Technology Expert: No IT system succeeds without a vision and executive input

Author: Kristina Järvekülg

Stjepan has been responsible for the implementation of customer relationship management (CRM) platforms for a long time. He has worked with international companies such as O2, Vodafone and Spotify, and today he leads the Salesforce Developers and Consultants unit at LeverUP. He sets the record straight about what expectations a manager should set for himself, for the IT team and the entire company.

The implementation of any new software solution is a challenge. It usually is not undertaken without the need to alleviate a significant problem or the expectation of growth. But who and when could initiate technological innovations in the company? Who should be involved and trained in the process and what support could external experts provide? We asked Stjepan Martinić, the COO of LeverUP, who has nearly 15 years of diverse software implementation experience, to answer these questions.

Every manager’s dream is that all company processes work invisibly and flawlessly and that the company grows profitably. For this to happen, procedures must be organized and efficient. Also, the customers and employees should be happy. Digitization is the main keyword here. What does your experience show; who initiates the topic of digital changes to take the company to the next level?

When it comes to the introduction of new software and the automation of previously functioning processes, today it can be seen that there is a big gap between who should do it and who actually initiates it. The business side is the one who should be responsible for solutions that benefit them, but often their experience and knowledge of software acquisition processes is weak, because of this, procurement is initiated by the IT manager. But the most important thing is still that digitization is undertaken (Stjepan laughs). And after the first positive experience of digital change, the business side starts to feel more confident and initiates the next changes.

The ideal situation is where the CEO knows how to direct his employees to look for digital solutions to achieve business goals. IT is a mentor and an assistant to the business side.

Let’s say that the decision to switch to a completely new customer management software is made by the top management, but the entire further decision-making process moves to the IT department, because it is a software solution so they should manage its implementation. Is this a reasonable approach?

The IT department and the business side have very different responsibilities when it comes to software solutions. It doesn’t matter what software is being implemented, whether it’s Salesforce or something else. No new system implementation can happen without ownership and a clear vision from the business owner. Of course, the IT department can subsequently support this process, but the objectives and usage testing must still be carried out by the business side. The IT side can help with the process framework and provide project management support. You can mentor how to bring together the right roles and what are the responsibilities of these roles during the project, the framework for monitoring, testing and commissioning of the project. These are knowledge/skills where IT mostly has no opponent.

Nowadays there is a huge abundance of customer management platforms. There are solutions from wall to wall. Isn’t there a risk that IT people are comfortable and only choose solutions they know and don’t consider other options?

Oh yes, the assortment is large and exciting. It is impossible for the IT managers to know all the platforms themselves. Customer management software is acquired for longevity which is why it is smart to put your own resources into understanding the process and possibilities. One way is to learn a huge amount of material, but another way is to ask consulting companies to demo solutions, explain the capabilities and advantages of their platforms over other platforms. It is important to get a personal demo that describes the solutions that meets your challenges. Many consulting companies do such demos for a fee. We have taken the path that in most cases we educate our clients for free, because we see great value in the growth of knowledge in the business landscape.

It is important to understand that CRM affects the work of all departments in the company, both role clarity and expectation management are necessary here. Who should do what and when during the transition to new software?

How successfully CRM is implemented in a company depends very much on the attitude of the executive side. Change management plays a very important role. It is also extremely important to manage expectations and to transform existing work processes, in which both the product owner and the heads of departments, who become very important channels of internal communication, play a role. They also must deal with internal marketing and explain why the new software is introduced and what the result will be. It is equally important to involve people in the design process of the solution. Then they get an idea of the structure of the solution even before the software actually starts working. Employees should be involved throughout the input collection process, as the partner helping to implement the system must understand all pain points and needs.

How can LeverUP help companies adopt new solutions?

Each development has three stages. The first is analysis; then software selection and the third phase is software implementation. In our company, all roles for these necessary steps are covered – analysts, software architects, consultants and developers who implement these activities. One of the reasons why we are trusted is that most of our employees have long-term work experience and have worked with many different platforms like Salesforce, Pipedrive, Hubspot, SalesManago, Adobe and other well-known and less well-known platforms.

Every platform has its quirks, good sides and lacking parts, but Salesforce is the only one that can cover all the functionalities, because they have acquired all the best service, sales and marketing start-ups in their 25 years of operation and integrated them into their platform. It is simply the most resource-friendly if you have data in one place and need to manage one platform instead of ten different ones.

We have worked with very different companies, large companies such as British Gas, Telia in Norway, Spotify, Hilti, as well as smaller players such as Metalekspo in Latvia or Bite Telecom which covers the Baltics.

While management expects better business results quickly, for other employees, the implementation of new software can bring additional work. How to alleviate these fears?

This is indeed a common fear. CRM adoption is extremely difficult and requires retraining of the entire team. But in fact, if a solution that exactly meets the customer’s needs is integrated, everyone’s life becomes easier. In addition, Salesforce is very scalable – it can be used by a small company with a couple of people as well as a company with thousands of employees.

Simply put, people need to be introduced to the system and given an honest explanation why the processes are changing. If you promise something that people don’t get, nobody will be happy.

It is always reasonable to introduce new software step by step, and a proof-of-concept approach is quite common, where the new solution is initially introduced on a smaller scale, either by roles, departments or work sections. This makes it possible to finetune the solution even during the initial use, to see the first results and only in the next stage to implement it more widely. 

What is the unpredictability or setbacks of CRM implementation?

Depending on the size of the company. CRM implementation can take a few weeks or even up to a few years and there are still situations where things want to break down due to internal or external factors. But all problems can be mitigated if the right processes are used in project management, work planning and acquisition. This is also one reason to use external consultants. We have experience in hundreds of projects across the company, some of which have required extensive effort to reach a working result. Because of this, however, we are again better prepared for obstacles and can anticipate areas of concern.

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