Thursday, 24 September 2015 12:16

Your CRM Implementation Is Going To Fail

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Customer Relationship Management (CRM) implementations fail at an alarming rate. For the last fourteen years, numerous independent parties have come up with the same dismal statistics. In fact, your implementation probably will not meet your goals either. The graphic above does not bode well for anyone heading out on that journey. To be sure, configuring the software is significantly more difficult that it appears at first glance. As much as one wants to blame Salesforce, Microsoft, or some other software vendor, though, the trouble lies much closer to home.

For the astute onlookers it is easy to tell when the implementation is going the awry. It is the argument over who is going to drive the project—IT or Sales and Marketing. Unfortunately, these are the wrong people to have in the discussion.

Sales and Marketing

Sales and Marketing teams make a great case; after all, in classic business structures they "own" the customer and are the ones that drive the customer communications. They know the minute anything goes wrong the account manager's phone is the one that rings—whether the issue is with an invoice or an installation. Sales and marketing is the center of the customer's world and need to sponsor and drive the CRM implementation. Or, so they say.

Information Technology's Case

Information Technology (IT) makes an equally strong case by pointing out that for the CRM to be effective it needs to integrate with every system from Customer Support, to Sales, Invoicing, Shipping and Receiving, Engineering, Scheduling, and so forth. With this level of integration and the technological hurdles that must be cleared, IT clearly needs to drive the implementation or the resulting deployment will be a hodge-podge of interfaces where only some of the data required to deal with the customer is available across the organization.

They Are Addressing The Wrong Problem

The logic behind both of these arguments is sound; however, both are flawed. With all their passion, they have taken an unfortunately myopic gaze that the problem and missed the bigger picture. The goal of a successful CRM implementation is to create uniformity in dealing with customers regardless of who in your company is addressing them. It should lean out the customer interface by allowing the customer to talk to anyone and get to the correct answer.

For instance, if a customer is on credit hold, it wastes company resources to answer engineering questions, to prioritize their requests for proposals, look up replacement parts, or ship them more product. Everyone in the company needs to see the same data and have the same process to follow—in this case, politely telling them to talk to accounts receivable. Imagine a high-volume customer who is current on their bill getting second-class treatment to a delinquent customer. Although all of us want to treat customers with respect, we also need to reward our best customers.

The problem with Sales and Marketing's argument is that the customer should not need to go through them to solve an issue. Every group should have the same data. Everyone in the company should treat the customer the same.

This is where IT is both right and wrong. A complete CRM implementation does touch every system in the company. It is a huge integration effort and IT will spend a significant amount of time and money making these interfaces work. However, technology is only a tool—it does not solve the problem. For a successful implementation, the attitudes and operations of people need to change. IT is not up to that kind of leadership and putting them in this role will lead to trouble.


Culture: the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.1 That is what the CRM implementation project is really trying to affect. The company's culture around dealing with its customers must change. There is only one person that drives the culture of the company—the CEO. The CEO is the sole person that can drive a CRM project. He or she must define how to treat customer in every condition and ensure that the entire company lives that culture. Software is not a requisite to making this change. It requires leadership. Without painting the vision and leading your people to that better place, your CRM implementation is a failed project before it starts. The software only enables the culture. It allows you to share data from one end of the company to the other efficiently and accurately. It is only a tool and will just as easily automate the wrong culture as it will the desired one.

It Is A Customer Relationship Culture Project

CEOs need to take CRM implementation failures by the horns. Forget what your CRM vendor is telling you about how to implement it. They are only selling software to make their monthly quotas.

Call it what it is—The New Customer Relationship Culture Project. You, the CEO, need to be the executive sponsor who defines that culture. You need to head the organizational change management project to create sense of urgency, get the right people, build the vision and follow the rest of Kotter's eight steps to change. Each and every department in your company must be responsible for educating their people and implementing the new processes to support it. Only then can you look at how a software package is going to support it. It is all about a new culture and you, the CEO, is the only one accountable for its adoption.

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