CRM thrives in an innovative, collaborative work environment, where every member of your organization shares a commitment to serving your clients’ needs. Whether coming up with new ideas for products or services, or working together to resolve an issue, the positive environment supported by a good CRM makes the difference.

Taking a balanced, structured approach to innovation

Everyone knows that innovation is important, if not critical to the long-term survival of any business. It enables a business to remain competitive in a continuously changing environment. Innovation is always talked about in the context of “more is better.” Who doesn’t want to be an innovator? Innovation by itself isn’t enough, though. It must be guided toward making the right impact on the way you serve your customers and other people in your business.

Is it new technology that makes your product better? Is it a new way of servicing your clients? Is it a more efficient way of doing business? These ideas can be beneficial, but an organization needs structure around innovation to keep everyone focused on creating meaningful improvements. Without structure, you risk people coming up with a multitude of unactionable ideas and distracting others from their jobs.

Innovation without direction can wreak havoc to your company’s productivity. Be careful to encourage people to bring ideas, but not spend their days thinking of ways that ultimately disrupt normal business activities. It’s important to put structure around the innovation process. Although some of the most innovative ideas can pop into people’s heads when they’re immersed in their normal work, it’s best to channel those ideas through a defined process of evaluating and sharing. Define specific times and methods for brainstorming and sharing ideas before they spread across the company’s desks and emails.

Development of innovation should be a managed process, not something randomly determined by people pushing their ideas. Establish criteria that set the bar for new ideas, so people can prescreen their own ideas before sharing them. A software company, for example, may use a combination of these factors:
  • Applicability: How many clients would benefit from this innovation?
  • Weight: Are the clients who could benefit paying us a lot of money?
  • Competition: Do we have competitors who do this, and do they leverage it well?
  • Difficulty: Will this require a lot of resources to implement?
Reevaluate your list of ideas regularly: monthly, quarterly, annually, or according to whatever schedule makes sense for your business and the competitive environment in which it operates. Markets and technologies change rapidly, so you want to be responsive and proactive whenever possible and reasonable to do so. Take advantage of shifting priorities from your customers and employees when it makes sense to change direction.

Identifying resources that contribute to innovation and your CRM

The greatest resource you have for innovation comes from your own team and listening to feedback from customers. Your employees are vested in doing the right thing for you and the people they work with, so encourage that participation. Your employees are closest to your customers; they have insight into customer demand from first-person experiences. Similarly, your customers stand to gain from work you do that makes your products and services better.

Developing your plan for your new CRM require company-wide innovation around your business processes. When you have meetings where team members share their new ideas, be supportive of their efforts, no matter how small or misguided they might be. Make sure they understand that a framework is in place to approve new ideas and incorporate them into your organization.

This framework provides a comprehensive way to prioritize innovative ideas, so the process doesn’t become too political. To manage expectations, make it clear that only a relatively small percentage of all the ideas you gather will be implemented in the short term.

Going beyond having conversations with your employees and customers, you want to get a feel for how the culture of your organization feels about innovation. Find out how much your team is encouraged to share new ideas. If the culture resists change, talk to management and get support for the upcoming changes you’re making to the business.

Measuring the impact of innovation on your CRM

Sometimes gauging the impact of a new idea on your business is difficult. To meet this challenge, put one person in charge of tracking innovations and set well-defined, quantitative criteria for measuring success.

If you’re trying to impact lead generation, for example, calculate the number of leads you can attribute to your initiative. If it’s customer satisfaction, you may need to conduct before and after surveys to determine how the initiative has impacted customer satisfaction. Have the person in charge of tracking innovations produce formal reports to help identify what’s working and what’s not.

When implementing new ideas, be sure to clearly spell out criteria for success in quantitative means. If you’re trying to impact lead generation, calculate the number of leads you can attribute to your innovation. If improving customer satisfaction is the goal, send surveys. Reporting, particularly when you can use your CRM to view the impact on different market segments, provides the feedback that guides future innovations.

Facilitating collaborative brainstorming for your CRM

To get buy in from your team on requirements for your CRM, you may want to engage some or all your team members in a collaborative brainstorming session. It opens the door for you to get a better understanding of requirements and nice-to-haves for your CRM.

Creating an environment that encourages and enables people to work together on sharing and developing new ideas may be harder than it sounds. A significant part of the challenge is often physical; for example, if people work in different parts of a building, telecommute, or work on teams that deal with different disciplines, communication and camaraderie can be difficult.

Fortunately, cloud-based computing offers numerous software solutions to facilitate collaboration, free and low-cost chat and screen-sharing tools such as Skype, GotoMeeting,, or What’s App. Other, more advanced software systems, including Slack and Yammer, are also worth a look. The best CRM platforms also have collaboration tools embedded into them as part of the platform you can use every day.

When you start the brainstorming process, you want to maximize the free flow of ideas as much as possible. If you have the resources to bring your team together in front of a whiteboard, that is a great way to facilitate creativity. Encourage everyone to pitch ideas; certainly some of them will be bad ideas, but suspend criticism during the creative phase. Operate on the premise that there are no bad ideas. You can winnow down ideas to the best of the bunch.

Limit the number of participants to no more than 25. Otherwise, it gets a little difficult to bring out ideas from everyone. Discussions tend to be run by a few strong personalities. If a few people monopolize the session, break out into teams. Depending on how you’re set up, you can have them focus functionally (for example, customer service in one team, product development in another, and so on), or you can mix and match by assigning members from different departments to each team to provide a multi-disciplined perspective.

Collect the ideas and rank them to help identify which ideas to pursue. For example, you can use ease of implementation, impact on the customer, cost, risk to brand, and impact on revenue as factors in ranking ideas. A spreadsheet is often a good way to compile the data, but there are other brainstorming and decision-making tools.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Lars Helgeson is a pioneer in sales and marketing technology. His CRM platform for small to mid-size businesses, GreenRope, was built from scratch and has grown to include over 3,000 clients in more than 40 countries since its inception in 2011. He is a frequent speaker for small membership organizations and conferences.

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