A View from the Trenches

Hello, everyone! It’s been a while, but you might remember that Michael mentioned a few of us on the Blue Cross team were going to share our practices and experiences this year. It’s my turn and I’m going to talk about something that has been one of the biggest projects I’ve worked on for the last few years: switching over our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform.

I’m a fan of keeping it simple, so I’ve laid this out in a series of bullets that hopefully will make it easier for you to skim. Ultimately, this process of updating is something many of our partners might be thinking about or even going through – there are a lot of legacy platforms being phased out right now, and you might be hesitating because of the complexity. My goal here is to give you insight into the process we’ve been going through over the last year.


What is CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software, and why switch?

The term CRM covers a wide variety of software that helps organizations automate some of the transactions with their contacts. Sales people use CRM to track potential customers, automate sales emails and collect data. Many nonprofits use some kind of CRM to track their donors and volunteers.

For about a decade, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and the Blue Cross Foundation have used an online software to administer our sponsorships and grants. We have also used the platform to track overall giving and impact.

The technology we were using was outdated, which meant many headaches and challenges. We had been considering a switch for a while and, ultimately, when we learned that our old CRM would no longer be updated, we knew it was time to make the jump.


What we were looking for in a new platform?

We wanted to streamline the process of giving to our nonprofit partners through grants, sponsorships, volunteering (both general and pro bono), matching gifts and various in-kind donations.  When we went shopping for a new platform, we wanted these features:


  1. Ease – Our new CRM needed to be easier for grantees, reviewers, employees, and program administrators to use the platform.
  2. Better Reporting – We wanted to be able to customize benchmarks, outcomes, and data to clearly answer where and how we were making an impact. It was important that we be able to pull this information quickly and easily.
  3. Customer Support – As you can imagine, the fact that our old software wasn’t being updated meant that customer service was hard to come by. We often spent an hour or more waiting to talk to someone to help us solve simple problems. We needed highly responsive customer service support.
  4. Seamless – We needed to move all of our data from the old software to the new, so we needed a seamless data migration and comprehensive security that met our organization’s standards.

We ultimately chose a platform called SmartSimple, because it put all of our information and opportunities in one place. The design is more intuitive and customizable. Even better, it integrates DocuSign so our partners can sign paperwork digitally (no more mailing hard copies of grant contracts!).


Considering changing CRMs?

I know from conversations with many of you that you are considering or are in the process of switching CRMs. Many of us have needs that have only accelerated as a result of COVID-19. The landscape is changing rapidly, and we all need systems that grow and change with us.  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Can your current system be upgraded and/or changed to fit your needs?  One of the first questions we asked was if our current system could be “tweaked” to fit our new and growing needs.  We interviewed employees, listened to their feedback, and then created a checklist of features.  We sent the draft checklist to employees again for review and put energy into deciding what were “needs” and which things were “wants.”  After all adjustments were made, this the final copy of our checklist.  Obviously, every organization is different, but I hope this structure gives you a good starting point. If your current system is not capable of fulfilling your needs, then I think it is time to explore other options.
  • What is to be gained by switching to a new CRM?  Yes, converting to a new CRM instead of upgrading has its benefits. A new CRM offers you a chance to start from scratch and select a system that best meets your needs.  There are so many systems to choose from so I would suggest doing your research and using the same checklist above to make sure that you are comparing apples to apples. 

P.S. know that all CRM companies use different terms.  Get lots of quotes and explore the pros and cons of each system. Looking back, I wish we had hired a consultant to help us manage the process – it would have been well worth the money to save us the time and effort. If at all possible, I would suggest hiring a consultant to help you through the process of designing, choosing and implementing the CRM that best fits your needs. You could also get free pro bono help from an expert on Taproot plus to guide you through the process.

  • Is it worth the time commitment? Switching over to something new has its cons too. I think the biggest con to switching is the time commitment that is needed to design, import, and learn a new system.  It took us almost two years to launch our new CRM – about 6 months of research and quotes, 6 months of contract and scope of work (SOW) negotiations, 6 months to design, build and test, and 6 months to import data, train, and launch the new system.  And – guess what? – it still is not over.  We are in the process of starting Phase 2 right now, adding new features to cover our employee volunteering. The takeaway here is that any CRM tool is an ongoing investment, requiring tweaks and changes over the long term.

Next week, I’ll share the challenges and roadblocks of this process, and helpful tips for how to get around them. Having spent two years working on this, there’s a lot to share!

In the meantime, if I can be helpful to you on your organization’s CRM journey, please reach out to me at kellie.duhon@bcbsla.com

Have a great week,

Kellie Duhon
Corporate Giving Program Manager


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