If you don’t currently have marketing and sales automation tools, there are many valid reasons you should consider adopting them. After all, not having a CRM presents a serious risk to your business. If details of your best customers and prospects only exist in the heads of your sales people, what happens if they leave?

Having a CRM in place is a great way to strengthen your lead pipeline. That said, purchasing a CRM software system is only as effective as the plan you have to support it post-launch. You need that plan before you purchase to make sure you get the right tool for your business.

While tools have their place, using more of them does not necessarily mean more efficiency, more leads and more bottom-line growth. Consider this: 55% of all CRM projects don’t produce results, according to Gartner Group. The cost of purchasing and implementing the wrong tool can be extensive. Consider not just the hard costs of the tool itself, but also the disruption to your internal teams, the risk of upset customers, and the career-crushing embarrassment when your CRM costs more than planned, yet still does not give you the benefits you promised the CEO or board of directors.

So how do you do it right? A solid, well-thought out plan is essential to making any major software purchase a success. Below are five items to consider while writing your plan, before you sign the check for that new CRM software:

1. Data is king and (almost) nothing else matters

Your system will only be as good as the data you place in it. That being said, your data will never be perfect; it’s the project that never ends. To find balance, focus on data clean-up for your top 20 percent of customers and top 20 percent of prospects first, then prioritize from there. Stakeholders have to be involved in this process, but don’t saddle your top sales people with data clean-up for thousands of accounts; You don’t pay them to clean up data. You pay them to sell.

Instead, plan, as part of your CRM project cost, to have an employee whose sole job is data integrity. Whether this is a current team member or a new hire, having a staff member dedicated to data is key, and should be part of your plan before you make a purchase.

2. If the shoe fits, wear it! If not, please don’t buy it.

I can’t stress this enough – fit is everything! Yes, there are some very slick systems out there that can do some amazing things, and any decent software sales rep will tell you that you must have them all. Salesforce is a mega-toolbox filled with everything imaginable, but it might be overkill and expensive when all you need is a screwdriver and a hammer.

Before you dive into a massive system with all the bells and whistles, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many of those “features” do you really need?
  • What functionality will you realistically be able to support 6-12 months post launch (i.e. is your organization mature enough to benefit)?
  • How much room for growth within the system do you anticipate needing? Is your company on the verge of expansion, acquiring another firm, etc.?
  • How much cost will you incur from monthly license fees, initial installation and support? And, don’t forget about all the soft expenses of implementation and training, as well as the opportunity cost of sales reps not selling while they try to learn a new tool.

These are all important questions to ask before you jump into any system purchase. Buying a system that is too large for your organization will cost you in dollars and frustration at all levels. Choose wisely. There are some great, less expensive systems out there that will help you with the basics of what you need, and have a few bells and whistles that make sense. If this is your first CRM system, consider starting smaller with the knowledge that you can change 3-5 years out as your needs change.

3. This is a culture change – and it’s not easy.

If you’ve never had a CRM system before, this isn’t just software, this is truly a culture change. A CRM will affect everything from morale to performance, especially with your tenured employees. People get used to doing things a certain way, and with a CRM you will be telling them to do it differently. In addition, you’re expecting them to learn a new system that can be confusing and frustrating. Some may even perceive the system as a way for management to “keep tabs” on them.

The best way to combat their insecurities and frustrations is to plan ahead. Make sure to constantly promote the positives of having a system to stakeholders, and ensure complete buy-in from leadership as well. Include stakeholders from all areas, including your sales reps, in the review of software. They could become your biggest advocates later. Show them how this will make their lives easier, and then show them again. In addition, you must have a robust training program in place prior to your purchase.

4. Train, train, and train again…

Don’t expect to train people once. Take the training in bite-size pieces and expect that some will have to repeat it two or three times before they are confident. You have to crawl before you can walk. Make sure to provide a resident expert or “project champion” who is easy for them to reach out to.

It’s great to purchase a system that offers online training resources, but that will not take the place of a super user who sits down the hall. Every time you add a new employee, update the system, or add a new feature, expect to train again. Commit to a constant state of learning and keep in mind the “bigger” the system you purchase, the more training will be necessary.

5. Test and measure what’s working, and know to dump what isn’t

As you move from purchase, to implementation, to analysis, don’t forget to take a hard look at what is working and what simply isn’t. Is there a feature or process that is frustrating everyone and has become a bottleneck? Is there an area of the system that gets no attention and should? Don’t be afraid to measure and adjust. If there are parts that simply aren’t working, brainstorm new approaches to accomplish the same thing. Not every process has to live 100 percent in the system, especially if it’s not working for the majority of your team. Remember, the system is supposed to work for you, not the other way around. If the CRM and your team aren’t working together to increase your bottom line, take a close look at why, and change it quickly.

Choosing lead pipeline tools for your business can be difficult. Developing a comprehensive plan to support your system before any purchase will greatly ease stress and help ensure success moving forward. Keep the five considerations we’ve shared above in mind and your system and team will soon be working together to increase bottom line revenue.