A CRM Center of Excellence Implementation Guide
- A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Center of Excellence (CoE) scales scarce and high-demand skills across the company. The intent is to centralize skilled resources to deliver a force multiplier performance effect by disseminating technology capabilities, operational insights and best practices.
- The goal of a CoE is to shift from routine CRM software operation that delivers incremental improvements for a limited period to a much higher utilization that drives increased user adoption and technology ROI. Many times, that means advancing from operational mediocrity to Best-in-Class performance achievements.
- Designing and implementing a CoE is best done with a 6-step framework, illustrated in this post.
6 Steps to Implementing a CRM Center of Excellence
We know when a CRM Center of Excellence is properly defined and designed it can achieve breakthrough revenue performance and high double-digit technology ROI.
CoE specialists identify innovation opportunities, disseminate customer insights and lessons learned, standardize best practices for wide scale execution, evaluate and plan advanced application capabilities, and share expertise to increase user adoption, software utilization and technology ROI.
Even a relatively small group of specialists can provide improved governance, change how technology is used, deliver consultative services to internal stakeholders and disseminate know-how, lessons, and recommendations to the user community to achieve a force multiplier productivity impact.
But how exactly do you stand up a CRM Center of Excellence?
Our Center of Excellence CRM research and experience have contributed to a design and implementation framework, shared here.
A 6 Step Implementation Framework
The right CoE starts with the right Target Operating Model. Each of the 6 components is essential to sustained success.
Start with a Strategy and Roadmap
Customer Relationship Management is a business strategy aimed and growing mutually rewarding and profitable customer relationships at scale.
CRM software is the technology that enables that strategy. The application provides the data management, repeatable processes, process automation, and information reporting to achieve strategic goals, things like acquiring, growing and retaining customers.
CRM strategy is the linkage from the software to the business outcomes. It shows specifically how the software will achieve the objectives. Without strategy that link is left to chance, and the business outcomes are either likely to be delayed or unlikely to happen.
Without strategy, technology operates in a vacuum and execution is aimless.
CRM strategy and software are symbiotic. Powerful together, but ineffectual apart.
Using the application without a strategy is a lot like watching a foreign language film without subtitles. A lot of activity, but you have no idea where it's going.
That's why a strategy with a roadmap is needed to define and navigate the path.
The strategy will define how the CoE will organize scarce skills to improve user adoption, software utilization and ROI.
It will show what a successful CoE looks like. It will identify how experts apply the application to improve customer and business outcomes.
The best strategies are not made of wandering verbiage or delivered as a document that gets a cursory review and filed away.
The best strategies are execution-driven roadmaps. They show what must be done and how each effort contributes to the next. Our experience in implementing CoEs with clients has found that a strategy blueprint is often the simplest and most effective tool for realizing goals.
This approach is particularly effective in focusing effort on the actions that produce the outcomes that matter. It also avoids wasting time with activities that don't.
Another method to craft a successful CoE strategy and roadmap in short order is a Design Thinking workshop.
Design thinking is an iterative, people-focused design method that applies deep empathy for users and collaboration among multi-disciplinary teams. This process firmly identifies the highest impact and most important CoE success criteria.
Regardless of design method, the roadmap should link strategy to execution and calibrate the CoE investment with its forecasted payback.
Be clear that no CoE is sustainable unless it can link its performance improvements to financial results and show a positive return to the company.
As the saying goes, 'well begun is half done.' Crafting the right strategy and roadmap is both the fastest task among the 6 steps and the step that most drives the CoE to sustained success.
Define the CoE Core Competencies
Core competencies are the standout capabilities delivered by expert resources to create company differentiation, competitive advantages and breakthrough performance.
CoEs focus on one or more specific competencies. These capabilities should solve for the customer and align with the customer journey. They should be led by objectives and measured by outcomes. They should optimize resources, processes and technology to achieve synergistic results. Because when they do all these things, they will go well beyond normal performance to achieve extraordinary gains.
There's a tradeoff to consider. Competencies are symbiotic, so more competencies will deliver a proportionally higher impact than fewer. However, adopting more competencies than you can fully resource will dilute effectiveness for each and for the CoE.
The previously discussed strategic roadmap will define the optimal order of competencies and show how adoption of early competencies will deliver the biggest financial uplift and provide a jump start to later competencies. Done right, each added competency builds on the prior and increases ROI.
Core competencies are normally organized into areas of expertise. Below is an example of a CoE and its core competencies we stood up with an enterprise technology company.
Recognize the above diagram is not an org chart. It's a CoE showing those areas that highly skilled staff will optimize to achieve extraordinary results.
Below are some examples of CoE core competencies.
