new software implementation for sales and marketing team

5 Critical Steps for New Software Implementation

Implementing a new software solution for your team can be a daunting task; getting alignment internally on goals, planning for data imports and merges, cleaning up internal processes as you set up a new software system, spending the hours needed with your software provider on implementation, and pulling off a successful launch that doesn’t end up with you crying in a corner. I’ve been on both sides of distributor software implementations–both implementing a new tool for my team and as the implementation specialist delivering software to a new customer. I’ve seen some stellar implementations resulting in quick time-to-value and ROI on the software purchase. I’ve also witnessed some train wrecks full of frustration for everyone involved. To avoid those train wrecks, here are five steps to approaching your implementation to ensure you keep your sanity and onboard with your team’s success in mind.

1. Understand Why You’re Adding This Software Solution

If you were part of the sales and decision process, you understand the struggles your team currently has and what has led you to this new software. Make sure those reasons are understood internally, write them down, and share them with your implementation team.

However, if you weren’t part of the sales and decision process and were handed the job of implementing new software, talk with the decision-makers in your business and make a point to understand the WHY. Investing in a new solution is precipitated by a need, so document that need and make sure you know it.

The earlier in the process this is done, the better. If you’re unable to understand the WHY of the solution, you’re unlikely to perceive value from it, and you risk implementing a solution that is not meeting the needs of your team.

2. Define Success for the Software Implementation

If you have completed step 1, step 2 will be simple. The success of your distributor software implementation won’t be defined by getting users to log in. Instead, it will be determined by how well the software solution addresses the need your team is trying to overcome.

Take the needs defined in step 1 and put realistic and measurable goals to those needs. Your ability to address those needs is your definition of success for your implementation. For example, if your team is implementing a new CRM software solution with a stated need of “better communicating with our existing customers to sell to our base,” then set a realistic and measurable goal tied to that, such as increasing current customer sales by 5% within three months of going live.

One pitfall here is to feel that every goal you might ever have with this software should be part of your implementation. This will create an unrealistic expectation and pressure that will drag your implementation out for months or–GASP!–years. Typically, this approach will also vastly overestimate the amount of change your team and your business can tolerate at one time.

The most frustrating part of implementing new software all has one thing in common: moving the goalposts. The initial implementation goals are met, and the team is ready for launch, but then new goals are added in, and it’s decided that we really can’t go live without those. This then becomes a pattern where the goalposts get moved out further each time goals are met. The worst part of this pattern is that the team could have been using the initial feature set, even if limited, and getting value through those during the weeks or months of goal post moving. Keep your definition of success clear and contained. Quality software will allow you to grow as you need, so go-live is not closing a door.

3. Resource Your Software Implementation Like Any Other Project

Implementing a new system such as a CRM, an ERP, or other sales team-focused tool is not just a technical setup. It would help if you also looked at how this tool will either fit into your current processes and workflows or how you’ll be changing those processes and workflows to maximize the new tool. Plan to have a team at least advise on implementing this new tool, combining input from your IT team, sales leaders, executives, and the end-users. If your plan for new distributor software implementation does not include input from these parties, you will likely have a tough go-live and many reworks as soon as users log in to the software.

This planning and coordination take time and effort. Make sure you give your implementation project leaders the time and resources to succeed. During the sales process, talk with the software provider about estimated time commitments for the solution you’re purchasing, and allow space in your implementation project leader’s schedule to meet that need. Suppose you’re unable to resource that yourself; ask the software provider about any guided implementation or outsourcing options. In that case, they may have to take the burden off your team but do keep in mind that understanding your business processes and needs will be critical to the success of the solution. Always budget some time from your team to implement unless you want your go-live to fall flat and usage to start on the wrong foot.

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4. Prioritize the Features You Need to Go Live and Slowly Build Out Usage

With the complexity of implementing new software such as an ERP or CRM solution, there will likely be features and modules that sound exciting but don’t help you achieve the goals you set in Step 2. Prioritize your list of needs to go live to your team by focusing on an easy user experience and time-to-first-value. If you overwhelm your users with features on day 1 of your launch, you’ll be buried in questions, requests, and distractions from achieving the goals you set in Step 2. You’ll likely have a much longer time-to-first-value–meaning you will spend a ton of up-front time configuring, training, re-configuring, and re-training before you see success stories and achievements of your first goals. Start simply with the pieces that truly matter to driving those goals.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore all the other stuff that sounds exciting for your team. Post-go-live, plan a monthly or quarterly software review and planning session. Review what is working well today, what struggles the team has, and what new bells and whistles you want to roll out next. Treat each of those new features as a mini-implementation. Identify your need, set your goal, resource the work, contract with your software provider or an outsourced resource if needed, and then execute. This approach lets you realize value from your investment quicker and does not let the idea of perfection become the enemy of progress. If you find you need every module and feature available on day 1 for your launch, you likely need to revisit your needs and goals in steps 1 and 2.

5. Remember That You Purchased the Software Solution for a Reason–Change

If you did your homework on steps 1 & 2, particularly early in the sales process, you would know what key areas of change will be for your business. But remember that other processes and workflows may also adjust with your new tool. Approaching a new software solution as you want to replicate your current tools and processes exactly will be frustrating for your implementation and disappointing for your team. If you wanted everything to stay the same, why did you purchase this new tool in the first place?

Be open to best practice suggestions with your new tool and try out the standard functionality before asking for customization. Many software providers will freeze any customization requests until you have been live on the standard tool for a certain amount of time. A standard, non-customized solution will be easier and cheaper to upgrade and support over time. And often, early customization requests end up being discarded as you better learn the base functionality of the tool. If you did your homework during the sales process, you purchased the right tool for your team and need to remember to let the software do what it was designed to do during implementation.

I recently participated in a pre-sales call with a prospect looking to add our software solution for their team. Part of this prospect’s buying decision centered on the distributor software implementation process and how much our onboarding team could guide them to a quick launch for a handful of key features. They came to the call with their priorities aligned and well-articulated and asked how we could help deliver on that plan. The goal was not to have a fully customized solution with a total internal overhaul of processes on day 1 of their go-live, but instead to address the most critical needs of their business by following our best practice suggestions for how to get value out of the software. Their approach allowed us to have a very productive conversation that set realistic expectations for the implementation, with an outcome tailored to their needs and within the scope of what our software and our teams do best. Ultimately, approaching your distributor software implementation with the same level of partnership, prioritization, and openness will yield a faster time-to-value on your investment and implementation, where the onboarding process itself feels like a win for your team.

Written By

Kristen Thom Profile Image

Kristen Thom

Vice President of Product, White Cup

Kristen Thom is the Director of Product Management at White Cup. She joined White Cup, formerly Compass Sales Solutions, in 2013. With a customer-first commitment, Kristen has held roles across implementation, support, development, and customer success. She has almost 10 years of experience in the office technology space and almost 5 years of experience in the distribution industry. Kristen lives in Boise, Idaho, with her husband, two dogs, and extended family.

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