CRM Success Is Simple If You Avoid These Common Pitfalls


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Sound Advice from 400 CRM Practitioners

In today’s world, the only source of competitive advantage is one that can survive technology-fueled disruption – It’s the obsession with understanding, connecting with, serving, and delighting customers. Forrester reports that customer experience is the top strategic initiative for companies of all sizes; and that companies use CRM as a foundational building block of their customer experience strategy.

But, after all this time, companies still struggle with obtaining real value out of CRM projects. Forrester, in collaboration with CustomerThink surveyed 414 business and technology decision makers who had been recently involved in CRM projects. They reported that the top two challenges faced are creating a single view of customer data and information (47%) and creating customer insight to drive decision-making (41%) — long-standing challenges that continue to undermine the value of CRM – and that are the same as those reported in a similar survey in 2013.

Other challenges that survey respondents surfaced include gaining cooperation across the organization to support customer management improvement efforts (38%); finding, attracting, and retaining the right skills (36%); managing data quality (35%); and having enough staff to support customer management processes (35%).

We found that CRM technology deployments require a balanced approach that addresses four critical areas: strategy, process, technology and people.

■ Issue: 33% of respondents had challenges related to CRM strategy, such as a lack of clearly defined objectives, a lack of organizational readiness, and insufficient solution governance practices.

■ Advice: CRM technologies are a means, not an end. Take time to define CRM objectives before proceeding with implementing a new solution. Is the goal to increase revenue per sales rep? Increase average order size? Decrease customer acquisition costs? Improve customer retention? Decrease service response times? Start by understanding and agreeing on CRM goals, metrics, and funding.

Take time to gain executive support for CRM projects for budgeting, resource allocation, project prioritization, and issue management. Focus on getting user buy-in for CRM projects, as broad user adoption is a must for realizing success.

■ Issue. 33% of respondents faced problems grounded in poor or insufficient definition of business requirements, inadequate business process designs, and the need to customize solutions to fit unique organizational requirements.

■ Advice: Define business requirements so they don’t navigate blind. Pay particular attention to define the right role-based user experience, self-service reporting, integration, scalability, and mobility requirements in addition to core CRM requirements to support effective customer management activities. Lock down process designs before applying technology.

■ Issue. 35% of respondents had technology deficiencies such as data problems, functional shortfalls in vendor solutions, a lack of the required skill sets needed to implement the solution, system performance shortfalls, and poor usability.

■ Advice: Choose a CRM solution that supports your end-to-end processes, is usable and can be deployed in an agile manner. Pay attention to data quality management issues early in the project. Work out the processes for data migration, acquisition, quality and governance. Determine how you distribute insights across the organization. And beef up skills inline with new technologies.

■ Issue: 38% of respondents stated that their problems were the result of people issues such as slow user adoption, inadequate attention paid to change management and training, and difficulties in aligning the organizational culture with new ways of working.

■ Advice: Use continuous improvement to soften culture shock. Successful CRM implementations require an organization to learn and accept new business processes and supporting technologies, which is never easy. Organizations frequently underestimate the difficulty of changing business processes and work practices, redefining work roles and responsibilities, and aligning employee reward structures to support better customer engagement and service.

Overcome adoption issues by letting users influence functionality. Don’t expect high adoption rates for CRM processes and technologies that do not have a clear benefit for users and for which the business has not communicated the need and properly set expectations.

Kate Leggett
Kate serves Business Process Professionals. She is a leading expert on customer service strategies. Her research focuses on helping organizations establish and validate customer service strategies strategies, prioritize and focus customer service projects, facilitate customer service vendor selection, and plan for project success.


