• April 30, 2024
  • By Danny Estrada, Vice President of Consulting, Rare Karma

Dispatches From CRM’s Front Lines

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For years and years I have been writing about emerging trends or solving challenges in the CRM industry. At times, it’s been a wild ride, and just the other day, as I was chatting with another influencer in the industry, I was reminded of how wild it can sometimes be. We took turns sharing and laughing at some of the more interesting situations we’ve encountered over the past 25 years. Here, I’ll share a few of these “once you see, you can’t unsee” experiences for your amusement and (hopefully) edification. Rather than change the names to protect the innocent, we will leave the names out completely to stay out of hot water.


CRM back in the day was nothing close to the platforms that we use now. In the days prior to APIs and cloud platforms, the challenges were much greater, including confusion over what CRM even is. Here’s a rather vivid example.

Honestly, this can be best described as an honest case of mistaken identity. My firm was asked to meet with a hospital system about “CRM” at a time when most people were completely unaware of what CRM was. To put it in context, Salesforce, Microsoft CRM, and HubSpot didn’t even exist at this point. The hospital system wanted to know who should be invited to the initial discovery process.

We communicated that it would be best if we could meet with stakeholders to better understand their needs and desires for the CRM system. Fast-forward to the meeting, at a time when such things were done in person. We waited outside the conference room and were invited in. When the door opened, we spotted six people in white coats and one suit.

Our first thought: This could potentially be a difficult conversation. But as we started our presentation, it immediately became clear that the hospital’s internal communication had become bungled, or that some assumptions had been made about what exactly CRM stood for. Come to find out that the doctors in the room thought they were there to discuss cardio rhythm monitoring. Needless to say we cleared the room and eventually cleared up the confusion. From that point forward, we definitely made sure to clearly communicate with our healthcare clients.


The next situation we could subtitle “If you build it, they will…run away fast.” Anyone in the consulting world understands hand-holding Type A executives. On this occasion, we were dealing with a new CEO who decided he knew what the problems were with the company’s CRM deployment. It was simple: “CRM is too complicated.” The solution, in his mind, was to create one massive screen containing all of the CRM fields employees would need, rather than having them navigate from screen to screen for various purpose-based reasons.

We strongly cautioned against this approach but were given the mandate anyway. Our thinking was, if we didn’t take the business, someone else would. On “go live” day, though, we witnessed the results we suspected were coming: To say there was a massive revolt would be an understatement. We were summoned to the office of the CEO, who was at a loss, saying he couldn’t understand the problem. We walked him off the ledge, explaining that CRM had to be purposeful based on a person’s role.

The CEO agreed to roll back the customization and had T-shirts made with a big red X over the “Frankenstein” interface we had designed. Interestingly, when employees were presented with our original CRM design and trained properly, the adoption went swimmingly well. The lesson here: Just because you do a customization, there is no reason you can’t change your mind if the results aren’t there. Granted, this was an extreme version of that lesson.


The next scenario involves a challenging training situation. We had been called in to re-implement a CRM system and lead the training initiative for 9,000 users. The technical part of CRM went well despite some interesting stakeholder meeting in Switzerland that included what one might call “screaming and yelling” with stakeholders from 16 different countries.

On the return flight to the U.S. the CIO assured me that as we got into the regional training sessions, everything would be much more sedate. When the training for the U.S. group was scheduled, we were flown down to a Georgia resort with a gathering of the sales team. It seemed simple enough until we arrived.

We checked into the resort and participants began showing up, and it soon became apparent that things might get bumpy. The night before the training, a bacchanal ensued that included everything from moonshine to Cuban cigars. As the night progressed, it looked like a corporate version of Animal House.

The following morning began with our introduction from the U.S. CEO. He started with a slide show of people passed out at 4 the night before and a YouTube clip from a raunchy comedian about the “sales plan” for the coming year. He then introduced us to the hungover crowd in the dark ballroom and said, “Have at them. I don’t care if they use this system as long as they hit their numbers.”

The training was held up a bit until they could locate one of the presenters still sleeping it off in his room. We eventually got through the content, but let’s just say it took some time for them to acclimate to their newly designed CRM. I guess we’ll file this one under “know your audience.”

While these stories and situations hopefully entertained you, there is a moral here (I think). Whenever you’re mixing human interaction with technology, there is always a chance for an unintended outcome or outcomes. But while we can’t undo the past, we always have the ability to change course for the future. 

Danny Estrada is vice president of consulting at Rare Karma. Throughout his career Estrada has been a CRM evangelist and expert at leveraging technology platforms to create business value. He has been a senior director at KPMG and a thought leader for Salesforce and Microsoft, and was published in an industry white paper by the Harvard Business Review. He also holds an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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