I spent the past few months talking with enterprise users of cloud CRM solutions. Most are happy, but others say they still face obstacles in getting the value promised from software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM solutions such as saleforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online.

The CRM solution landscape has experienced considerable change, including significant vendor consolidation and a rapid rise in the popularity SaaS solutions — often referred to as "CRM in the cloud." Organizations adopt SaaS CRM solutions because of low upfront costs, good usability, proven scalability, better flexibility, and faster time-to-value compared with traditional on-premises applications. Forrester surveys indicate that nearly 70% of organizations are interested in, or are currently using, SaaS solutions for horizontal business processes such as CRM and HR.

But clients tell me they cannot capture the promised benefits if they do not have certain prerequisites within their own skill sets, such as the right developer talent and governance model to work in an agile, iterative approach that leading organizations use to be successful. This is not your father’s CRM anymore, so don’t make these mistakes:

  • Trying to develop the “perfect” solution. Cloud CRM brings increased agility and flexibility, making it easier for organizations to tweak and upgrade the system after it is deployed. Unlike in the past, organizations don't have to deploy the perfect CRM solution all at once. Instead, they can deploy a “good-enough” system at first — as long as it is positioned so that the organization can quickly iterate and add improvements after deployment. One of the companies I talked with recommended, "Your organization should not focus on building the perfect solution but rather on building a decent and sound solution that puts you in a position to quickly and easily improve it after deployment."
  • Spending too long on key decision points. Be prepared to make decisions quickly in order to drive development sprints, iterate quickly, and plan on the fly. But even though "agile" means that things get done faster, many organizations remain stuck in a traditional planning mentality. "To do agile well, you need to be able to make decisions very quickly and not spend too long on any one decision point." In order to achieve this, organizations must establish governance boards and project teams that represent interests from across the organization and have decision-making power to approve development plans and changes.
  • Not using information worker personas to guide development cycles. End user personas — similar to marketers' personas for consumer segmentation — are high-level overviews that illustrate how and why a typical user in a specific job role uses the CRM system and what benefits that user will receive from it. An implementation specialist at a professional services firm told me: "You need to consider how to make it easier for the end user to use the system. How can you make this system an improvement on their day-to-day life instead of a distraction?" Another advises: "Use stories to guide development sprints. Make sure that these stories represent the whole business for everyone who is going to touch the system."
  • Not having the right skill sets. Skilled business analysts (BAs) will become increasingly important as solution governance makes the shift from a focus on application installation to a business-centric process improvement. An IT leader at a financial information services company said: "We always need more BAs. This is a much more important skill set for working with SaaS solutions. We don't really need developers — that skill is less critical now.”  BAs need to be skilled in business analysis but also be trained in soft skills such as facilitation, negotiation, communication, and collaboration.