Building a business case for CRM

Darryl Cross, VP, performance development and coaching at LexisNexis, outlines how CMOs and business development leaders can build a business case for CRM in their organisations

Recent research has found that instead of spending money on raising awareness and the top of the purchase funnel, Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) are more focused on investing their money across the entire customer journey. It makes sense – after all it is far less expensive to retain existing clients than acquire news ones.

CRM isn’t a new concept to CMOs or business development leaders in organisations, but it is widely recognised that investment in the discipline doesn’t always deliver the return on investment that it should. In fact, this situation is even more pronounced in the professional services sector where people and relationships drive business.

Why? Perhaps because professionals are scared of CRM and for good reason. It’s like a puppy that continuously chews shoes and makes a mess on the carpet. It sounded good in theory, but the reality is much different.

For many organisations, the fault for this originates in improper identification of need, requirements and costs that allow you to build a business case to be properly executed. CRM is a strategy enabling technology that allows systems and processes to be put in place to generate financial gains. CRM is not a strategy. It is a tool.

Identifying Need

CRM is a tool that requires a tremendous amount of time, money and attention from all stakeholders. The proper questions need to be asked before the need to change will be viewed as critical.

Is it hard to communicate?

The simple act of communicating information should not be a multi-day ordeal. Do you have a way to share information about clients and prospects or help them with their business?

Is it hard to collaborate?

How hard is it for people to work together on deals and projects? For many organisations, their expansion into new cities and markets was based on their ability to bring more resources to bear. Can they?

Is it hard to compete?

Are you guessing what the client wants or needs? Convincing a client to pick you requires insight, innovation and the mitigation of risk. The need for CRM will be defined by the execution gap of need and capability.

Gathering Requirements

What is CRM supposed to do? It depends based on who you ask. Before you move on to gathering requirements, you must identify who the stakeholders are.

Internal stakeholders

The marketing and technology departments are stakeholders. They will manage the CRM implementation and operation. If these functions tap into data from finance, HR and other departments, then they are stakeholders, too.

External stakeholders

CRM benefits clients, so they are stakeholders. What do your clients want from your CRM system? How will it help them make money, look smart and be happy that they are achieving their goals?

Acknowledge Costs and Build a Case

CRM is expensive, hard to push internally and very complex. However, there is no reason to make it more trouble than it has to be. You need to acknowledge the true costs and build the proper business case.

The costs

With CRM, some of the direct costs include software, servers and consulting services. Indirect costs include change management, downtime and dealing with detractors. The costs must always be put into perspective: is what we are spending going to help us achieve our top goals? Is it worth it?

The case

Here are the building blocks for your business case:

  1. Discuss clients’ needs by standing in their shoes and walking backwards
  2. Identify the goals of your organisation
  3. Frame costs and needed commitments
  4. Discuss options and alternatives
  5. Make final recommendation by merging client need and organisational goals

The Execution Plan

You will know that you have made a proper business case when the goals for the firm and the needs of the client are congruent. After months of work and debate, you have finished the easy part. Now, you have to execute.


That ownership role belongs to the champion pushing the top goals. These goals are never to “get a good database”. That is an outcome of having a goal such as “grow our business by 10%”. Who owns that goal? That person is your champion.


If CRM is positioned as “useful, but optional”, it is actually more likely to fail than simply positioning it as a marketing tool. It must be positioned and used as a strategic priority. CRM may do many other things, but when implementing and talking about it, stick to strategic positioning.

Rollout format

The best type of implementation is a “tactical rollout, strategic deployment” process based on clients. This is different from traditional technology pilots based on internal groups. Pick a number of clients and give CRM to those who interact with them.

Focus, focus, focus

Not all contacts are created equal. It is very tempting to make sure there is not a single error in the entire database? Is John’s Cycle Shop and HSBC the same in terms of importance? Data on top clients, prospects, alumni and employees must be perfect. Everything else is secondary. Also, resist the urge to become an event management or newsletter company because you have access to CRM.

Go back to your business case to design your implementation plan. Plan based on the top goals of the firm and clients, find a champion, position it correctly, deploy based on clients and focus on the right contacts, you will be successful!