effective communication of milestones like project kickoffs and go-lives and fosters collaboration on crafting timely messages that translate into What's in it for me (WIIFM) for users. In one example, the Project Manager looked at upcoming communication topics and asked me to share a recently added feature with users because it was a hot topic during requirement gathering sessions. User felt the project had a pulse on what was on their mind.

The flow of information is generally improved with integration. On the front end, an integrated approach ensures that impacted employees are receiving the appropriate messages about what's coming, when and why. On the back end, it helps ensure that the project team receives effective feedback on adoption, user reaction to the change and success with the system.

Project Credibility
Project success is highly dependent on leadership engagement. When leaders have a better understanding, they view the project as more credible and will set a better tone and example for impacted users. On several projects, I conducted joint presentations with the Project Manager periodically to the executive committee. Based on sponsor feedback, attendees came away with greater clarity and assurance. The added level of confidence allows the sponsor to focus on being active and visible with the peace of mind that the project is being managed holistically.

Integration Tips to Drive Project Value

  1. Integrate the change plan into the overall project plan. This creates greater accountability, structure and better visibility of change milestones and deliverables and allows the project team and sponsor to clearly see what's coming and when.

  2. Incorporate change management updates into project meetings including governance committee meetings. This provides another way for key stakeholders to contribute directly to the change. I typically invite the Project Manager to change management touch points with the sponsor. This supports alignment and provides a unified voice.

  3. Educate the Project Manager on change management fundamentals. This creates a powerful and effective advocate. Gaining change management knowledge is an opportunity for project managers to revisit and shift their project management reference points. "Through change management, they modify their vision of project management: they learn a new or another way to think and to manage projects. Lehmann, V. (2014). The collaboration value is deepened when the Change Lead understands and appreciates Project Management fundamentals in turn.

  4. Share change readiness data with the Project Manager. Understanding readiness results intimately allows the Project Manager to proactively address potential adoption challenges based on system technical readiness. 


The value of integration is research based. In Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management-2016 Edition,"58% of the participants who integrated change management and project management in their project met or exceeded their project objectives versus 42% without." Awareness and understanding of the respective functions allows the Project Manager and Change Lead to grasp project from broader perspective and perform their primary role better.

My project management background has served me well in Change Lead roles and I have observed higher performance in the Project Managers that get the people side of change. Integrating Project Management and Change Management will give your project the an added edge in realizing project benefits and overall success.

Topics: CRM Best Practices

Easy as A-B-C: Capstone Publishing Automates Business Processes with Salesforce

Today's blog post was written by Kayla Silverstein, Marketing Specialist at Sonoma Partners.

Capstone deployed Salesforce to keep up with the increased demand of their digital products and support their overall success.

Who is Capstone?

Capstone publishes children’s books and digital solutions for libraries, classrooms, and consumers. Capstone’s content comes in a variety of print and digital formats, including board books, picture books, audiobooks, and more.

Capstone has grown rapidly in recent years with the increased demand for their digital products. As a result, Capstone wants to modernize their systems’ infrastructure to better serve their consumers. Capstone aims to improve their sales, marketing, and service strategies as a part of this effort. When Sonoma Partners got involved with Capstone, they only had Salesforce deployed to portions of the U.S. digital sales business.

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Capstone struggled under multiple manual processes, like annual data collection projects to update student/family/teacher information and sales forecasting. They would circulate Excel spreadsheets and Word docs to consolidate prospective client information to no end. None of this trackable, Capstone desired a better way to manage their operations. Ultimately, Capstone found accurate, cleansed data via MDR, an industry data source to act on prospective client information. For all their markets, they outlined sales cycles and a lexicon to maintain consistency across the organization. Furthermore, a complete Pardot implementation and training for marketing teams allows Capstone to set up landing pages, implement tracking across their websites, and completely automate email drip campaigns. With Salesforce, Capstone overall operates more cohesively as an organization and better serves their customers.

The Challenge:

  • To serve all sales markets at Capstone with a single, unified CRM platform and obtain highly effective utilization of the system across all sales teams.
  • Gather meaningful prospective client and transactional information for use in accurate and comprehensive measurement of overall Sales productivity.

The Solution:

  • A two-year CRM roadmap to deploy Salesforce for all sales, marketing, and service teams and unify CRM across the organization.
  • A sandbox environment for Capstone to imagine future development needs.

