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Frieda Maher

How did our CRM implementation go so wrong?

Frieda Maher

My original title for this article was “Its not you, it’s me”. CRM implementations fail for many reasons. Sometimes it is the purchase of the wrong software, sometimes even really bad software. Maybe a less than competent implementation partner. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say most problems come from our own organisations. In more cases than not, we must take accountability for the success or failure of the CRM project. Even poor software or a poor partner can be our own flawed procurement or vendor management approach. It happens all the time, we unknowingly get it wrong along the way, even with the best of intentions and with skilled and capable people. The good news is, you can own it, fix it and take control of your CRM!

Before we start - I’m not a fan of looking back just to share the blame. I’m sharing my experience of where mistakes came from so teams have a chance of fixing it rather than suffering through a terrible CRM experience for years. Or even worse writing off the whole investment. And for those of you setting out on your implementation, you might just pick up a few tips so that it doesn’t go wrong for you.

Senior management/IT-led and managed implementations

The usual wisdom is that CRM implementations need strong executive and IT sponsorship, and that certainly doesn't hurt. But CRM projects also need strong operational sponsorship, having front line staff involved. Staff like sales managers and call centre supervisors. If these groups are not involved in the planning and design of the CRM, to deliver the value for them and their colleagues, you risk building a CRM no one will use. Were you were missing some of these people?

Getting the wrong people involved

Even if you had the right roles, having the wrong people involved risks disaster. You know the ones. They believe they should have everything they want (including the “do my job” button). And don’t understand that with technology everything is possible, but some things are too complicated, difficult and expensive. They can push a square peg product into a round hole, but you probably won't get the most out of it! Your team members on the project need a deep understanding of what is needed by the broader team, but also the creativity and negotiation skills to trade off “nice to have” with “must have” and know when to give up altogether.

One project I worked on, one sales office sent a representative because they desperately wanted her out of the office for 6 months. Another sales office sent their best person, they were barely able to cope while she was on the project. The first office was still struggling years later, the other was flying and making the most of the new system after only 3 months. Who did you have on your project?

Insufficient understanding of where we started and where we are going

Before you started, did you have a strong understanding of what was happening in your organisation already? And were you also creating a clear vision of what it will be in the future? These are crucial insights for any CRM project. Unclear or unstructured understanding of how things are done today can mean that important requirements are missed. We must also translate this into how we will do things, otherwise everyone may be working to a different goal. Was your project aligned towards a clear vision? One based on a strong grounding in how things already worked?

Lack of insight into the real benefits to expect (and how to deliver them)

The CRM was put in for a reason, right? But did you drill down into the specific benefits you need to achieve to pay for it? And did you set your team to the task of delivering on those benefits before doing anything else? Many CRM projects are supposed to be paid for by uplifted conversion rates through the pipeline.

We start well but veer away from focussing on the customer and their needs. We change focus to “nice to have” or “productivity” features for users. Understandable, but not at the expense of delivering the original benefit. User engagement and productivity are key to the adoption of the CRM, but it is a fine line between making the system worthwhile and useful internally vs catering to a user representative’s every wish regardless of cost or other implications. Did your project stay laser-focused on the benefits you expected?

Poor change management 

The best planned and executed project can come unstuck if it isn’t presented to teams in the right way. Did you fully understand exactly how much change the CRM project was causing? Some projects just use a new system to do the same things, but many CRM implementations intend to bring about much more change. Did you plan on adjusting the sales process, encouraging totally new behaviours with customers or for internal/administrative work or introducing new metrics or controls? For bigger changes, the work of change management is much more than holding a single CRM training session and expecting everything to happen. The success of the change management is often directly tied up to the success of the project. Why is it that this is the first budget that is slashed when a team decides that the project looks too expensive? It is often better to deliver a smaller scope and have it used more. Did you invest enough in change management?

Lack of discipline in the sales organisation

Everything may have gone well on your project, but in a large organisation the pull of “how we have always done things” is strong. Don’t blame your system if you lack the structure and discipline to make sure it is being used productively and consistently. You have to identify and fix genuine system problems, but do not accept excuses for not sticking with new ways of working. It is hard, and as leaders we have to show the way, using the CRM ourselves. Have you logged on and run reports (or at least used the reports the system generates)? And taken time to embed new ways of working? Are you disciplined in using your CRM? If we don’t do it, how can we expect if from our teams?

Occasionally these mistakes can be fatal or at very least expensive to fix, but in most cases there are simple (if not easy) things that change everything. Have you fallen victim to any of these missteps? I'd love to hear from you, and share our hard won learning. And if you would like some ideas on how to recover, I'm running a free event in Sydney in November to share some of the paths to fixing your CRM "How to stop your CRM wasting your money and your team's time". The registration details are in the first comment.


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