Ensure That Your CRM Project Starts Off on the Right Foot: Six Principles To Achieving CRM Project Success


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This paper is a synopsis of a much more comprehensive document.
Please contact Karolicki or visit his web site, www.advansysinc.com, for a complimentary copy.


Implementing CRM initiatives can make or break careers: They’re expensive and time-consuming. Such efforts may take anywhere from six months to more than two years to implement and generally involve millions or tens of millions of dollars. Careers have been made with successful implementations and jobs lost when projects cannot meet expectations. The risks may be high, but the rewards for success are even higher.

Most organizations have their own set of policies and procedures for initiating and managing projects. However, companies that have achieved CRM success acknowledge that the chances for success are greatly increased by following a few critical principles before starting a project.

The information in this document is based on my experiences leading successful CRM implementations in organizations as diverse as Starwood Hotels and Premera Blue Cross. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. What follows are some of the fundamental principles followed by those who have succeeded.

Principle 1: Get a commitment from executive management

Organization-wide commitment and executive sponsorship is critical for any CRM initiative. Executive-level management must spearhead the project and be actively involved, ensuring high visibility and a top-down commitment to the need for CRM. The executive sponsor must have the political clout to effect changes over all parts of the organization.

It is important to educate executives as to what CRM is and what business strategies the project will be addressing. Management must clearly understand the justifications for the project (the business case) and the bottom-line benefits (ROI). Managing executive expectations is critical. Special attention should be paid to a customer-centric business philosophy and the culture changes needed to support effective marketing, sales and service processes.
Does your management clearly understand your CRM objectives, and are the individual executives actively participating in your CRM initiative?

Principle 2: Develop a customer-centric CRM strategy

By a substantial margin, the leading predictor of CRM success is the presence of customer-centric strategies.

A customer strategy comprises a set of strategic goals that drive initiatives to achieve sustained profitable growth.

Typical elements of a strategy could be:
  • Acquisition of high value-customers to improve share of market
  • Retention of best customers through innovative loyalty programs
  • Growth of share of wallet through cross-selling to frequent low-value customers
  • Re-ignition of dormant customers to reduce churn
  • Migration of frequent customers onto lower cost channels

Has your entire organization committed to adopting a customer-centric CRM strategy?

Principle 3: Define business objectives and build a business case

In defining the business objectives for a CRM initiative, ensure that you are aligned with the overall business strategy.

Business objectives must be measurable if they are to be of any value. It will be necessary to establish baseline data for each objective. Most organizations will be able to establish some of this information from internal data. For new sales channels, new revenue-creating opportunities and other new processes, it may be necessary to reach out to industry research, publications, CRM consultants and vendors to develop new benchmarks.

Define metrics that drive shareholder value. Some examples of measurement criteria can include:

Increasing revenue by 10% Increasing customer self-service by 10%
Increasing policy renewals by 15% Shortening sales cycle by 25%
Increasing up-selling by 25%  

Have you determined exactly how your project will benefit the bottom line?

Principle 4: Form a governance team

Most projects fail because of shortcomings in process and leadership. It is the responsibility of this group to make certain that the right processes are defined, understood and implemented on a consistent basis.

The team should be small and manageable. Consider candidates from all areas of the organization. There should be no hierarchy within the team; however, all members should be at the upper levels of management, and consideration must be given to personalities, politics and areas of responsibility.

Some tasks of a governance team include:

  • The identification and management of requirements definitions
  • Project management oversight, including frequent reviews and risk management
  • The promotion and marketing of CRM within the organization
  • The evaluation of staff effectiveness at all levels

Do the members of your governance team clearly understand their mandate and responsibilities to the organization as well as the project?

Principle 5: Communications management

Management must create and clearly communicate a vision for change at the beginning of the project, demonstrating senior management’s priority and commitment to CRM. In the absence of such communications, rumors will flourish.

Employee resistance and education must also be addressed. Allow employees to take the time to adapt to and embrace the changes. Overcoming resistance will take time.

Consider the following:
  • Hold regular information meetings with all employees.
  • Keep them informed of what’s going on and how the anticipated changes will impact their work, as well as their interactions with both management and customers.
  • Encourage employees to voice their concerns and fears. It is important to listen.

Do you know how to overcome employee resistance to your project?

Principle 6: Set up a project team

All the planning, budgeting and best-practices cannot ensure a successful project if the project team—especially the project management staff— does not have the experience, intuition, industry and business knowledge, commitment, incentives, professionalism, determination, creativity and character to meet the demands and expectations of the initiative. All successful projects have at their core a team of individuals who together possess these critical attributes. Implementing CRM solutions is a tough job. Choosing the right people to lead and be part of the team is absolutely critical to achieving success.

Can your project benefit by supplementing your team with experienced, industry-leading CRM specialists and project leaders?


CRM project success is achievable through the implementation of a CRM philosophy that has at its foundation a few well-established principles. Some of these include:

  • An unwavering commitment from executive management toward the pursuit of CRM and the executives’ continual participation to ensure that the project maintains high visibility throughout the company.

  • The establishment of a customer-centric business strategy that clearly articulates the value of the customer to the organization.

  • A set of well-researched business metrics that measurable and realistic. CRM and project success is measured against these criteria.

  • Project oversight, in the form of a governance team is critical to ensure that the project maintains its faithfulness to the strategic plan and commitment to management.

  • Communications throughout the project, to all stakeholders. This is critical. Without buy-in from all employees, the project will not succeed.

  • The right people with the right skills and attitudes on the project team. It’s all about the people.

This paper just touched on a few of the many issues that need to be addressed when initiating an enterprise-level CRM project. Much more must be identified, addressed, managed and resolved, including customer expectations, employee performance metrics, change management, technical constraints, vendor relations, budget management, workflow process optimization and data management. CRM is truly an enterprise endeavor, requiring total commitment from everyone, from the CEO on down.

Morris Karolicki
Morris Karolicki, a Southern California-based consultant, specializes in developing technology strategies and leading CRM and eBusiness projects for Fortune 1000 companies. He understands what it takes, from both a business and technical perspective, to successfully take a concept or idea and turn it into a working solution.


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