The Result:

  • Implemented Salesforce subscription functionality, allowing for better user experience, more robust reporting, and an increase in the consistency and accuracy of capturing and tracking subscription information of their customers.
  • Automated the annual data collection process for the Capstone service team. Before, this was largely manual, reaching out to individual families and teachers to update their customer records. Salesforce provides automatic notifications to customers and employees to help keep data clean year after year.
  • Implemented forecasting in Salesforce to provide greater insight for the sales team.
Topics: CRM Best Practices Salesforce

Successful Events Using Sonoma Partners Attendee App

Today's blog post was written by Brian Kasic, Principal Consultant at Sonoma Partners.

At Sonoma Partners, we use CRM to optimize our event planning process. These events include mainly networking socials for new or existing clients and recruiting opportunities for the company, but I like to consider them as good old fashion happy hour parties.

In our office, we like to hold them quarterly. It allows us to go through our teams’ contact lists, determine whether we have any new opportunities, and create the human interaction element that is essential to retaining existing business, gaining new opportunities, and/or hiring employees. 

Since we repeat these events, we created a step-by-step process to manage attendee lists and logistics using CRM. This process can be used for training events, conferences, team building activity, or group meetings. Anything where you need to identify a venue and manage a list of attendees.

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At most events, there are always last-minute additions and cancellations to the invite list. Making real-time updates via mobile device is easy when managing the invite list in CRM…but we’ll get to that later.

Both Dynamics 365 and Salesforce allows multiple people to help manage the attendance counts in a collaborative way. Gone are the days when a single point of contact has to manage every RSVP. Instead, you can use a real-time dashboard with up-to-the-minute attendee status where team members can jot down notes about their interactions with them (just check out the Attendee App from Sonoma Partners!). It is extremely helpful and can even be used to look up names at the event to remember details about the person or the opportunity.

Here is our step-by-step “Planning Process” that we integrated into CRM:

  1. Determine the budget
  2. Identify venue options
  3. Save the date
  4. Add to attendees to invite list in a collaborative fashion with everyone pitching in to identify the optimal group
  5. Secure venue
  6. Create venue information such as dates, times, address, attire on team site or web landing page
  7. Set cutoff date for save the date email to attendees for internal team
  8. Draft attendee email communications
  9. Review email communication
  10. Determine if any party gifts will be given
  11. Approve party gifts
  12. Order / coordinate party gifts
  13. Send save the date invite via email
  14. Determine if anyone should not get reminder email
  15. Draft event reminder email
  16. Review event reminder email
  17. Send event reminder email
  18. Ensure all the team members going to the event have installed the Attendee App from Sonoma Partners!
  19. Get name tags to venue
  20. Party!

The real magic happens when you use the Attendee App at events. During our last event, I was introduced to a group of people who had lanyard name tags. As luck would have it, the lanyards were turned backwards, and I could not see their names. I had been introduced to 15 people right before this and could not recall some of their names. But with the Attendee app, I was able to quickly, easily, and subtlety find the person’s name in question making the networking event go off without a hitch.

Interested in learning more about our Attendee App? Please contact us here.

Topics: CRM Best Practices

Taking Your Process from Demo to Reality

Today's blog post was written by Kristie Reid, VP of Consulting at Sonoma Partners.

If you have seen a demo of the leading CRM systems lately, no doubt you have seen some type of visualization of a sales or service process. This feature is usually a hit with any audience. But if you’re the administrator who has to implement what the business is getting so excited about, you may be cringing and asking how you are ever going to implement what you are seeing.  I can assure you, the technical implementation of a process flow is not that hard. But gathering consensus for what that flow should be and taking the business requirements and tactically implementing them can prove to be a bit daunting. 

Step 1: Defining the Process Stages

If your company is like many that we work with, they have many teams who serve similar functions (for example, multiple sales regions). Those teams often think that they work very differently and cannot agree on a single process. That may be true. However, what we often find is that the foundation of what those various teams do to accomplish their goal is the same. But how do you get them to see that?

One approach that we use to find that common ground is the facilitation of Brown Paper Sessions. It’s exactly as it sounds. We throw large pieces of brown packaging paper on the wall and step through the various stages that the team walks through to achieve their goal using post-it notes. I know, it sounds silly for a technology company to be using paper to facilitate complex discussions with large groups of people but here are the benefits:

  • Brown paper and post-its are not intimidating (how many people use Visio on a daily basis?).
  • Post-its are not permanent. This allows the discussion to flow naturally and unstructured if the group you are working with does not think linearly. Post-its can be moved around as other thoughts come out.
  • Post-its are interactive. Post-it notes can be written and moved around by audience participators, not just the facilitator.
  • Brown paper makes for fantastic art! Okay, not really, but it can stay up and instigate conversation after the facilitation session is over (just remember to tape the post-its so that they don’t fall off).
  • Finally, the other option, typically Visio, is painful to watch someone manipulate in real time.

