What's An Integrator And Do I Need One?

Any tool you select will need to be installed, customized to your needs, perhaps integrated with other systems, and finally deployed. This is the technical side of the implementation, a big task in itself and one which you probably will need outside help to accomplish. In addition, you may need help with making changes and improvements in the business processes that are involved in the automation project, rolling out the process changes to the teams, and providing training. So while there is a technical side of CRM implementations, there is another set of business-oriented activities, at least some of which will be required for your project. They include:

  • Process analysis and definition. Successful CRM implementation projects are built on a clear set of processes for interacting with customers. If your processes are already clearly defined, well documented, actually used by the organization, and deemed effective for the foreseeable future, you should be able to proceed to implementation with just a quick review and no more than some minor tweaking as required to adapt to the tool.

    In all other cases, you need to tackle some significant work with processes before the CRM tool can be implemented. This may be for a variety of reasons. It could be that the organization has been operating informally so far, and therefore processes need to be formalized so you can automate them into the tool. This may require harmonizing locally inconsistent processes. Or it could be that the existing processes are not working well. In that case, they should not be implemented in the tool as they currently stand; instead, they should be modified and improved before starting the implementation. In rare cases, it could be that the existing processes, although working well, cannot easily be automated in the tool (and despite the best efforts of the CRM team it has proved impossible to find a tool that would easily automate them). In this situation, review and adapt the business processes to the ones modeled by the tool to minimize customizations.

    Whenever possible it's best if the process definition and implementation work can be done before the tool implementation starts (although that would be pretty much impossible in the situation that was just described). However, it's common to find that the review of the business processes is triggered by the tool implementation itself and therefore the technical and business efforts must proceed together. It's not such a bad thing actually because you can get inspired by the tool and avoid designing processes that the tool will not easily support.

  • Change management. CRM projects, however modest, bring changes to the organization. If the changes are small and the organization is working well in general, the amount of so-called change management will be limited and the existing management structure should be able to handle it. Larger changes will require a more concerted approach, which may call for outside help from an experienced integrator.
  • Training. End-user training is critical both to ensure proper use of the tool and to facilitate its acceptance. The background of the users and the amount of the process changes will determine the scope of the training required, from simple cheat sheets, to hands-on tutorials, to process training. But all projects require some amount of training.

The first question you must answer when making a decision about integrators is the scope of the project. How much process definition, change management, and training will be needed in addition to the technical component of the task? The second question is whether you should tackle the implementation yourself, without outside help. If your project is very simple and doesn't require much more than a quick installation of an off-the-shelf product, then you can probably do it by yourself (and, if so, you can skip this chapter entirely). Otherwise, you should probably get some help, and here is why.

  • Specialized expertise. Implementing a CRM system requires some specialized skills that you may not have in-house and which you may not have time to develop.
  • Short-term need. CRM implementation projects require large numbers of resources. While you need to retain a certain amount of permanent resources to support and maintain the system for the long term, that level of resources is a lot smaller than what you need for the project itself. So it usually makes sense to contract out the manpower that is required only for the project.
  • Experience. Practice makes perfect. It's much easier and faster to implement a tool if you have done it many times before. While you could theoretically train your own staff and use it for the implementation, an experienced team will not only get it done faster but will also avoid many of the pitfalls that an inexperienced team may encounter. In short, using an integrator will make for a faster and higher-quality implementation.

Of course, getting maximum benefits from working with an integrator requires you select a good one and that you properly manage it throughout the implementation, topics which are addressed in the rest of this chapter and in the next chapter, respectively.