Implementing a Complex CRM System

I got a reminder today on a social media platform that it was seven years ago that I spent a week and a half in Mexico. The reminder didn’t mention why I was there, but I remember it well: a complex training and implementation of Salesforce to almost a hundred users.

What made it so complex?

It was the fourth and final phase of a global roll-out of a system for sales, marketing, research and management teams: a project which had covered migration of old data, new functionality and training and on-going support to over 500 users across more than 50 countries ensuring they were using a global system but with local additions necessary to recognise country requirements: practical, organisational and legal. The rollout had gone well: to time and budget. It had gone so well in fact, that the Mexico team decided to come on board with it – not something originally scoped, and more complicated than anything that had gone before.

There were several reasons this implementation was going to be a complex one: a radically different education system which required accommodation of both private and state schools, teaching a wider range of subjects and using different materials to do so than any other market, a different sales and marketing process, a complex hierarchy of reporting and visibility required. Oh, and the system had to be re-written into local language as the vast majority of the workforce did not speak English, meaning the translation of all screen labels, menus, onscreen help and all support materials. And all end-user training delivered in Spanish. And I don’t speak Spanish.

The project was a success: rolled out on time and to budget and still in place to this day.

What made it possible? Here are a few memories of the experience that may be of interest for those considering a CRM implementation project.

Senior Buy-In

When senior management decided the project should happen, it was with a tight time scale and complex requirements. It was, to be honest, daunting. But the project was deemed important enough to require temporary secondment or time carved out from regular duties, budget allocation and key milestones built into relevant personnel’s objectives.

Clear Objective and Expectation Setting

Early in the project, several calls were set up to agree on the scope of the project with local market managers. As complex as the requirements were, it was agreed some particularly technical elements were out of scope for initial launch and agreement reached. And make no mistake: this was a tight schedule: three months from conception to roll out.

A Strong Implementation Team

Of course, any successful project needs a strong team. With this implementation of Salesforce, there were a lot of moving parts and the need for various subject matter experts. This included:

  • A Business Implementation Manager familiar enough with previous implementations, existing system functionality and company processes and culture to create and meet milestones.
  • A Technical Manager able to build the Salesforce functionality required for specific local processes: a Mexican warehouse distribution system is different from a Polish or a US one (Who knew?)
  • A Systems Manager able to take on the requirements and utilise administration skills to create a completely localised version in the main org, switchable to local users’ view by both language and additional functionality. The same Systems Manager who had created the entire suite of training and support materials available in print and video, which now needed to be translated and localised. The Systems Manager who would be required to continue to manage the business-as-usual support for the other 500 users around the world while this project happened.
  • A local Project Manager to ensure that five and a half thousand miles away things were progressing to ensure everything was on schedule…

And working together to migrate all existing local data from an in-house database to the new Salesforce system.

A Strong Communication Plan

Yes, 5,500 miles and six hours’ time difference posed some interesting challenges to make sure we met all milestones and as much work as possible was completed before the intensive in-market training and final build of the system. Email, phone calls, Skype, Webinars, and effective intranet use were all vital.

A Well-Designed Training Programme

So it was in February 2013 that a team of three from the UK and individual team members from Poland, Colombia and Uruguay (All Spanish speakers) headed out to Mexico City for a week and a half of training. And here’s how it planned out:

  • One day of introduction – between the core team and local senior members including four managers who would provide the final user training to the eighty-plus sales and marketing consultants coming in from all over the country.
  • Two days of training the trainer: in English and Spanish to the local managers – some of whom spoke English, some who didn’t.
  • Two days of the new trainers training back to the core team, confirming full comprehension of the system and best practices
  • One day of marketing functionality training.
  • One day of rest (including sunburn and site seeing around Mexico City)
  • Two days training of end-users by the newly trained trainers, with representatives of the core team sitting in observing and providing additional information where required (Despite the sessions running in Spanish, it turns out Salesforce is quite the universal language…)
  • One day training for marketing users and project closedown/ agreeing next steps before flying home.

Effective Transition into Business as Usual

Part of the reason the global CRM implementation had been a success to date was the on-going user engagement programme. Monthly newsletters, Regular updates on new functionality, dedicated Intranet workspace, and a full onboarding programme via interactive training with completion criteria. Much of this had to be versioned for local language speakers meaning additional work to ensure a feeling of inclusion and recognition.


The Result

Seven years on? I was surprised when the anniversary reminder came through. It doesn’t feel that long ago. I remember so much of it: and not just the mariachi bands in the hotel, the group celebration meal (to be fair I don’t remember too much of that), the nightly bonding over dinner and well-deserved beers with other members of the project team – both those familiar and new colleagues from around the world supporting it: talking through the day’s sessions and the next day’s plans. The tiredness but satisfaction of the long plane journey home knowing that a project had been completed to time, to budget and most importantly, effectively.

In 2017, CIO magazine reported that around 1/3rd of all customer relationship management projects fail. Of course, what constitutes a ‘project’ is open for discussion – there’s a whole lot more to it than simply getting the system running and then walking away – hence the business as usual element described above. However, with the right planning, the right team members, and the right support, it’s possible to run a successful project despite the complexity or time restraints.

If you’d like further information, feel free to drop me a line at or visit my website



¡Buena Suerte!


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