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Step 2: Validation and Buy In

Once you have the first process on paper (yes, brown paper), bring in other teams to validate that the process works for their groups as well. Have them work from the same paper that is still on the wall. We usually find that this is where the magic happens. Often the subsequent teams to review the process once defined find that there aren’t as many differences as they originally believed. You may find that there are times where it does not, and that’s okay. Add their variances directly to the paper on the wall.

Repeat this process with all groups who need to buy in to what will be implemented in a system.

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Step 3: Additional Details

As you are defining the main process, add the additional information that would be needed. For example, in Stage 1, what data must be collected? In Stage 3, what notifications must be sent to communicate the progress of the process? What data do users or managers need about that process?

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Step 4: Document, Document, Document

Okay, now you can use Visio! Time to take the brown paper off the wall and put it into electronic format (don’t forget to take pictures before removing the paper). Be sure to document key decisions made and to provide more details around the meaning of each step. Let’s be honest, even the people who were in the room making these decisions will forget what was said in a few months.

Step 5: Implementation

There is a lot of technical information available as to how to implement processes in a CRM application. Again, people reviewing CRM systems love the visual process flows available. However, not all process can be handled in chevrons. Make sure to follow best practices here. Also, as part of this implementation, don’t overlook the power of reporting that is available to show the effectiveness of the process being put in place.

Step 6: Leadership, Communication, and Training

Adding a process to any system without proper sponsorship, communication of the what’s and whys, and training on how to use the process will not have the results that you’re hoping for. We cannot stress enough how important the consideration of Change Management is. I also always recommend that a CRM system not be the reason new processes are put into place. That gives your users one more thing to blame on CRM. The reality should be that this process change is being put in place, here is why. CRM is just a tool to support that process change!

If you need help with business process documentation, redesign, or implementation, give us a call!

Topics: CRM Best Practices

Effective Project Sponsorship: The Key to Boosting CRM End-User Adoption

Today's blog post was written by Scott Hinton, Principal Consultant at Sonoma Partners.

I'll never forget the project sponsor I worked with on an implementation a few years ago. I had read the research, but experiencing a great sponsor firsthand made all the difference. The importance of effective project sponsorship is no mystery to change management practitioners. The difference between an engaged sponsor and one who is going through the motions is night and day and can directly impact the level of CRM adoption speed and ultimate utilization. This article highlights my experience working with an exceptional sponsor from "ACME" and includes seven practical tips outlined by phase to increase sponsor effectiveness and overall CRM adoption levels.

Seven Sponsorship Tips

During the change management Prepare Phase, there are several key sponsor-related activities. These include assessing project sponsorship, sponsor education, building a sponsor roadmap, and creating a change coalition.

1. Assess project sponsorship

The change practitioner assesses the readiness of the sponsor and project governance first. This uncovers sponsor capabilities, expectations, and the organization's legacy of project sponsorship effectiveness. Assessing governance is important to understand where the project sponsor role fits in the organization and the project governance maturity. This information allows the change practitioner to match the sponsorship approach to the organization and CRM project.

ACME's Sponsor Mary collaborated on developing and socializing a project governance organization chart. This gave committee members greater clarity on the various players and committee functions and demonstrated sponsor commitment.

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2. Educate the sponsor

Many sponsors don’t fully understand their role or appreciate the impact they have on project success. The project manager, change lead, and other key project team members are certainly change success enablers, but effective sponsorship is paramount to meeting project objectives. Sponsor education early in the project is vital. This allows the change lead to play a trusted advisor role and build rapport with the sponsor. Trust is key to discussing those shadow issues below the surface that could inhibit project success.

Mary was receptive to learning sponsor effectiveness fundamentals and encouraged performance feedback and ongoing coaching. 

3. Set clear expectations

The change practitioner and sponsor need to be aligned on role expectations and priorities. The sponsor roles and responsibilities also need to be formalized in the organization. In many cases, this is accomplished through an executive sponsor email introduction of the sponsor to demonstrate senior leadership commitment and give the project and sponsor greater credibility. Creating a sponsor roadmap is also important at this stage. It outlines expectations for the sponsor, change management checkpoints and meetings with the steering committee and key stakeholders. Meetings with business leaders improves awareness, alignment, and project engagement.

Mary was always available for weekly checkpoints and followed up with task owners. She also dedicated resources to the project in the form of a core and extended project team.

