Implementing CRM for Insurance—I’m Thinking Skyscrapers and Data Models

Insurers usually have a big vision for CRM, but go small when implementing, self-limiting the potential value of the investment.

(Photo credit: Tuxyso.)

When implementing CRM in insurance most insurers end up with the equivalent of a small single family home, while I argue they should think in terms of skyscrapers. Using construction as a metaphor for software development is nothing new, but I can’t seem to shake my thinking from my past life as a builder when it comes to customer relationship management (CRM) systems and their application to insurance.

By now the majority of insurers have invested in CRM with the lion’s share opting for a commercially available system like Salesforce.  While Salesforce makes for a great start, it’s what you add into and on to Salesforce or another CRM system that will determine its real business value for insurers.

Insurers usually have a big vision for CRM, but go small when implementing, self-limiting the potential value of the investment.  They tend to use the out-of-the-box capabilities delivered with horizontal CRM offerings—the structural foundation, if you will. As a result, insurers typically end up with little more than a nice tool to track interactions with agencies that include contacts, appointments, reports and activities. But the potential of CRM is so much more if the platform is used as the starting point for a larger vision: an enterprise-wide solution for distribution and customer management, engagement, service, and more.

The Single Family CRM Home

Some insurers may add limited data components, such as a policy object with header data like effective and renewal dates—maybe five to 10 fields to make the CRM system a little more insurance-capable. This is akin to building a one story ranch home. While the CRM foundation is strong, the architectural plan, framing, plumbing and wiring that have been added have only been designed to support a small home. The limited data is static, the capabilities are minimal, and the CRM often won’t be connected to the core systems because it’s considered too complex of an undertaking.

When insurers starts off with this “implement small” approach, they typically find themselves stuck with a greatly limited CRM environment when it comes to delivering true insurance and enterprise functionality and value. You can try to expand a ranch home by adding a second story, but the initial structure was never designed to support the load of the second story. To state the obvious, in order for you to do this you will have to move out of the house, rip the roof off, and reengineer the structure. The same is true when you build a limited insurance data model.

Think Skyscraper

When insurers start to think about building on their CRM foundation they should think about architecting a skyscraper rather than the single family house. Even though you may not build out all of the capabilities from the get go, you will have the design and framework in place to support the larger vision—the skyscraper.

While you can demolish the ranch home and start anew, why waste the time and effort? Plan for a skyscraper from the start and you can build as much capability into your CRM as you want. The sky’s the limit—pun fully intended.

It all starts with the Data Model

If insurers take the time upfront to define the entire data model in the CRM they will essentially have framed out the skyscraper. Rather than trying to cobble together the data model after the initial implementation, insurers would be well served to build all the fields, objects, and relationships as the first step of their CRM implementation. However, when we say data model, the next logical question would be “Which data model?”

Every insurer has their own version of a data model, but if we’re starting fresh with a CRM implementation why not start it off on the right footing? It’s a clean slate. Build the data model to a standard to make it easier to connect the CRM to other solutions, including third-party offerings and back office core systems.

While there is no insurance industry standard data model, there is a common denominator among insurers which is the ACORD standard.  Every insurer adheres to the ACORD standard to some degree, so building a CRM data model which supports ACORD is the closest thing the industry has to building to an industry standard.

Build or Buy or Both

I realize that building an ACORD data model in your CRM requires a lot of time and effort. It’s a complex undertaking—and probably why most insurers haven’t attempted this approach.  Given the heavy lifting, knowledge, and skill required—adding in that this is a one-time effort—incorporating a data model into your CRM may be one time where “buy” is the obvious choice.

Whether it’s buying the skill, a pre-built insurance-ready CRM solution, or a combination of both, it’s not as complex, expensive, or time-consuming as you might think if you partner with someone who has done it before, e.g., a knowledgeable vendor, systems integrator, or consultant.

Once the data model is incorporated into the system, the external structure and the infrastructure of the CRM skyscraper are in place.  The interior floors, rooms, and finishes can be built out as business needs dictate and as the use of the CRM platform expands throughout the organization and distribution channels—truly serving as an enterprise solution.

Reid Holzworth // Reid Holzworth is founder and CEO of TechCanary, a provider of a cloud-based, analytics-driven insurance platform built inside In addition to his role as a software solution provider to the insurance industry, Holzworth is a licensed insurance agent and worked for many years selling insurance and managing an agency. He grew frustrated with available insurance solutions and liked the solution he was using in his agency. Being a serial entrepreneur he decided to build a complete insurance platform inside of Salesforce. In 2013 Holzworth founded TechCanary, making the Salesforce platform he built for his own agency commercially available to carriers, agents, brokers, and MGAs. Holzworth can be reached at or (414) 446-3999.  

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