How long does it really take to switch CRM systems?

Often in the course of providing a prospect with details of RealtimeCRM we find that it’s a non-technical issue that gets in the way of fully adopting it. Non-technical issues might be hard to identify internally so we always try to bring as much information to the table as possible to help a prospect identify if it applies to them.

One non-technical issue that we come across most often revolves around concerns on time to implement a new CRM . In reality, this concern breaks down into two parts: The effort needed to switch and the duration that a switch will take. However, for the purposes of this article we’ll deal with them interchangeably.

Are you going custom?

There are a couple of parameters that determine the potential time it will take to implement a CRM. The primary one is whether or not you have decided to go down a custom or heavily-configurable CRM route.

In a scenario where you’re implementing something custom you will be dealing directly with a CRM vendor or a knowledgeable developer or consultant who should be holding your hand through the entire process. It’s their responsibility to provide – or work towards – milestone dates for your project. Any custom configuration has far more complexity that an Off-The-Shelf (OTS) procurement such as RealtimeCRM and allowance should be made for that when considering timescales.

When to start counting?

When we’re talking about the start date of implementing a CRM it’s not easy to say what we mean by “start”. It might take you a while to decide that you have enough budget or evidence that switching to a new CRM – or adopting a CRM – is in place. It might take a further couple of months to assess possible solutions and options in the market.

For our purposes we’ll start the clock ticking when you’ve selected a CRM system and are moving ahead with it. Procurement could add at least a few months to the overall time scale depending on how much effort you’re able to put in on a daily basis. Alas, CRM systems are rarely at the top of people’s priority list, even when they should be.

Deadlines and Target Dates

It often seems like a good idea to set a deadline for the implementation of your CRM project. It can certainly keep everyone focused.

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

– Douglas Adams

However, keep in mind that the adoption of a CRM is a purely internal project and as with all internal projects there’s the possibility that people’s time can be squeezed out by paying work. Additionally, the nature of the discovery process makes it a really hard project to pin down in terms of duration. This goes double for custom CRM projects.

Overall, it’s a good idea to have a desired implementation date but be ready to move it backwards if new or unforeseen circumstances come up. While the deadline should help motivate, you do not want the date to act as barrier to a good, solid, implementation of the CRM.

If you are unfortunate enough to be facing a hard deadline – for example the current CRM goes out of support – then see if there is any way to extend it. It’s worth putting a bit of effort in and remove that constraint if you can as it will free up some much needed project slack.


From the start, it’s worth having a view as to how you will want to launch your new CRM. There are three main approaches but you may have a variation, it doesn’t matter. The critical thing is that you’ve spent some time to work out how best the ready-to-go CRM will be rolled out. Trust me, you don’t want that to be a surprise unanswered question at the last minute.

Big Bang

In this approach, you decide to switch to your new CRM altogether at the same time. Your incumbent CRM becomes obsolete and all new data is entered and read from the new one. It has the virtue of being very clean but does increase the amount of diligence you need to put into testing. You also need to ensure that there is a swift data export and import exercise just before the switchover – you don’t want data left behind on the old CRM just because it was entered during the switch.

Tandem Switch

In this scenario, you operate a system in tandem for a period of time. Specifically, you continue to work on the legacy system as well as entering information into the new one. The benefit is that you’re playing it really safe in terms of ensuring the new system works in the real world. However, the obvious cost is that your team are all doing twice the amount of CRM work.

If you do decide to go for a tandem switch then keep this time to an absolute minimum, maybe a few days to a week at most.

Phased Adoption

This is a variation on the Tandem Switch. You could use this method if you had a sales, production or data cycle that repeated over time. As an example, think in terms of putting new customers, new projects or new sales enquiries onto the new CRM instead of the old.

Again, this method is ultra-safe but if you implement this method you should start to close down the legacy CRM after a period of time and look to focus in on only the new one. This approach should not be an excuse for retaining information or access to a legacy system in the long term.

Possible steps

So what tangible steps can we envisage that might need to be built into our plan? Well, obviously the plan is ultimately yours but you should consider some of the suggestions we’ve outlined below. Where they fit into your plan depends on your resources and which kind of adoption you’re planning on.

Trial data export

Your new CRM system is going to need to take over where your incumbent system is right now (unless you’re going for the Tandem Switch). That means you need to be able to export, dump or output your existing data as smoothly as possible. It is strongly recommended that you do one if not more trial attempts to make sure you’re confident and have everything in place when it’s ready to switch.