4. Facilitate change coalition building

Successful change management does not happen in a vacuum. The change practitioner can architect the change but ownership must be spread across the organization through a coalition comprised of "change agents" from all levels within the organization. The coalition, commonly called a "Change Network," raises the visibility of anticipated changes, builds support ahead of the actual change, and provides end user feedback to the sponsors and project team. According to Kotter, the coalition must have the right composition, level of trust, and a shared objective. They state: "In our studies, when we have found people making large scale changes very successfully, we’ve always found what I call a 'guiding coalition' driving the process." The sponsor is responsible for ensuring the coalition is effectively supporting the change.

Mary headed the governance committees but she shared change leadership responsibility throughout the coalition by keeping members abreast and engaged and seeking feedback. 

During the Manage Phase, sponsor coaching and active and visible sponsorship are crucial. 

5. Ensure active and visible project sponsorship

Sponsor engagement directly impacts project success and the most effective sponsors are the face of the change throughout all project phases. According to Prosci, "A positive leader who actively guides the organization through change and participates visibly throughout the transition is the greatest predictor of success." Active participation includes communicating directly and candidly to all impacted users and avoiding delegation of sponsor duties.

6. Coach on proactive resistance management

A degree of project change resistance is inevitable. The level is reduced when the sponsor understands and proactively manages resistance. This includes addressing resistance head-on and establishing feedback loops to uncover root causes. Resistance occurs at all levels of the organization and managing leader resistance effectively is critical as they set the tone for adoption and lead by example through their communications and behaviors.

As the project enters the final or Reinforce Phase of change management, the focus is on recognizing success, transitioning the responsibility of change management and ensuring performance can be sustained.

7. Recognize Behavior Changes

Once the project launches, effective sponsors model desired behaviors and ensure the organization is recognizing and rewarding user behavior changes to sustain and build performance improvements. It's also important for the change lead to fully transfer change management responsibilities to the sponsor or another designated individual. Mary was in attendance at project launch events and sustained positive momentum by sending companywide and project team emails highlighting success stories. In addition, she maintained the governance committee post-launch to review results and identify ongoing improvement opportunities.

It was gratifying to learn that ACME had a very successful launch. There is little doubt that Mary's effective project sponsorship was a major contributor.

Topics: CRM Best Practices

CRM Platform Selection Tip: Don't Count the Features

Today's blog post was written by Kayla Silverstein, Marketing Specialist at Sonoma Partners.

We’ve all evaluated products based on features. You’re on Amazon, trying to decide whether 3G or 4G makes more sense for your Kindle or you’re on a hotel website, deciding whether it’s more important to have a free breakfast buffet or to be walking distance from your conference venue. We  have constant access to information that allows us as consumers to evaluate products and make informed decisions on our purchases. When it comes to making your CRM platform selection, we’re here to tell you that the features listed “on-the-box” should be largely overlooked.

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We see prospects make this mistake over-and-over again, comparing and selecting their platform based on an itemized list of features. Perhaps advertised as “latest and greatest,” a CRM feature list can include any combination of the following: mobility, multi-channel support, campaign management, remote access, ease of integration, integrated analytics, and marketing automation. If you were to simply search for a “CRM Features Checklist,” you could easily compile a list of dozens of “must-have” capabilities for your future platform.

We strongly recommend you evaluate differently and throw the features – for the most part – to the wind.

Here’s why:

They update rapidly.

Organizations typically adopt CRM platforms for at least 3 to 4 years before considering a switch or upgrade. Every year, Salesforce and Microsoft push hundreds of upgrades. Salesforce’s big updates happen three times a year, one in spring, one in summer, and one in the winter while Microsoft will push several updates throughout the year. The platform you purchase today could evolve massively in a single year…so why get invested in the platform’s specific features as they stand today?

The fundamentals are essentially the same.

At their core, most enterprise CRM platforms are largely the same. More important than anything is to assess whether these platforms are meeting your team’s requirements for your CRM program as a whole. Is it providing your sales/marketing teams with the ability to better target customers? Does it allow you to optimize information shared across departments? Does your tool provide analytics to segment, analyze, and run reports on your business? If so, you’re sure on the right track. Access to singular features that differ between platforms will not be the  be-all-end-all of your implementation.

So, how do you decide?

There are a lot of other factors that go into making your decision; so many, in fact, we wrote an eBook on it. To get you started, here are just a few of what we consider the most important CRM evaluation criteria:

Make sure you understand each vendor’s plan and strategy.

Evaluate the vendor’s history as a company and the overall direction of their software. Inquire into their management team. What are they doing to stay innovative? Any acquisitions on the horizon? These are all key indicators as to the quality of their platform and the ability for it to meet the needs of your organization as you implement your project.

