Back to basics: overcoming the challenges of investing in CRM

21 August 2018 by Becky Reid

Part 1 of our ‘back to basics’ series looked at what CRM is and how it can help membership organisations, associations and professional bodies attract more members, raise retention rates, and provide better and more cost-effective services. Now we’ll take that thinking one step further and look at the issues around investing in CRM and how to overcome them.


What are the typical issues?

There are many challenges that can arise with the decision to implement a new CRM system. Below are some of the most common issues we have come across and how we help organisations get around them:

1. A lack of clear goals

If you don’t have clear goals at the outset of your project, your project will fail. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, how do you know when you’ve got there? How do you know what success looks like?

The solution:

  • Sit with all departments from the Board down – listen to what problems they want solutions to and what they think they need from a system
  • Define clear goals and objectives based on the issues raised. These are likely to include things such as ROI, member retention, member acquisition, improved departmental efficiencies and increased response rates for members. Try to quantify them and provide timescales for achieving them
  • Set some baseline measures for what you’re trying to improve – for instance, how many new members joined per quarter in the last year, what is your retention rate, what is the average spend per member, and so on. Far too many organisations fail to baseline, so how can they measure improvement?

2. Failing to see further than set-up costs

A CRM-implementation isn’t just a one-year project; it’s meant to help you transform your business over years, so it doesn’t stop at ‘go live’. You need to budget for regular improvement and tuning. When buying a car, you don’t just consider the cost of the actual vehicle; you consider the running costs, insurance, maintenance, MOT, fuel etc. It’s the same for a CRM implementation.

Not only that, there may well be indirect costs arising from the implementation, such as those around adapting and integrating other systems that need to ‘talk’ to the CRM. For example, your website CMS, email marketing platform or finance system.

The solution:

  • Understand your costs over at least a three-year period – what are the initial set-up costs and the costs for two years for training new staff, support, upgrades and improvements etc.? Your CRM supplier (prospective or otherwise) should be able to guide you on this
  • Understand how your systems will integrate – what systems do you have already in place? Which may need to be dropped and/or integrated with it? What processes need adapting? Associate costs with these and you’re well on the way to mitigating the risk of this issue
  • Identify key project personnel – whether you choose to outsource the project management or keep it in-house, there will be more demands on staff throughout. Identify who is key to the project and help them plan for their additional workload. Can someone else manage certain tasks for the project duration? Do you need to take on temporary staff to help?

3. The fear of change

‘It’ll mean more work for me’

‘It’ll put me out of a job’

‘I like how I do it right now’

The fear of change shouldn’t be underestimated, not only at development stage but also once the system is in place. You’re most likely to experience this amongst your staff that will be using the system, although you may well have variants of this fear at all levels.

The solution:

  • Understand individuals’ motivations – what’s behind these fears?
  • Address these fears – be open about the project, explain how it will make their job more efficient and how it will work alongside their existing tasks
  • Focus on helping each person to understand ‘what’s in it for me?’
  • Provide regular updates and get people involved – ask for their input and act on it 
  • Use the testing stage as a training ground for users
  • Make sure the system you choose is easy to use and integrates easily with existing systems
  • Provide suitable training for users at all levels 

4. Buy-in from top down

Board-level buy-in can be a real challenge particularly when it comes to investing large amounts of money in new systems. Commonly, the need for a new CRM is identified somewhere within middle management, with support from peers, only to hit a brick wall when trying to discuss the idea with Directors. This is often because they are so far removed from those members of staff who are using the system on a day-to-day basis.

The solution:

  • Put a business proposal together – clearly set out the problems, solution(s), resource implications and overall benefits. If you’ve sat with all departments to understand what problems they have – your CRM proposal should answer most (if not all) of those issues
  • Try to work out a cost of any current inefficiencies, missed renewals or lost opportunities to grow your member base
  • Address any fears. They will probably have many of the same fears that the staff who will be using the system have but for different reasons

5. It doesn’t stop once the system is live

Your CRM has gone live and your staff have got the hang of it but that doesn’t mean the project is over. A CRM should be considered an organic system; it’s designed to evolve as your organisation does. Identify where functionality needs to be developed to get the most out of your system and support your overall business goals.

The solution:

  • Set up a working group – regularly review how the system is working, what upgrades and new features are available and how they can help
  • Develop a road map – work with your CRM supplier to understand what system functionality upgrades are in the pipeline and how they can help improve your organisation’s performance
  • Have a set of clear KPIs that you can use to easily identify how close you are to achieving your overall goals and objectives

Are you interested in discussing anything mentioned here or finding out more about how a CRM system can move you one step closer to meeting your member acquisition and retention goals?

If so, get in touch with us at smartimpact. We specialise in helping NFP organisations understand the possibilities a tailored membership CRM system can uncover, at whatever stage they are in their project lifecycle.