  1. Hi Kate

    There have been numerous studies on what drives the success of CRM projects. For example, Thompson et al in ‘The Blueprint for CRM Success’ found that customer-centric planning, redesigning workflow, reengineering work processes and supporting this with appropriate CRM technology provides a blueprint for success. Reinartz et al in ‘Measuring the Customer Relationship Management Construct and Linking it to Performance Outcomes’ found that having a customer focus and incentivising staff drove CRM project success. They also found that CRM technology had no effect on CRM project success. Day & Van der Bulte in ‘Superiority in Customer Relationship Management: Consequences for Competitive Advantage’ found that organisational configuration and developing a customer focus drove success in CRM projects. They also found that the choice of CRM technology, or vendors, had little effect on success once a minimum level of capability was provided.

    My own experience designing, building and implementing CRM projects supports this view. Careful measurement over 25 years of CRM projects found that CRM technology is responsible for approx. 15% of CRM project success, planning and running the CRM project 20%, reengineering work processes 20%, continuous measurement and management of the project 20%, and developing a customer-focused organisation 25%. As you suggest, CRM technology is just an enabler. Once the minimum level of capability is available, not only does it not provide any further benefit, it can actually increase costs and complexity destroying hard-won benefits in the process. What does provide benefit is developing the complementary capabilities – combinations of matching processes, appropriate data flows, the right roles and responsibilities, collaboration to make key decisions, developing a high-performance work system, and measuring, managing and reporting success – that get the most out of the enabling technology, managing the process of organisational change, and using the enabling technology, complementary capabilities, and the changed organisation to transform the business’ operating model.

    Your post rather suggests that it is technology and its implementation that is critical to success in CRM projects. A well established analyst bias. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

    Graham Hill

  2. Perhaps most interesting about this post is that, with all the focus and discussion re. optimizing experience and value, there is absolutely no consideration of driving positive customer emotion and memory. For most organizations, these components of integrated single customer view across the enterprise, strategic customer insights, employee involvement, etc. are a whisper rather than a shout. At the end of the day, enhancing experience is more about building and sustaining trust and bonding than improving process functionality.

  3. Hello Kate,

    I have been in the CRM game since early 1999 and reading your post I am struck by the thought that truly there is almost nothing new in the world of CRM. The same kind of issues keep coming up. And the same kind of advice keeps being offered by ‘experts’. What is interesting to me is this: despite the mountain of advice, folks continue doing what they have always done.

    Here’s my experience. Most of the advice you have offered (in line with many other ‘experts’) is irrelevant. Why? Because most folks undertake CRM as a technology implementation project because this is the easiest path to take. Arguably, they take this path in order not to think about stuff, not to bring to light unpleasant realities, not to disturb the power relations in the organisation, not to deal with the harder stuff of changing ‘how we show up and operate around here’.

    I wish you the very best for 2016.


  4. Hi Maz

    You are right in that, as Hegel so succinctly put it, ‘The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history!’ I have seen the same failure to learn from history in process reengineering and service management projects, as well as a variety of CRM projects.

    But I think though doth protest too much when you suggest most other advice offered by experts is irrelevant. (We can leave to another discussion whether your own expert advice to ignore expert advice places you in middle of the infamous Liar Paradox).

    There is plenty of expert evidence that local technology implementation can provide significant benefits for its users, particularly where they have been responsible for selecting and implementing the technology themselves. The problems typically come when the implementation expands from single departments to the whole organisation.

    Whilst organisation-wide technology-driven projects struggle when they fail to develop the complementary capabilities (require to get all the benefits provided by the technology’s enablement), manage the organisational change (that the new technology and capabilities catalyse) and use both to transform the business, that doesn’t mean that new technology cannot be a great catalyst for change. As 20 years of research on dynamic capabilities shows, implementing new technology can catalyse the development of new knowledge and organisational routines that take advantage of the capabilities provided by the technology, which in turn, stimulates further catalysis by the technology, in a virtuous co-evolutionary process.

    As the old saying goes: OO + NT = EOO
    Old Organisation + New Technology = Expensive Old Organisation.

    However, if the new technology is used as a catalyst for organisational development, change and transformation: OO + CNT = TNO
    Old Organisation + Catalytic New Technology = Transformed New Organisation.

    Graham hill


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