Depending on what system you are switching from, you might just dump data from your existing CRM. Other scenarios mean collating data held in several databases or spreadsheets. At least one company that I worked with literally had a shoe-box of documents that needed to be entered. Either way, do as much as you can as soon as you can to trial getting the necessary data together.

Trial data import

With your data in a digital format you should now import it into your new system. This isn’t data that you’re intending to keep on there as it’s a trial of the import process. It’s pretty guaranteed that some challenge will be thrown up by this – which is why numerous attempts may be necessary.

Let me give you an idea of the some of the hurdles you can look forward to at this stage. Perhaps the most common one is being prepared to manipulate your import data to fit the new system data structure. Here are some examples of what might crop up: If you store a contact’s name as a single line, an adjustment will need to be made to break it into forename and surname; You may need to set up some bespoke or custom fields to hold data that you’re importing for which there is no corresponding field in the new CRM; Data that is related to other records may need to be imported into the system in a certain order.

Many of these hurdles can be overcome through support provided by your CRM consultant or through careful reading of the support guides for your new system. Being prepared is everything and that’s why doing a dry run as soon as possible is key. Indeed, I’d go further and suggest that you do this where possible before you make any long term commitment to a new CRM because this stage really flags up whether the new system will meet your demands.

Additional data and data cleansing

Let’s assume the trial import went well and when the time comes to do a live import you’re ready to do it for real. That’s great, and well done. But let’s push it a little further and see if you can add any more value to your CRM switching process.

If you’re doing things right then you will effectively be touching every bit of data that your organisation works with. This is a key moment and one of the main reasons that people are put off switching CRM systems. But let’s instead see it as an opportunity.

See if you can work to cleanse the data and to merge in other data sources held around the organisation. Eliminate siloed information and squirrelled databases as these are a significant barrier to full CRM adoption and can lead to serious business scaling problems.

Whether you are able to do these tasks in-house or whether you want to engage third party experts depends on your own business, data set size and complexity. Certainly companies exist that specialise in data cleansing and the consultant or support team associated with your new CRM will be able to advise you on how best to combine other data sources.

Opportunities to do this are rare in business and doing this now ensures your business will benefit long term from the CRM move.

Processes, procedures and protocols

With your data digitised, assembled in the right format, cleansed and combined you’ve tackled the bulk of the digital side of things. It’s now time to look at the flip side of the coin and ensure that the use of the system is optimised.

Once again, the exact steps are entirely dependent upon the type of organisation that you are and the system to which you are switching. It is, however, always necessary to address the system rules, the do’s and don’ts. These are referred to as the CRM protocols.

Just to be clear, an example of a protocol would be to always check whether a record exists before adding a new one. Another might be to always add an action task to a sales lead. Whatever it is, implementing a protocol and ensuring your users are aware of it and can implement it will ensure efficiency in the future.

Some CRM systems may be able to be programmed or already be configured to help enforce protocols. Don’t worry if the one you’ve chosen doesn’t offer an exact protocol enforcement option; In my experience users that understand why it’s necessary rather than simply being forced one way or another to implement it make for better CRM users.

Be as formal as you like with your CRM protocols. It’s worth at least writing them somewhere that can be accessed by everyone. It might also help to show the same document to your CRM consultant or support team to see if they can help with any workflow aspects.


Of course the one area that most people do remember to include in their plan is training. The training of users on the use of the CRM is important. To that end, don’t put up with vendors not providing training under the guise of it being “easy to use” – you really need to make sure that the staff in your business are at the same level and have a shared, core, common level of knowledge and understanding about the system.

Where possible, try to insist on training artifacts. These might be videos, manuals or guides that can be passed around as new members of staff arrive or can be reviewed if an area needs some extra thought. Access to online support is pretty normal these days so check that out during the procurement stage, if you can.

Try and make the user training as appropriate as possible. Indeed there will be at least 2 groups of people to be trained if you’ve got any level of administrative oversight on the system but do more if the circumstances require it.


While it’s impossible to give an exact duration or indication of effort for a CRM switch the above steps should let you work out a plan of attack that you can hang some dates off. Much depends on the size of your organisation and the type of CRM system that you are switching to.

If you are moving to something like Salesforce the thinking is that you should lay out a duration of between 6 to 12 weeks while something off-the-shelf like RealtimeCRM can have you up and running in 6 to 12 days.

Whichever route you take we’d be delighted to hear your stories of how it well as well as any pain points we can share with others. Good luck!