• April 26, 2023
  • By Danny Estrada, Vice President of Consulting, Rare Karma

CRM Often Can’t Get Out of First Gear

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For the past few columns, I’ve focused on hot topics like artificial intelligence and analytics and some of the innovative ways that companies on the bleeding edge of technology get to the next level with CRM and empowering their people. As a consultant, I continue to be amazed at the types of business challenges we can address and the solutions that bring competitive advantage. These things are great when you can achieve them, but I was pulled into some discussions recently that brought me back to a stark reality: Many organizations continue to struggle with CRM.

As I thought about it more, I was reminded that analytics, reporting, workflow, automation, and AI all rely on one thing: good data. “Good” is the operative word here. I remember once on a data cleanup project being told that the CEO wanted 100 percent results; we told him the difference between 94 percent and 100 percent was the difference between a six-figure and a seven-figure project.

My point is that perfect doesn’t need to be the enemy of good. Unfortunately, “good” can also be very elusive. So let’s delve into how companies encounter problems with data, what they can do to change course, and some ways to stay on the right track going forward.


If you want to diagnose CRM data to see where you sit, there are simple ways to figure out how bad the situation might be. Account information doesn’t change very much. Most companies struggle with incomplete data, but the data they have usually isn’t bad. Opportunity data is usually “bloated” and the data often doesn’t represent your current pipeline; just look for opportunities with no scheduled activity or close dates in the past. But your winner for bad data is and will always be contact data. People change companies, titles, and even names. If you look at your contacts, more than 90 percent of them have either never been modified or modified only once. The winner for good data, on the other hand, is usually customer service tickets or cases but there may be some challenges there as well.


Now that I have given you some areas to investigate, let’s concentrate on reasons why your firm might continue to struggle with CRM. Using a car analogy, I call this being stuck in first gear. First gear is great for getting you from a dead stop to moving, but you will never get where you want to go. The answer many times lies in your user data. As I wrote in CRM’s November 2018 issue (“CRM’s Unexpected Science”) you need a certain amount of “energy” from your people to make it all work. When people don’t engage with CRM early and often, the wheels might come off altogether.

A common problem is competing priorities. Customer service’s CRM data is usually the cleanest because the platform and the job duties align closely, or at least they should. Sales teams are a completely different story. Your producers will not be judged on how great their notes are, how nice their dashboards look, or how clean their contacts are. Nope, they get judged on numbers, which is the crux of the issue.

While I will take 10 process-driven, disciplined reps over 10 charismatic salespeople who consider sales an “art,” you usually get a mix of talent and acumen on any sales team. Those personalities will have a completely different take on how and when they engage with CRM. If sales managers oversee their teams by making exceptions for certain members, the ensuing CRM degradation ensues.

I’ve devoted a fair amount of space to data and its implications for CRM deployments for good reason, because the downstream effects of bad data lead to subpar installations. Without good data and good discipline, it’s difficult to have robust reporting and workflows. When there are low levels of confidence in a CRM system, it becomes hard to get people moving in the right direction.

But another part of the CRM experience is setup and configuration. This includes customization, lead and opportunity processes, and third-party applications. A major lesson learned with CRM configurations: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It’s not uncommon for CRM consultants to see that many things have been installed or created that the business never really uses or at least doesn’t use effectively. When we encounter this scenario, we often find that users are forced to do a lot of data entry or wade through an overly complex system just to execute what they’ve been tasked with.


Now that we know how we’ve likely arrived in a stalled-out state, what do we need to do to get things firing on all cylinders? I have seen this go in many different directions depending on the stakeholders, their level of commitment to a set of strategic objectives, or maybe the fact that new stakeholders who were not part of the original deployment are suddenly weighing in, but sometimes it just comes down to needing to do something different. Or you’ll have good, better, and best options depending on the budget, timing, and so on.

To abruptly switch metaphors, another way to think about it is to consider one of those DIY shows where you have a house you didn’t build that has “good bones,” but you want to transform it and make it into your forever home. When it comes to a CRM deployment, the dream home concept might be a reach, but regardless, you know what you want, and you’ll likely need to break some things to get there. Sometimes, however, you may want to rebuild in phases to make the house the most livable based on what you are looking for.

And it’s likely you’ll need to bring in experts that can help you get to your ideal state as fast as possible. Think about the contractors that work with house flippers; they do this over and over again and see the best and worst of how to transform the house to what you need. More important, they usually tell you how everyone else would do the transformation, help you plan it out, and execute the job while you’re getting through your day-to-day. On occasion the best course of action might be to knock it down to the foundation.


The world of CRM is constantly changing. CRM platform providers are continually innovating, markets and the competition are not standing still, and leadership and management can abruptly switch course. What this means is that even when you get your CRM system to a workable state, you’ll need to stay on your toes to keep things in line going forward. You’ll need a feedback mechanism, an operating model for governance, and a road map to get to those more advanced capabilities that others are always raving about. If you get these elements in place, you will have everything you need to get into second gear, third gear, and eventually driving as fast as you want to go. 

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, thought leader for Salesforce and Microsoft, and published in an industry whitepaper by the Harvard Business Review. He holds an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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