Mind the gap! The degradation of CRM


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Not all the press about CRM projects has been positive. Tales of failed projects exist, but for many more projects, the challenge is not whether the system is delivered on time and on budget, but what its value and applicability is to the business.

That’s because CRM projects hold a dark secret; that secret is about making CRM recognise the backdrop against which it exists – a constantly changing, developing and growing organisation. The CIO of one client I once worked with was happy to come and speak about his CRM experience on our behalf and on behalf of the software vendor at various events we held. He spoke about the vision that the organisation had had before they embarked on the implementation, how the software had enabled that vision and the path that he and his team had trodden to get from nothing to a global, company-wide application adding value to the organisation and to its staff.

A couple of years after the project had completed, he was still presenting at our events and so I took the opportunity to engage him in a conversation which went something like this. “Do you still believe this stuff?” I asked. “Is it really the case that CRM has made, and continues to make, a difference to the business?”

“Yes.”, he said, “It is very much a critical, line-of-business application that delivers a “one vision” capability to the organisation. That “one vision” was, as you recall, the motive for implementing CRM in the first place”.

“However”, he added, “with CRM, you cannot afford to ever take your foot off the gas”. At the time, I thought this was quite a surprising answer; the remit set out at the beginning of the project had been absolutely nailed and, as those project managers out there are aware, projects, by definition, have a beginning and they have an end. The project team moves on to the next project and the next business change. But for CRM implementations, in particular, this definition of a project, even though of course it’s technically correct, doesn’t recognise that a number of forces set themselves up to work against you, almost immediately after you’ve sat back and reflected on a job well done.

So what’s going on? Interestingly, these forces very rarely carry malice or planned destruction as their fuel. They are people trying to get their work done quickly when under pressure and resorting to old or quicker tools; they are the creeping obsolescence of data where ownership of that data is lacking; they are new staff arriving with new ideas about how processes should work; they are the constant need for organisations to change and grow in order to maintain competitive advantage. All of the above dynamics are at play and it is therefore important that CRM has a maintenance schedule in place to keep it relevant. This typically works best where there is appropriate and permanent accountability for the system and the data in it. Without ownership and responsibility, the maintenance will fall through a crack and trust in CRM will wane.

For everyone who has been involved in a successful CRM project, that’s a great accomplishment but, when you next check in with how things are going – mind the gap.

Jeremy Ward
Where there is successful CRM, there is the understanding of the pitfalls and challenges and, ultimately, a clear appreciation of what "good" looks like. Good is often simple to start with, where CRM is the answer to a clear and defined challenge. Done well, it evolves to support enhanced and sophisticated processes and provide a single version of the truth in the age of the ever more sophisticated digital customer.Jeremy is the head of the consulting team at TouchstoneCRM, Fifteen years of implementing CRM solutions has helped develop an appreciation for the good, the bad and the ugly.


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