Successful CRM Deployments Require More than Just Good Software

Selecting and implementing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution is hard work.   The bigger and more complex the organization the more difficult it is.  Within any company there are multiple user types with different levels of experience and disparate needs.   It is hard to get all of those users, with disparate perspectives and experiences, to come together and agree on the right technology and implementation approach which will lead to success for the organization.    Once the system is selected and implemented, then you have to get everyone using it so the organization can achieve the intended results. 

CRM Technology has Improved Dramatically

For years the challenge had been the technology.   It didn’t meet the needs of many organizations.   It was either too simple, intended for a single user, or it was too big, costly and complex for all but the largest enterprises.   At either end of the spectrum the available solutions were inflexible.   They didn’t adapt to the needs of the end users.   The users were forced to work the way the software worked which often wasn’t the way they wanted to work.   Instead of providing a better way to engage with and manage customers, these solutions became part of the problem.   Users got frustrated and stopped using them.  In some larger organizations the users were coerced into using the CRM system with either threats or incentives.  

  • One company we worked with would only pay the sales reps if their opportunities were setup in CRM – no opportunity in CRM, no commission.
  • Another company tracked the number of times a sales rep logged into the CRM system, whether they did anything or not, and used that metric to pay incentives to the reps who met the minimum threshold of logins. 

Over the past decade the technology has improved dramatically.  Many of the old CRM vendors are gone.  New vendors and approaches, including cloud based systems, have taken their place.   The solutions are very usable, flexible and provide value to the users and the organization alike.   There is almost no limit to what can be done with these modern CRM solutions like Saleforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and NexJ.   They all have different features and fit slightly different markets but they all provide significant improvements over the prior generation of CRM software. 

So why is it so hard to select and implement CRM solutions successfully?

First of all customer relationships are complex.   They are parallel processes that occur with multiple people at a company at multiple points in time.  Customer relationships don’t follow a step-by-step serial process like other functional areas of a company.   In contrast, the finance and manufacturing functions are serial, where you can map a defined process and then follow that process to create efficiencies.   Procedures can be documented and companies can measure the effectiveness and efficiency of those process.   There isn’t a step-by-step process for managing a customer relationship.   The best companies can do is understand what their customers want and how they buy and then adopt their approach to align with the customer.    It is more difficult to select and implement a solution where multiple people are involved in a parallel process and ensure that system meets everyone’s needs.

Second, companies don’t normally think of customer engagement as an end-to-end set of connected elements.  The various departments in companies each think of their engagement with the customer in isolation from the rest of the organization.   Leadership sets strategy, management executes strategy, marketing markets and sales sells.   Each group has different needs and engages with customers in different ways.  

I worked for one global software company where marketing and sales had virtually no interaction at all.   Corporate marketing executed marketing campaigns in the field without even collaborating with the field based sales team.  After key events, marketing wouldn’t even share the resulting leads with the field sales team until months after the event, once they had done their follow ups and entered everything in their CRM system, which was a different CRM system than the field sales team used.   By the time sales got the leads almost all the momentum from the event was lost.  The lack of coordination left marketing, sales and potential customers frustrated.   Sales complained about the quality and timeliness of the leads and marketing complained that sales didn’t follow up on their leads.   Forecasts were missed and everyone blamed the various CRM systems and everyone else. 

Companies Need to Understand Their Capabilities and Coordinate Their Efforts

To select and implement CRM successfully, organizations need to coordinate their efforts across the organization and align their processes with their customer’s buying processes.   Companies need to take a hard look internally and identify what is holding them back from realizing their potential.   Key questions companies can ask are:

  1. Does the leadership team effectively define the strategy and the value proposition of the company so that everyone that engages with customers understands it?
  2. Are markets clearly identified where the organization’s value proposition is meaningful?
  3. Does marketing effectively cover those markets?
  4. Are the SEO keywords linked to the company’s value props or are they determined in isolation by someone in marketing?
  5. Does sales work closely with marketing and provide feedback about the results of campaigns or just complain about the quality of the leads?
  6. Does everyone in the organization understand the best customer profile?

Company leaders should be very comfortable with the answers above or there are likely some key issues holding the company back from realizing its full potential.   They should determine what their biggest barriers to success with customers are.   Only then can they select the best CRM solution; because they will have a clear understanding of what they need to improve most and they can create an implementation roadmap that will lead to adoption and success with CRM.

In the past year we have helped five enterprise organizations (including two Fortune 100 companies) get aligned, select and implement the best CRM solution to meet their needs.  They praised our Model and CRM Diagnostic for helping them gain clarity on what they needed to do to successfully implement CRM.