Avoiding Three Common Potholes on the Road to CRM Success


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You’ve heard it all before. Gartner industry analysts report that upwards of 50 percent of customer relationship management (CRM) projects fail. Other analysts have less conservative numbers and anecdotally, for every success story with CRM we typically hear about two failures. So why is it that so many of us are still committed to CRM?

I’d guess it’s because of those success stories. Where CRM user adoption goes awry is usually due to a lack of long-range planning, cultural barriers and/or information overload.

Where CRM user adoption goes awry is usually due to a lack of long-range planning, cultural barriers and/or information overload.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that those aspects weren’t considered or addressed throughout the planning and execution stages. Rather, it may have been the way the processes within them were executed that led to the CRM not living up to its expectations. While one size doesn’t fit all and finger pointing is never a productive exercise, there are some common potholes along the road to CRM success that others can learn from to avoid costly errors.

With this in mind, following is a closer exploration of those three critical aspects along with recommendations for addressing them based on real-world experiences.

1. Perform due diligence on your existing business processes.

As most business decision-makers would likely agree, the goal is to have the technology support the business and not the other way around. To do this, make sure that you’ve fully mapped out your business processes across the company so you can see how CRM will interact with different parts of the organization. Keep in mind that while one department may initially implement the CRM system, it will very likely extend throughout the company in an effort to improve sales, marketing and customer service effectiveness, and also streamline business processes. Without a full understanding of the intersections, there will be gaps in data and service that impact the credibility of the information in CRM.

Consider Travel Dynamics International (TDI), a combination luxury cruise and theme-based education travel company. While you may initially think that TDI’s CRM would focus solely on the marketing and sales efforts to attract vacationers, it actually spans every function in the entire company.

As a customer-centric business, TDI learned through the strategy and design stage how its business processes are mapped throughout the company and linked through back through the CRM. This aerial view benefits the entire company in terms of productivity and streamlined processes. Such as:

  • The sales staff is better able to track leads through a centralized database that delivers real-time visibility of prospects and analysis of conversion rates. This saves up to an hour each week that was previously spent compiling data into stand-alone spreadsheets.
  • The accounting staff no longer manually re-enters data from the reservation system.
  • Customer service staff has eliminated paper-based systems for generating and distributing pre-cruise mailings to travelers.
  • Marketing no longer sorts through dozens of records retrieved from multiple, non-integrated systems to track down relevant information in order to create targeted marketing campaigns.

The man-hours that CRM saves TDI each month through a better understanding of its business processes have more than paid for the investments in the system. Not to mention the fact that the ability to develop and execute more targeted campaigns increases sales to new and existing customers.

So when you think about your business processes, make sure that you are accounting for each and every possible touch point that the customer may have with your company. This mindset will help you better define the way that processes will be mapped throughout the CRM so that you’re not creating any gaps that would interrupt the quality of service provided to a prospect or customer.

Also, as you are reviewing those business processes, you should use that stage as an opportunity to update and cleanse your company data so that the information associated with the business processes is accurate. This is an extra step that is often overlooked or not done to the level required for a successful CRM project. Customers and analysts have found that it is much easier and significantly less expensive to head off potential issues like inaccurate data during the design stage than after the system goes live.

For example, AHRC New York City is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The organization was founded over 60 years ago so you can imagine how daunting a task it would be to organize the volumes of data that were located in various, disconnected systems and spreadsheets. This information ranged from a client database to payroll and human resources applications to a third party fund-raising system.

When it came to the cleansing data before it was aggregated and integrated in a CRM system, AHRC New York knew they had a big job ahead of them. Imagine the volume of records associated with 10,000 individuals served, 2,000 employees and a growing, external base of interested groups and organizations spanning 13,000 individuals and their families as well as legislators, referral sources, governmental agencies, vendors, health care professionals, universities, local education departments, and other community resources.

Without taking the time to really scrub the data before their CRM system went live, AHRC New York would have not only alienated potential donors, but could have also risked violating compliance standards with regard to client confidentiality.

By spending the time up front, AHRC New York was able to organize internal processes, aggregate patient information and develop customized communications to various constituencies on behalf of clients without compromising confidentiality. This resulted in better service to clients and their families as well as greater awareness for the organization that ultimately impacts fund-raising activities.

2. Proactively answer “What’s in it for Me?”

Articulate the benefits and skills that employees will gain by using the CRM system from their point of view—not from the CEO’s perspective.

If mastering certain aspects of the CRM system can result in accredited, industry certifications or can be included in your company’s performance incentives, you’ll decrease the learning curve and increase usage.

Articulate the benefits and skills that employees will gain by using the CRM system from their point of view—not from the CEO’s perspective.

