How to Create a CRM Strategy in 3 Steps


  • Industry research shows that a CRM Strategy is the most influential factor to drive CRM software benefits, payback and success.
  • A strategy defines what's important. It's more important to do the right things than do things right. Because doing low value, mediocre or non-essential things right serves no purpose and achieves little or nothing. Strategy defines the right things, the most strategic things, the things that most drive success and ROI.
  • Strategy also focuses on the methods and processes that produce the outcomes that most matter and avoids wasting time with activities that don't.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Research from the CRM Failure Report affirms what analysts have been telling us for years. The research findings show that when a CRM strategy precedes a CRM software implementation, the implementation is about 4 times more likely to be successful and delivers a 3.5X greater return on investment.

"Disappointment with CRM is usually the result of poorly conceived strategies that don't increase revenues or reduce costs."
— Forrester, Assess CRM Capabilities to Pinpoint Opportunities Report

"CRM is not part of a business strategy; It is the business strategy."
— Claudio Marcus, Director of Research at Gartner

The report findings bring data and measurability to what I've experienced from over 30 years of CRM implementations. However, recognizing the undeniable link between strategy and software success is one thing. Designing a strategy that works is another.

Here we share 3 steps of the Johnny Grow framework that has been used to design effective CRM strategies for more than two decades.


Vision Pyramids

Your strategy starts with your vision – and the vision pyramid brings visualization to your vision. It shows what you want to achieve in clear terms.

The image below is an example of two alternative approaches. One vision pyramid applies a software focus while the other applies a customer focus.

CRM Strategic Vision

The software focused pyramid emphasizes technology and takes an inside-out perspective, that is how does the company use CRM application to benefit the company.

The customer focus pyramid emphasizes business goals and takes an outside-in perspective, that is how does the company use CRM software to better acquire, grow and retain customers.

The left pyramid is really pursuing a software installation without a strategy. This approach is short sighted and most often results in a lack of user, customer and business outcomes that matter. Just installing CRM software by itself isn't going to improve business outcomes any more than putting a new engine in your car will make you a better driver.

The vision pyramid helps define strategy and is extremely influential in determining whether the CRM program and software is sustainable. And to be clear, the technology is only sustainable if it aligns and supports the company's top priorities; which are most often articulated and repeated by the CEO or C-suite.

In my experience, I've never heard a CEO express a company priority of getting a report or managing activities. What I hear repeatably from CEOs are things like grow the company, grow revenues, increase customer share, increase market share and better serve customers. If your technology can drive these things, you make it essential and sustainable. You make it something the company cannot live without.

Otherwise, it's probably just another IT project, departmental program and missed opportunity to contribute to what's most important to the company and will ultimately become challenged and marginalized.


The Strategy Blueprint

Strategies are not paper documents that get read once and then filed away. They are data-driven, benchmark-based road maps that achieve slated objectives.

Neither CRM success nor strategic outcomes happen by chance. They happen when they are engineered to happen. The diagram below shows a recent client example of how a CRM strategy was architected.

Best Practices Blueprint

See how a CRM blueprint facilitates software execution to achieve strategic results.

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From our experience of developing CRM strategies for more than three decades, we find strategy is best designed as a roadmap that starts with a headline objective and is supported by the best practices needed to achieve that objective. It's critical that the outcomes are supported with methods (sometimes called blueprints or plays) that bring prescriptive instruction and show how to apply the right mix of people, process and technology.

In the above example, the client goal was to increase revenue 18 percent. To achieve that goal the top target outcomes and Methods were sourced from industry research that shows how the Best-in-Class (top 15 percent of companies) used their application to achieve revenue growth.

Success comes from doing the right things and doing them right. Strategy defines the right things. Methods define how to do them right.


Prioritize Execution

Trying to do too much to quickly is a mistake for most companies. A phased approach based on prioritization makes more sense.

There are lots of things you can do with technology. But each has a different level of effort and payback. For planning, the question is not what can you do, but what should you do. The strategic approach is to assess each of the opportunities relative to your current environment.

This 2x2 grid is a tool we use to measure and prioritize opportunities.

CRM Strategy Grid

The grid is part of a Design Thinking exercise. It positions goals on a two-dimensional curve according to Impact and Feasibility. This then displays the capabilities into categories of unwise ideas that should be avoided, utility ideas that are table stakes, no-brainer ideas that should be adopted, and big bet ideas that can be considered now or in the future.

Viewing system capabilities in this context makes it very simple to prioritize and pursue the opportunities that deliver the biggest impact in the least time and cost.

This also aids companies seeking business transformation, which differs from incremental improvements as goals are prioritized in a way to do 1 or 2 things that deliver order of magnitude improvements, instead of doing many things that deliver 1 or 2 percent enhancements.

This prioritization method is then integrated to the Product Backlog. After initial projects are selected and completed, you return to the grid, reassess items, add new goals and repeat the process.