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The key reasons CRM implementations fail

Technology & Data

The key reasons CRM implementations fail


Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions have come a long way from the humble Rolodex and filing cabinet.

Today, we have tools that allow marketing teams to predict when a customer is about to expect a baby based on changes in their buying patterns. We also have technologies that allow customer service teams to identify and immediately respond to customers venting on Facebook about bad experiences – whether they are half way around the world or in the next suburb.

This is why smart businesses are using CRM solutions to cross all the different touchpoints of a customer, from managing new enquiries, preferences, service delivery, all the way to billing and customer support.

But the maturation of CRM technologies is not without its pitfalls. As businesses have rolled out CRM solutions to support marketing, sales and customer service teams, CRM has increasingly moved into the realm of IT and further away from business decision-makers. Today, many of the conversations businesses have about CRM solutions begin and end with technology, and businesses that leave CRM in the hands of the IT department almost immediately set themselves up for failure.

Here are some of the ways in which organisations can fail in implementing a CRM system, and a few tips on how to avoid problems, particularly for marketers who rely so heavily on the data gleaned from their CRM systems.

Build the tracks before you build the train

The reality is that technology is only one-third of the CRM discussion. The other two-thirds, which need to be determined before choosing a technology solution, are strategy and process. If we compare the implementation of a CRM solution in a business to the construction of a railway service, we’ve become very good at building robust and innovative trains but have failed to create railway tracks with clear destination points. We’ve also failed to properly inform passengers (ie. our employees) the best way to use a train and in conjunction with other transport vehicles (ie. technology systems) to achieve on-going customer engagement.

Technology is not the only consideration

Many businesses, when considering CRM solutions, largely base their selection criteria on the technology itself. Businesses want to know if the CRM solution will work on a MacBook or if data can be synchronised on an Android device, rather than if this CRM solution will meet the business objective of increasing customer loyalty by 10% or if it will help generate more qualified sales leads by the third quarter.

As businesses often delegate the task of finding a CRM solution too far down in the organisation, it’s easy to see why there is a disconnect between the decision to invest in a CRM solution and an understanding about what it’s going to achieve. To avoid a blinkered approach when implementing a solution, it’s important to spend as much time on planning, through reviewing your organisational culture, processes and training methods as you do on understanding the technology.

Making the pieces fit

Many also fail to consider how their employees will adopt the CRM solutions, and how the technology will integrate with existing systems. While businesses wouldn’t hire a new employee without first providing a clear job description and an induction into how the company operates, many businesses make the mistake of not properly educating employees on how a CRM solution can be used to make their role easier and how the technology will be integrated with existing processes.

A simple way around this challenge is to use the reporting capabilities in your new system to help users see how their actions are directly impacting the customer experience, the end goal and their own overall performance. This will help them receive the context they need to understand how using the tool effectively will ensure ultimate success.

In defence of the IT department, however, being able to cultivate the cultural changes that are required to drive a new customer experience is tough without support from the senior executive team. In fact, many of the CRM problems I’ve come across can be traced back to a lack of senior executive support. With that in mind, to say senior executives have a host of important business issues on their plate is an understatement and it’s easy to see why the task of investing in a CRM solution has been delegated to their IT department.

We need to dramatically shift the way we view customer relationship management. CRM providers need to transfer their discussions from the importance of feeds and speeds to meeting business objectives, and senior executives need to take greater ownership of the CRM investment from the outset.

Successful CRM solutions are those with a clearly-defined business objective, strategy and processes. Smart businesses understand that like any business initiative, a CRM roll-out needs to map back to a strong company objective, has clear benchmarks to measure success and is underpinned by strategies which empower employees to buy into the vision and march to the same beat.


Marc Englaro

Marc Englaro is the founder and CEO of InsightfulCRM, an Australian business consulting and system integration firm. With over 15 years experience in senior consulting and business management, Marc is passionate about helping organisations better engage with current and future customers through the innovative use of collaborative technologies.

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