The idea of boosting an employee’s resume may at first sound counter-intuitive. However, if you can demonstrate a commitment to the employee’s overall career development, they are less likely to explore outside opportunities.

While you’re answering ‘what’s in it for me?’ explain the ‘why.’ Employees are smart, which is why you hired them in the first place, right? So explain the business catalyst behind the CRM and how it will benefit the entire company.

This shouldn’t be a discussion about features and functions. Instead, focus on real-world examples and benefits that CRM can deliver. It’s one thing to tell an employee that a CRM system will help streamline the monthly reporting process and aggregate customer profiles. It’s quite another to say that CRM will eliminate tedious administrative work that resulted in late nights at the office and that it will also cut down the call center queue so that call center staff can actually take that lunch break or leave on time.

The sales team at Bid4Spots, the online auction house that specializes in last minute television and radio airtime for advertisers really understood the value of CRM when it demonstrated how it could help them sell more airtime. That’s a simple statement that resonates with users. How they actually do it via a workflow, sophisticated dashboards and a unified communications strategy can sometimes be a secondary message depending on the audience.

3. Take a Phased Approach to Deployment.

As excited as the project team may be about the CRM system’s capabilities, don’t overwhelm the users by releasing every bell and whistle of an application at once. The key here is mastery of key features before you introduce new functionality. This avoids an overwhelming feeling and sets the pace for continued use and adoption. After all, CRM is an iterative process and the more you put into it, the more value you’ll get from it.

Also remember to solicit feedback during each deployment phase. The difference here will be in building in scheduled feedback sessions as part of internal meetings, training sessions and the like. If you set aside structured time for this, both in a group setting and anonymously, you will get more constructive feedback and a heightened sense of commitment around the project.

Don’t just rely on that feedback as you move into the next phase. Augment that information with data you collect from analyzing help desk calls so that you can identify and address common issues before the entire system is rolled out to a broader group of users.

Mandel Communications, a presentation skills and leadership development training company has mastered the art of incorporating feedback into the phased CRM rollout. What Mandel did initially in the strategy phase was not uncommon in that they created a wish list of features and functions. The reality was that they had to determine which features were ‘nice to have’ and which were ‘need to have.’ These thoughtful decisions had to be weighed against the factors of time and extensive customization. They also represented the risk of a delayed start date and the users’ perception that those extra bells and whistles that may be overkill at first.

By realistically matching system needs with functionality and customization budgets, Mandel found a solid middle ground and was able to introduce new features at a pace that was aligned with the learning curve of its users and the budget of the project leaders.

While there are many resources that will point out what to do and what not to do when it comes to CRM adoption, the key is to think about the process as iterative, organization-wide and customer centric. Staying true to those three aspects while not being afraid to do some heavy lifting in the business process mapping and data scrubbing stages will make a significant difference in the project’s outcome.

Yacov Wrocherinsky
Yacov Wrocherinsky is founder and CEO of Infinity Info Systems, a New York City-based information technology consulting firm focused on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Business Analytics solutions for clients in the financial, life sciences, business services, media and manufacturing/distribution industries around the world.


  1. Great advice, Yacov.

    As a CRM consulting firm, this is basically exactly what we tell our clients when we raise the subject of User Adoption. The only thing I might add relates to the psychological element of “What’s in it for me”. Call me a cynic, but I think as humans, we are inherently lazy. We love shortcuts and tend to go to great pains to find them. Well, maybe lazy is the wrong word. Maybe I should say “we find the fastest way from point A to B in order to preserve energy — in order to survive”. What I am driving at here is the fact that people see CRM as the long way. It is such a pain to enter data into a CRM, right? It takes up so much time. All that clicking, all those fields. So people don’t use it. They prefer getting by with just email, pens, and paper.

    But the reality is, although it may not seem like it at first, CRM is the shortcut. It saves time. It saves energy. If you log that sales call you just made, you don’t have to scramble for your notes next week when its time to make the follow up call – if you remember to follow up, that is. The CRM application says, “hey, now you need to call back John. Here’s what you guys talked about last time. Here’s what he’s expecting from you today.”

    Also, when one of your customers has an issue and they call your support staff, they don’t have to talk to you about the history he or she has with the company. They see it all right there before their eyes in the CRM.

    And when its time to submit a report, you’re not panicking, struggling with spreadsheets, or scratching your head trying to remember what deal was won and what deal was lost by whom.

    The list goes on… CRM saves time and let’s us take the shortcut and, do I dare say, be lazy. It also let’s us get ahead and it let’s us survive. I think that is the message that should be driven home when it comes to really getting people to adopt CRM.


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