Get Your Priorities Straight
Failure to prioritize business functions is the leading cause of CRM failure.
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Research groups like Gartner are still estimating CRM project failure rates in the 70 percent range. Based on my experience, a full 80 percent of those failures could have been averted at the very start. Most projects get off track because organizations don't begin with company-wide agreement of which business functions to automate first. It's become one of the biggest problems in the industry.

The ability to absorb technology is a critical success factor in CRM implementation. Companies often make the mistake of trying to automate too many things at once. The more you take on, the more difficult it is to absorb, hence the quicker the failure. More importantly, without prioritization, people tend to fight down to the wire about what gets implemented. When it's time to turn on the system, they're upset, unhappy and they don't use it.

Determining the functions to automate and prioritizing their implementation is such a simple step, yet companies just don't do it. When you set off on a journey on the wrong road, you never get where you want to go. So, if you can only get one thing right in your CRM project, this is the one to get right.

If you do get it right, there's glory at the end of the road. Take the case of a large publishing organization. When it integrated three companies under a new umbrella, the company's vice president of sales realized the company needed a common perspective on the customer. Recognizing that the users will ultimately drive the success of the project, he brought together 14 people within the company to form a super user group.

Made up of salespeople, managers and representatives from editorial and distribution, the team held brainstorming sessions and came up with a list of business functions that would benefit the entire company. Then, a survey went out to all customer-facing personnel, who were asked to prioritize the list. Based on that response, an agreement was reached by the user group and management on which functions would be implemented in phase one, two and three of their project.

Those carefully chosen super users became ambassadors for the project and the key trainers. They were excited about the system and shared their enthusiasm with co-workers throughout the process. They lit a fire inside the company, and it all started with a very simple step: They agreed to limit the functions to automate and prioritize.

Where it Goes Awry
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. Some companies don't even get the functions to automate right. The project of a large corporation outside the United states is a good example of how bad it can get.

The company began its project by forming a core team consisting of a project manager and three people who would represent the business side, technical side and HR/training side. The person in charge of the business side had worked in a staff role within the company for about five years. Though he had no direct sales experience, he was in charge of determining what functions would be needed not only for sales, but also marketing and customer service.

He proceeded to recommend functions that weren't needed and had no buy-in from the people who would ultimately use the system. He didn't take the time to ask users what they needed and never traveled with the salespeople to gain a first-hand understanding of their jobs.

still, the project pushed forward, and a vendor and integrator were hired. Directed by the person representing the business side, the integrator went through $3 million trying to get phase one ready. In the end, the integrator was fired because the project delivered no usable functionality. After wasting almost $5 million, the company is now driving a re-prioritization.

Even when companies start out holistically, office politics often get in the way. An international truck manufacturer I worked with started with a very good approach to integrating sales, marketing, customer service, executive information and e-business. The project was moving along well, when suddenly it got off-track. I called and found out the vice president of customer service decided his division was more important. He threw his weight around until he got his way. You can imagine how willing the rest of the company was to embrace a system so obviously skewed toward one department.

Sometimes the chaos comes from higher up in the corporation. A subsidiary of a global telecommunications company got off to a good start with its project. Sales, marketing and customer service got together and determined 12 functions to automate, with the top four to be implemented in the first phase.

Everything was looking just great, when a dictum came down from the company's headquarters. They were launching a huge direct marketing program in the next fiscal year that would be a top priority for the marketing department. In the initial prioritization, marketing automation had come up ninth of twelve. Corporate said "you have to take number nine and make it number one."

At the subsidiary, it was determined that marketing didn't have the data needed to do the proposed marketing program and that they first needed the core functionality the first phase implementation would provide. Even so, corporate refused to budge. The company ended up launching two separate systems, which were supposed to use common data. Because the marketing department piece had to be urgently implemented, they created their own database, which turned out to be incompatible with the CRM database. As they marched further into the project, matching up the data became increasingly more difficult until it became obvious the combined system would never work.

stick to the Plan
It's not just members of your own company that can screw up the project because somebody wanted something that wasn't agreed upon as you moved into implementation. Companies can also be led astray by software vendors and system integrators.

A leading biotech company entered its project determined to get it right. The previous year the company had tried to automate too much, resulting in a major failure. To prevent that from happening again, it went through a slow prioritization of the business functions. Questionnaires were sent out. The company voted on it and agreed on five things to be implemented in the first phase.

A software vendor and integrator were hired, and as the project moved along the vendor said, "Your functions are pretty good, but we have so many other things you could use. We could easily do e-business and get all of your customers online immediately." The company had to tell them, "That's great, but our customers don't have computers and aren't used to doing business that way, so let's hold back on that one."

Then, the integrator said, "We could develop reports that would provide in-depth analysis of your business." The company said, "It's a great idea, but we're not ready for that yet."

This is a company that had spent a lot of time and effort prioritizing the business functions to automate, and now the vendors want to clear the decks and start all over. Of course they'll make more money, but that's not how it should work. Companies need to be steadfast and tell vendors I don't care how wonderful your software is. I don't care how many functions you have that we haven't used. This is what we want. Please deliver accordingly.

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