- Architecture Review Board (ARB)
An ARB is common with midsize and large companies. It governs the technology roadmap. For example, it defines the enterprise architecture to ensure that key capabilities, such as stability, performance, security, scalability, flexibility and extensibility are all achieved at the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO).
For most companies, an enterprise architecture definition does 5 things:
- Provides guidance in how to consistently perform tasks (i.e., customization) that impact the application. Consistent performance increases stability and lowers maintenance and refactoring.
- Advises the best tool for each type of job (i.e., integration, customization, reporting or workflow). You want to leverage the application's internal constructs, tools and services to the maximum extent and use the fewest tools and constructs in consistent ways to deliver and support the most capabilities.
- Shows how the underlying architecture components such as data, apps and processes, combine to create targeted outcomes.
- Verifies quality standards for all application changes or enhancements.
- Creates or appends CI/CD scripts so the updates are automatically managed on a go-forward basis. DevOps test automation detects and distributes alert notifications for architecture deviations.
An enterprise architecture is needed to define how things should be done, standards that must be met, practices that should be replicated and tools that should be used for specific situations.
An ARB is especially needed when Customer Relationship Management software is managed by multiple groups or from multiple locations.
If you don't have a defined enterprise architecture, every developer and system administrator does things their own way, and the company accumulates an unmanageable mess. Without a framework, the CRM app will likely incur ad hoc changes that make the application unwieldy and more difficult to manage.
The below diagram shows a sample architecture model that illustrates the essential nature of a target architecture. It conveys the governing ideas and major building blocks.
- User Experience (UX) improvements are frequently cited as the single greatest impact to increased user adoption.
Anybody can get CRM software to run. But failing to deliver user experiences that make the users' lives easier, more productive and more rewarding is like saying that the operation was successful but the patient died.
Employees are not just users, they're internal customers, and the goal of a new application is not to give them a different place to enter the same data, but instead to engineer better user, customer and business outcomes.
When users fail to realize personal value from the application, they revert to the bare minimum operation, maintain separate shadow systems (often Excel spreadsheets) and incur more manual effort.
Most companies struggle with software utilization, which is why most companies use less than 25% of their CRM applications capability.
That's why User Experience teams in the CoE are so valuable.
They apply user centered design to improve ease of use. They find system capabilities to increase user productivity. They tap into things like mobility, improved process automation, delivering information in context, guided behaviors to suggest next best actions, team-based collaboration, and leveraging knowledge management for content sharing. They know to start their journey by improving the tasks or processes that drain productivity.
- Business Process Design and Automation delivers big gains in time savings and user productivity.
The application default processes take a lowest common denominator approach. Also, very few of them are automated. A CoE competency to simplify, streamline and automate processes, such as the lead conversion process, sales execution process, approval processes or any other will accelerate user adoption and increase software utilization.
CoE staff identify high impact process improvement opportunities and apply methods such as Agile Value Stream Mapping to streamline, simplify and automate those processes.
Sometimes the processes they reengineer are low impact but high transaction volume or voluminous in occurrence. Other times they may identify and eliminate redundant efforts or duplication of work. They measure continuously so they know when performance is good enough and additional investment results in diminishing returns.
Streamlined and well documented business processes root out excess cost, improve execution, enable scalability and facilitate continuous incremental improvement.
- Data and Analytics is the most common CoE competency and the only one for some. Data and application architects figure out how to convert data to insights and deliver it to the person or customer interaction point where it can be applied.
These staff figure out how to distill large volumes of data, synthesize information from multiple sources and deliver the most compelling information in easy to understand and visual presentations.
They use the more advanced CRM tools such as predictive analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). They know to start with sound use cases and then apply technical skills to create AI algorithms that do things like deliver next-best-offers, next-best-actions or contextual recommendations at the exact time and place they can be applied.
CoE staff must prioritize and choose the core competencies that deliver the biggest cost savings and revenue gains.
Remember, the goal is to surpass ordinary CRM software utilization and achieve extraordinary financial results. Many times, that means driving operational performance beyond the norm to Best-in-Class levels. Every time, it means going deep on select competencies to get the most out of your application.
Select the Right Organizational Model
Many leaders exploring a new CoE ask, "What is the best operating model?" But that's not really the right question. Because the best model is based on your technology maturity and therefore evolves over time.
There are many CRM Center of Excellence operating models but the three most popular are centralized, hybrid and federated.
Your choice of an organizational model will determine the extent of your performance outcomes. It will also impact the pace and volume of knowledge that is shared throughout the company.
However, your choice is less about choosing the best model and more about pursuing a progressive sequence where each model extends from the prior and delivers higher revenue contribution and technology ROI.
