Preventing CRM Decay

CRM implementation project failures are fast, project wide, and highly visible. CRM system decay is gradual, develops in pockets, and often goes unperceived. While these problems differ in many respects, they often share the same result: user dissatisfaction, potential CRM tool change, and eventual reimplementation. Identifying CRM Decay CRM decay is defined as the growing disparity, below established baselines, between business needs and the ability for the identified CRM system to effectively service those needs. Organizations, more recently aware of the high risk of implementation failure, are applying strategic funds, people, and focus to help insure successful CRM implementations. However, after this type of investment, organizations place their implementation efforts at risk by failing to keep their CRM system relevant with their internal business. The speed of business change, coupled with post-implementation lack of attention can lead to CRM system decay. The following are indicators of CRM decay:
  • Declining CRM system usage levels.
  • Increased number of inefficient "work-around" type processes.
  • Decreased quality of CRM reporting and business intelligence.
  • Increased user feedback regarding system shortfalls. Causes of Decay Poor Data Quality -- Poor data quality affects the success opportunities for sales and marketing. Often CRM systems' pickiest end user, field sales, is also the group most impacted by poor data quality. For field sales, accurate segmentation and demographic information is the basis for territory planning and daily field execution. Poor customer data quality leads to inefficiencies in daily sales tasks. The impact of this is not only frustration, but can lead to the adoption of customer lists maintained outside of the CRM system. When users begin looking outside the CRM system for customer and prospect information, the credibility of your system and its effectiveness within your organization becomes in question. Ineffective Transfer of Knowledge -- System decay often starts the day after your implementation team declares project success and disbands for new projects without thorough documentation and project wrap-up. Or in other cases, CRM managers move on to a new position without properly backfilling and training their replacement. This ineffective transfer of knowledge leaves the existing team shorthanded and lacking the experience, knowledge, and structure to effectively maintain the system and execute on future CRM goals. CRM as a Goal Instead of an Ongoing Strategy -- To get the right level of involvement, implementers often create the rally cry for CRM implementation. This goal orientation, creating user level visibility and executive level support is absolutely necessary for success. However, for continued support CRM participation must go beyond implementation enthusiasm and include a roadmap for future customer-centric company strategy. Business Process Change without CRM System Update -- New technology and competition increases the demands for business agility. With these new demands, organizations are changing processes faster than CRM systems are updated. The result is a gap between process design and system support, resulting in suboptimal or work-around processes. Over time these sub-par processes are never resolved and create business inefficiencies, dissatisfied users, and barriers to future flexibility. Strategies for Prevention Include Tools for Data Quality -- Prevent data quality issues from starting by including address verification software with your initial implementation, publish data entry and business rules standards, and include data quality topics during end-user training. For organizations already using a CRM system and facing data quality issues, be prepared to commit resources toward a data quality clean up project. Data clean up efforts are often seen as less "sexy" then new CRM initiatives. However, the return on investment is not only quantifiable, but clean data is the basis for many parts of your CRM investment including analytics, direct marketing, and Web strategies. Maintain Internal CRM Expertise -- CRM teams are cross-functional in design, and team member participation will change between phases of the CRM project lifecycle. A practical and easy way to support continuity and maintain CRM expertise is to locate all system and project documents in a central portal. Develop documentation standards and demand project team members and consultants adhere. With a central repository of high-quality documentation, project ramp-up is reduced; new team members understand your processes and CRM system, and can begin contributing quickly. Build a CRM Roadmap -- Maintaining CRM visibility within an organization is an important task for CRM leaders. This visibility helps to ensure continuation of stakeholder participation, executive commitment, and budget allocation. A CRM roadmap is a communication tool that displays the organization's CRM strategy. The CRM roadmap should include the future vision for customer-centric operations within the organization and between its partners, a rough timeline indicating phases of implementation, and CRM critical success factors. Perform Timely System Changes with Business Changes -- More simply stated: Keep the user interface up to date. The most visible sign of CRM decay is a CRM user interface containing unused field values or outdated workflow steps. Forcing users to spend additional effort in working around these UI deficiencies instills the impression that the system is not relevant to the task execution. CRM system changes in pace with business change, creates synergies between key execution tasks and CRM effectiveness. This ongoing business alignment is fundamental to maintaining CRM credibility within the organization. About the Author Brett Stewart is a Senior Consultant with Acetta, a consulting group focused on implementing and extending CRM capabilities and technologies. Contact him at
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