CRM Failures: Are They Real?

After 18 years of implementing CRM systems I have come to believe that so-called CRM failures are as much a mindset as an organizational reality. The common wisdom of why CRM systems fail includes:
  • lack of senior management sponsorship;
  • improper change management;
  • elongated projects taking on too much, too fast;
  • lack of or poor integration between CRM and core business systems;
  • CRM systems does matching day-to-day work functions;
  • lack of end-user incentives leading to poor user adoption rates; CRM implementations are also affected by a number of underlying forces that impact the perceived success of a CRM initiative. A company should consider a number of CRM realities to help ground the organizational mindset, establish realistic expectations, and give a CRM implementation an even playing field on which to succeed. These often unspoken realities are:
  • Few implementations completely fail (or succeed), but offer degrees of success--since perception is reality, managing the perceived value of the CRM initiative is critical.
  • Very (very) few salespeople actually like using CRM systems--blasphemy for someone who makes a living providing CRM products and services. Since Sales Management 101 dictates that we "blame poor sales results on the CRM system", don't expect lots of "this is really great" from your salespeople. Build other measures to gauge the value the CRM system is providing.
  • If end-users don't use the CRM system, the CRM initiative has indeed failed.
  • If adoption hooks aren't built into the CRM system, your end-users won't use the system. Adoption hooks provide incentives for end-users to use the CRM system. The three most common adoption hooks are:
  • links to compensation--commissions and other incentives tied directly to use of the system;
  • condition of employment (rarely works);
  • building processes that makes the CRM system a critical component in getting the end-user's job done (e.g. order initiation);
  • companies interacting with customers in any way from a selling, marketing, or servicing perspective are engaged in CRM. Even companies using spreadsheets and paper to manage customers are still participating in CRM. CRM systems are no longer an elective;
  • true benefits from CRM take longer to achieve than anticipated. There will always be quick wins, but the majority of benefits take time;
  • CRM implementations are not one-time endeavours, but rather a continual alignment process between the CRM system and customer-facing processes. Organizational and market changes dictate how the company actual sells within the marketplace--requiring ongoing alignment of the CRM system to evolving selling, marketing and servicing processes;
  • true CRM failures are rarely technology issues, but rather results of poor process engineering, planning, change management, and governance;
  • the CRM planning process is not easy and cannot be short-changed. For a CRM initiative to be successfully planned and executed, organizations should avoid the common pitfalls, consider the CRM realities, and follow a number of best practices:
  • Solicit the support of a strong and visible senior management sponsor--one that will provide top-level vision, participate in the planning process, and will be an ongoing champion.
  • Implement properly designed CRM processes to support company strategies and initiatives. End-user day-to-day jobs must be comprehensively analyzed and key customer-facing processes incorporated in the system. Implementing CRM just to collect results for management brings little or no value to end-users (or the organization).
  • Appoint a strong project manager that is respected, career-minded and willing to be a true champion of the initiative. This individual must be obsessed with the successful implementation of the CRM system.
  • Plan an initial rollout that can be accomplished in 12 to 16 weeks. Organizations generally don't have patience for longer initiatives. Implement solutions for visible pain-points along with other mainstream selling processes (e.g., customer contact management, pipeline management, and sales forecasting).
  • Build strong adoption hooks into the initial rollout to insure end-user adoption.
  • Develop a well thought-out change management program--incorporate communications, end-user champions and training plans. Set realistic expectations for the organization in terms of how long it will take to rollout and achieve desired results.
  • Identify key processes managed by other systems--those that are mission-critical and can prevent users from adopting the new CRM system. Integrate those functions into the new CRM system. Well-implemented CRM systems do bring extraordinary value to firms, but it's imperative to realize that CRM per se is not an instant fix. It becomes a no-pain/no-gain recognition that CRM is a highly procedural technological approach to selling, marketing, and servicing processes. When properly implemented, measured, and managed, CRM implementations yield significant benefits. Conversely, poorly planned CRM initiatives, not only fail to yield expected results, but can be very disruptive to organizations. About the Author William Zarbock is president of Castle CRM, a Wall Street-based CRM consultancy. He has extensive experience in sales, sales operations, network operations, and engineering. He holds a BS in economics from Farleigh Dickinson University, and an MSM in technology management from Steven's Institute of Technology. Please visit www.acastle.com
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