This model uses a central corporate team to serve all application software user groups.
Its goal is the efficient delivery of advanced CRM capabilities across the company.
This model is common for new CoEs. It can be an effective starting point while the new business unit acquires its resources and skills and develops its mission, purpose, and procedures.
Its top advantage is that it is a low cost, highly scalable model.
Its disadvantage is that when compared to the other models, it is not as effective at increasing the company's most important objectives, such as increasing customer lifetime value or revenue growth.
The most successful leaders operate a hybrid CoE, however, almost always as a transition to get to the ultimate goal of a federated model.
A hybrid model is a mixture of the centralized and federated models. It provides centralized governance but decentralizes some or all technology expertise throughout the company.
Its top advantage is that it expands technical skills throughout the organization. Business outcomes are improved as more people gain the skills and assume accountability for improved results.
Its disadvantage is that is requires continuous engagement and monitoring to ensure guidelines and best practices are being correctly followed and assets and knowledge are being harvested or made available for reuse.
The federated model is sometimes called a hub and spoke. It's a best of both worlds model that drives strategic advancements from a centralized team and functional execution from individual departments or lines of business.
A central component continues to provide governance and highly technical foundational services while individual groups take control of CRM software advancements and operational execution.
This is a decentralized operating model so is well suited for companies with decentralized operating cultures or for less regulated industries. This model is extremely common with global companies that have many geographical locations and those with many or diverse lines of business.
As decentralized groups assume more control, the central CoE assumes a portfolio management role whereby they track objectives and monitor performance to assure alignment and know when to intervene with skilled resources, best practices, or recommendations.
Its top two advantages are that it grows application technical skills and expertise throughout the company and achieves the most impressive customer and business outcomes.
Its disadvantage is the higher cost of operation. However, when considered with the improved business outcomes the cost is absorbed in the increased financial results. Also, initial scalability occurs more slowly as multiple groups evolve in parallel but scalability accelerates as they mature.
Performance results are directly commensurate with the quality of the staff and effectiveness of the team.
Finding, developing and retaining highly technical and specialized staff is a difficult task made easier by applying the talent management disciplines of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, compensation management, performance management, and learning and development.
These disciplines will require extra management time but are needed to preserve your human capital investment.
Specialized technical talent is both scarce and expensive. And the costs become exacerbated with staff turnover. CoE staff have specialized skills that make them difficult to find and expensive to hire so churn will lead to significant slowdowns, bottlenecks and costly hiring expenses.
Active staff coaching, clear career path planning and retention factors such as task diversity, performance reviews, technical training and mentorship are essential to mitigate staff turnover.
In terms of staff needed, it's a good idea to start with a leader that has experience in managing teams that drive enterprise software innovation, value creation and transformation.
The team itself will consist of solution architects, system administrators, business analysts, maybe some developers and specialists for each of your chosen competencies.
Few companies will have all the required skills so as-needed participation from outside consultants can be used to jump start difficult to find skills or when you need to periodically scale up or down.
It's also common to staff a combination of full time and rotational members. For example, rotating marketers into the CoE builds new skills that are then transferred back to the broader organization when those members rotate out. This rotation can also be a career path motivation for staff not in the CoE.
In working with clients, we often apply agile Scrum principals to team design. For example, creating self-directed, multi-functional teams with a limit on team size.
Selecting the right team members is another critical task. We've been designing, implementing, and operating CRM Centers of Excellence for many years and from our experience have identified several characteristics that suggest the best candidates. Here are a few.
- A strong mix of technical skills, intellectual curiosity, and critical thinking; for example, good candidates often question assumptions, may redefine how work gets done and are comfortable in breaking down complex problems into smaller and more manageable tasks.
- When the path forward is unclear, good candidates will apply some type of systemic approach, such as developing a hypothesis and applying test, learn, and iterate cycles for measurable, progressive advancement toward the goal.
- Good staff are self-starters that remain on task with minimal oversight, while at the same time embrace candid reviews, periodic guidance, and constructive criticism.
- Good staff understand how individual application tools and technologies impact user, customer and company objectives.
- They look toward the big picture, such as company priorities, market movements or changes in customer behaviors.
- They show a passion for continuous learning and the personal development of skills and expertise.
- While highly skilled technical staff often operate autonomously that should not suggest they are loners; they often have online or virtual relationships with like-minded professionals and influencers.
- Good staff enjoy sharing learning and expertise with other staff; many times, these people will broadcast their expertise at events or in social channels, or publish what they find interesting in blogs or white papers.
- They do not hold on to sacred cows and are not concerned with "the way it has always been done here."
