Out with the old: selecting the right CRM

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Yasmine Strategy Designer

1 Mar 2016  ·  8 min read

As any larger company can tell you, a well-oiled CRM system can be a tremendous improvement to an organisation. But when the system is flawed, it can cause a lot of mayhem and frustration for everyone involved.

In the case of BASE Company, they were experiencing the typical headaches that come with legacy software. The CRM they were using was a textbook example: outdated, cluttered and crash-prone because of years of update upon update, costly to maintain, and very user-unfriendly. The company was eager to improve on this situation, and wanted to change to a different supplier, taking this opportunity to look more closely at the ways the CRM was used by different departments of their business.

A strategic challenge

BASE Company came to us because we had completed a number of successful cooperations together. Our working relationship had evolved into a strategic innovation partnership, where we took projects through our Strategy and Service Design trajectories together to add value. For instance, we had recently helped them streamline their internal processes with the Mobile Workplace app.

BASE Company felt that, as we had already established ourselves as a trustworthy partner for all things digital, we would be a neutral pair of eyes that would help them come to the optimal decision. They knew the majority of their employees disliked their current CRM, and they wanted to make sure they avoided the same pitfalls. The scope of the project was entirely strategic, compared to our often more product-driven endeavours, so we welcomed the opportunity to dive into something a little different.

Research into the unknown

As always, we started out by diving deeper into our assignment, to figure out the true scope and purpose of the project. When we felt we had the most relevant factors mapped out, focusing on employee productivity and customer satisfaction, we started doing our desk research. We started by taking a high-level look at the entire field of industry automation software, mapping the different ways these tools helped companies improve the interactions between a customer and the company. We gathered inspirational cases, trends and possible pitfalls in implementation that we could make sure to avoid.

We then built on the list of potential CRM suppliers the team at BASE Company had already compiled to gain a broad overview of the CRM playing field and its specific focus points. It quickly became clear that different CRM solutions are very similar at the core, but all place specific focus on different aspects and features. The key to success would be to pick the supplier that was most closely aligned with BASE’s strategy and specific use cases.

Breaking free of constraints

After having completed our research, we organised a first ideation session. We purposely wanted to keep it high-level, and invited stakeholders from every department that would be using the CRM – from Marketing and IT to Customer Support and the employees of the physical BASE shops.

Together, we tried to identify the way they would like to change their processes to accomplish a better customer experience and the main goals they had in mind for the new CRM system. What problems did it need to solve that the current solution did not? We wanted to make sure that they thought freely from BASE’s strategy and philosophy, while letting go of the constraints and limitations of their old and clunky CRM.

An interesting conclusion we could immediately draw was that, while each stakeholder had a very different way of interacting with the CRM system, their top priorities and focus points were very much aligned. Our ideation process is specifically designed to encourage stakeholders to think creatively and constructively together, and in this case, with great effect.

After the ideation session, we combined the input we had gathered into user stories. Because of the scope and complexity of the project, we clustered these into five different categories.

  • Customisable: Easily adapt screens, filters and reports to align the system with the day-to-day work processes.
  • Intelligent: Propose the best actions and services for the customer’s profile and behavior patterns.
  • Intuitive: Easily consult, enter, modify and visualise data.
  • Scalable: Easily extend the scope of the CRM system and smoothly integrate it with external tools.
  • Stable: Keep using the system even if one component is down.

Diving deep into the problem

Once we had completed the first ideation, we conducted interviews with different stakeholders to gather a more in-depth understanding of the current challenges and needs. We made sure to visit each department that works with the CRM, taking them through list of crucial questions and trying to observe them as they used the tool.

When it comes to our Strategy and Service Design trajectories, we usually follow the templates and approach that we’ve refined over the past few years. In this case, however, it became clear that we’d need to adapt.

Normally, we would take the input from the interviews to a second ideation to define the precise list of features. This time, however, we would have to narrow down the wide range of functional requirements we had withheld from the interviews first. Otherwise, the ideation would not be useful.

This is when we started creating a new tool to suit our needs: the first version of the evaluation matrix.

We combined the insights from the first ideation and the interviews, and the list of characteristics BASE had already compiled, in a structured way. We then looked for overlaps and gaps between our feature backlog and BASE’s own, rearranging everything into the same clusters we had defined before. We also mapped which people would be impacted by each feature.

Finally, we created a section for those crucial features that did not belong in any of the categories – the ease with which data could be migrated from the old CRM to the new one, support policies, increases in ROI, etc.

Refocusing on the users

After we had completed our matrix, we asked the CRM project owners to create their own version, mapping out their criteria and priorities.

We had expected that this second matrix would help us prioritise the features we had already gathered, but here we encountered the first real hiccup in the project. The project owner’s matrix focused entirely on the features and requirements the new CRM would need to have from BASE Company’s perspective – not from that of the software’s end users.

Of course, this isn’t particularly surprising: managers are trained to keep their eye on the big picture and to have the company’s best interest at heart. In this case, however, their focus on these particular aspects gave them a blind spot: if their own employees disliked this CRM as badly as they did the old one, the project would not have the impact everyone was hoping for.

“We knew from our research that 70% of CRM integrations fail because they’re imposed top-down, and realised that we’d have to reopen the conversation with the project owners – or miss out on a crucial opportunity for improvement.”

In order to convince them, we created a merged matrix, and took that to a second evaluation session.

Evaluating and agreeing

Before this session, we let each stakeholder score the features that were relevant to his or her use of the CRM system. With their input, we completed the final evaluation matrix, which we then worked out in more detail and took to all users of the CRM system. We added this step to our usual process because we felt that we could add real value by facilitating the communications flow about the CRM system to BASE’s different departments.


During the evaluation session, we let each stakeholder –representing his department– fill out the evaluation matrix on the features that were relevant to them, using a simple but effective system. Every user had received a full product presentation and a demo of the participating CRM suppliers. They then rated each feature for each of the proposed suppliers on a scale of 1 to 3, and had to motivate their choices. This first scoring was done individually, in order to make sure that everyone could get their thoughts on paper.

We then divided the different stakeholders in two groups, where they were asked to challenge each other on the differences in scoring, discuss their opinions, and –hopefully– reach a consensus. The discussions were fruitful and objective, and the differences between different departments were overcome with relative ease. Eventually, a winner – by a noticeable points margin – started emerging. Salesforce became our recommendation for the project owner and BASE Company’s decision makers.

What we learned

Perhaps our biggest takeaway from the project was how much our focus on collaborative thinking impacted the decision-making process. Everyone truly appreciated the opportunity to have their say and discuss the different options available. We were also glad to see that while the project owners at BASE Company were already leaning towards one particular candidate before we came in, they participated in our process and re-evaluated their original first choice based on our findings and outside perspective – which, of course, was exactly why they took us on board.

From our own perspective, the project was a great opportunity for growth. A strategic exercise like this one was ideal to strengthen our muscles and see how our processes can be adapted to different kinds of situations. And that, of course, is exactly what we look for in the projects we take on.

Does your company struggle with a similar software-related conundrum? We’d love to help! Scroll down a bit more for our contact details, and let’s see what we could do for you…