Evaluate which platform offers the greatest possibility for user adoption.

So many CRM programs fail due to the lack of adoption by its users. Don’t let this be you! Examine which platform your users might be more familiar with. Maybe your organization has previously invested in Microsoft products before, and there is already a corporate bias in favor of their systems. In this case, Dynamics might make more sense over Salesforce. These can all be critical things to evaluate to inform your investment decision.

Ensure you have the right skills on your staff.

Different platforms require different skills. Dynamics 365 requires different technical experience than Salesforce. Which is your team best suited for? What internal support would you be able to provide your team? Both Dynamics and Salesforce offer a variety of resources to support adopters – which vendor’s materials will identify most with your organization?

At the end of the day, choosing the right CRM platform for your organization can be a confusing decision. It’s very easy to feel a bit information-overloaded, but trust in the process and stay informed on how you should be evaluating vendors, and you will find success. Want some more good news? If you’re going with a name brand platform such as Salesforce or Dynamics 365, both are built with advanced capabilities to allow for customizations to fit the specific needs of your organization.

And as always, if you would like a second opinion in making your CRM platform selection, let us know. We’re more than happy to help.

Topics: CRM Best Practices

Don't Cut Class: 5 Reasons to Attend End User Training

Today's blog post was written by Kayla Silverstein, Marketing Specialist at Sonoma Partners.

This June, we’re offering End User Training for both Salesforce and Dynamics 365 (formerly Microsoft Dynamics CRM). Why should you and/or members of your organization attend user training?

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Here are 5 reasons you should consider signing up:

1. Get the most out of your investment.

CRM is no easy spend. A CRM deployment costs not only money, but precious time and resources.  In training, we’ll show you how to integrate CRM into your daily processes in a way that not only makes your life easier, but also contributes on a larger scale to the success of your organization. Maybe you’ve already been tracking prospective client information with some sort of data management system. Now you can learn how to take the work you’ve already been doing and multiply it across your organization by making it visible, accessible, and easy to organize in CRM. On the other hand, if you’ve never engaged with any sort of customer relationship management software before, get the knowledge you need to hit the ground running. This isn’t just a lesson in button pushing; this is about teaching you how to do your job more efficiently and with a greater, long-lasting impact to your organization.

2. Increase collaboration across your organization.

Training your team on how to use CRM can build a community of collaboration at your organization. We’ve seen pushback from some sales organizations who are hesitant to share best practices or critical information, afraid they’ll divulge their “secret sauce” and lose out on future deals to other sellers. In training, you’ll walk away with the tools to communicate a message of internal collaboration that leads to internal success. We’ll discuss techniques for combatting commonly asked questions, such as, “I’ve been winning deals with my methods for years. Why should I change things up now?” Learn how to explain CRM and its role in the broader scheme of success for your organization. If done effectively, you can see your employees engaging with a tool they understand.

3. Ease the transition.

No one likes change. Adopting an entirely new system and trying to integrate new operations into your daily routine can seem daunting. By attending a training session, you will equip yourself with the foundational knowledge to thoroughly understand the system. Training also helps ease those early adoption jitters, allowing you and your team to walk away with confidence over your investment. From there, you can relay that confidence to further encourage other early adopters to get on board. More confidence means more users, which means an overall more effective system for your organization.

4. Hear real stories from real customers in the same boat.

Training sessions offer plenty of time for discussion between users. Gain a network of people outside your organization to discuss creative solutions to the challenges you might be facing internally.

Maybe you haven’t completely rolled out CRM to your organization and are looking to vet out a new partner. Engage with CRM professionals and their current clients before you make the decision to invest with a partner and/or move forward with a complete deployment for your organization. Training can be a great trial period to feel out a consulting partner and determine whether you think their CRM philosophy and methodology is what you’re looking for.

5. Learn the language.

Certain fundamental concepts around CRM can be extremely helpful to learn before you dive in. Understanding the basic terminology of CRM, how the system is structured, how you are expected to interact with the tool can be vital to starting on the right foot when it comes to not only using the new system but explaining it to others at your organization.

We see customers with grandiose goals for their CRM implementations who are disappointed when it takes longer than anticipated to get off the ground. Just when you were learning to ride a bike – training wheels are important! Taking the time to set yourself up for success with CRM can make the difference between a tool your team understands and is willing to use vs. a solution they struggle to see value in.

Convinced yet? You can read more about our upcoming training sessions here. We hope to see you there!

Topics: CRM Best Practices