- Their communications skills are not always strong, but they can explain complex or technical matters in ways nontechnical people can understand, and they are effective in linking their work to easily understood business outcomes.
Fortify the CoE with Operating Principals
Solidifying your core operating principals into a Charter will support operational clarity and create a clear foundation to build upon.
Without operating principals CoEs tend to operate with less direction, less consistency and don't increase their evolutional pace nearly as fast. With operating principals, their efforts are squarely aimed toward overarching objectives and time to value accelerates.
The 6 operating principals we have found most helpful include the following.
- Customer Affinity Strategy
The CoE must start with an overarching customer-centric strategy so that efforts contribute to orchestrating the customer journey and the company's revenue growth strategy. The CoE recognizes these two goals are symbiotic and improving the first will improve the second.
CoE members will figure out how to create solutions that solve for the customer, improve the customer experience, and achieve customer satisfaction. They will link these customer goals with important company goals such as increasing customer acquisitions, growing customer lifetime value and improving customer retention.
- How Work Gets Done
High performing groups apply a combination of Agile and Design Thinking to define how work gets done. That means adopting Agile principals and rigorous execution that typically includes short sprints with mandatory demonstrations and retrospectives.
Design Thinking will define the most important and highest impact outcomes and be supported with artifacts such as Hills, Playbacks and Prototypes.
All initiatives will incur frequent reviews that demonstrate not just individual advancements, but direct correlation or support for broader objectives and the company's priorities.
CoE staff understand that strategic advancements are driven through well-defined processes, not tactics, and focus on effectiveness first, and efficiency second.
- Standards and Processes
There are many CoE processes and each of them should be simplified, streamlined and automated where possible. For example, an intake process will collect suggestions and requests for help. It should then go through steps to assess fit, assure minimal requirements (i.e., any request should have a well-defined problem, a data set, an expected result, and a sponsor), prioritize the request (by business value), estimate effort and payback, and route for approvals.
- Program Management
CoE practitioners must be experts in managing agile projects. Program management will include adoption of a methodology, best practices, industry benchmarks and relentless measurement and reporting. It should have ties to related services such as risk management and change management. The latter is essential when incurring any type of transformation.
- Tools and Technologies
The CoE will assemble a suite of internal productivity tools. That will include things like ideation tools (such as Mural), agile management tools (such as Jira, Rally or Trello) and knowledge management tools (such as knowledge-bases or content management systems). That last tool is especially important for institutionalizing knowledge and making it freely available throughout the company.
- Data Transformation and Analytics
Finally, the group must define the most important metrics that demonstrate their value to constituents and the company. To aid their constituents or the lines of business they serve, they must get agreement on the most important key performance indicators and schedule a cadence to review these measures periodically.
The CoE value should also be measured by the previously referenced customer goals and company outcomes.
A common mistake is reporting to many metrics. That dilutes what's most important with noise. Instead, focus on a short list of highest impact measures. Another common mistake is reporting only historical metrics. Those are important but less impactful than forward looking predictive analytics.
Governance is really about 4 things: transparency, inspection, adaptation and accountability.
Governance starts by identifying constituent groups, their meeting rhythm (frequency), primary responsibilities and information reporting, as illustrated below.
As part of our framework, we use some purpose-built tools to give stakeholders what they need to do their jobs. And to be clear, that starts with clarity in communications. They want truth and they want it early.
They also want the CoE to share risks, issues, concerns, and bad news objectively and early so they can take corrective action quickly. Bad news does not get better with age. Most of all, they want to avoid surprises.
We deliver this type of communication with our CoE Success Factors Executive Dashboard. It's a board room type analysis, and it's effective because it's simple, easy to consume and easy to interpret.
It displays early warnings and provides a basis for decisions, actions, commitment, and sponsorship. We've found that virtually anything and everything about CoE program health is included in the 10 success factors.
Good governance brings clear eyed rationalization when confronted with competing priorities. It also helps separate the urgent from the important and not confuse activity with progress.
A CoE is much more than the centralization of resources, the delivery of shared services or a modified org chart. It redefines how CRM software is utilized and is the single greatest source for continuous performance improvements and breakthrough financial results.
The implementation is not a short or quick event. It is a journey navigated with a roadmap. And those forward-looking leaders who commit to the journey will shift technology utilization from operational mediocrity to Best-in-Class performance.
It's a lot of effort for sure. And that's why those who succeed will achieve competitive advantages over those who sit the sidelines.
The most important thing is to get started, apply center of excellence best practices, mitigate the most common factors that cause CoEs to fail, and make continuous improvements. As said by Mark Twain, the secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, then starting on the first one.