Why CRM Implementations Fail – and how not to

IT projects, including new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) installations, seem to always start out with the greatest intentions.

They're always slated to save money for your company.

They're targeted to help increase efficiency and productivity.

And they're usually brought in with the promise of easier, better, faster and more streamlined operations.

Sadly, though, it often doesn't work out that way.

But there are methods to increase your odds for success when implementing a new CRM system, while also avoiding a bad case of agita. It starts with taking lessons learned from failed CRM implementations.

The Top 5 Reasons Why CRM Fails – and How to Avoid Them

From many of those past CRM software disappointments, here's my list of the top 5 reasons for CRM deployment failures and how you can avoid the pain:

  1. Unclear or unimportant goals contribute to CRM deployment failures. Don't be theoretical, subjective or wishy-washy with the reasons for your project. Figure out exactly exactly what you want to accomplish. Know your goals and make sure they are time-bound and measurable. Determine what CRM business problems you are working to solve, then review the relevant products to solve them. For example, are you trying to make it easier for your customers to find the right people inside your company to make inquiries, place orders or get customer service? Then know your strategy ahead of time and be sure that every "must-have" item on your requirements list is fulfilled by your new CRM software system. Oh, and don't take the vendor's representation that something exists and will meet your intent – business requirements are fluid and subject to interpretation so make sure you view each of the CRM software feature sets that support your important business processes. Then run their products on your test systems or in a pilot in order to tweak them and see how closely they can accommodate your objectives.
  2. Lack of executive sponsorship degrades CRM projects until they fail. Don't even think of implementing customer relationship management software if corporate executives weren't involved in the software selection process and aren't on board to actively support the deployment. This is not a small project. You're not just installing a new, improved Web browser on everyone's desktop computers. You are potentially modifying many or all of your customer facing business processes, changing staff performance measures and even sales goals - so you need to be confident that your company's executive team has reviewed and signed off on the proposed strategy before you decide on any vendors, sign any contracts, or commence an implementation. The big reason for this – if problems or challenges arise, and they will – you don't want anyone questioning the agreed upon direction in mid-stream of the new deployment. You want everyone to buy in, to even think it's their idea, so that they can back you even in the event of problems. By the way, the executives aren't your only concern. You also want to be sure that your company's users accept or embrace the proposed changes. They are the ones who will have to use the new system to accomplish the new business processes. Be sure to get their input early, explore their ideas and listen to their feedback. You'll be glad you did.
  3. The wrong vendor at the right price is no bargain. Perform an objective software selection project before selecting and purchasing CRM software. Talk to other customers of the prospective vendors you are reviewing. Ask every question you can think of. Then ask the questions you don't think are very important – they may be more important than you think. Don't leave meetings without answers to every question and query, and don't be satisfied with vague or ambiguous responses. Also seek service level agreements and assurances, warranties, performance and uptime guarantees and more. Many CRM software vendors and consultants now include risk sharing provisions as part of their delivery. The software as a service (SaaS) CRM solutions provide an increased level of vendor partnership, as if the deployment isn't successful, the SaaS CRM contract will be cancelled or not renewed. Don't leave the negotiations until the end of the purchase cycle. Begin acquiring assurances from your vendors from the beginning of the software selection process.
  4. Don't overpromise. This is a new CRM system, and not the answer to every IT or business problem that your company has or will have. Things can go wrong and business conditions will change. But the idea is that you are heading into the project with a sound plan, reasonable expectations, management sponsorship, user backing, positive intentions and a defendable ROI projection. Just don't go overboard with the promises. Give reasonable goals and work to exceed them. Show small successes early and frequently, and then unveil some surprise benefits that will make your executives and users more appreciative. Stay within your project plan and show consistent successes by exceeding week to week deliveries. You can do this, and once you do watch how much easier it will be to get your next IT project off the ground, building on your past successes.
  5. Keep is simple (KISS). Don't introduce too many features which in turn make it difficult for users to adopt the CRM solution. Simple is better. Easy-to-understand is better. Make sure that what you roll out for your company's users makes it easier and more satisfying for them to do their jobs. You can win users over by replacing cumbersome tasks and manual workarounds with system automation. You also want to make it easier for your customers to communicate with your company. Don't think like an IT worker. Think like a user who doesn't have all of your IT prowess and experience. Because the easier it is for your staff and your customers, the more successful your CRM implementation will be for your company. And that, put simply, will be one of your most important indicators of success.