Why CRM Projects Fail and How to Make Them More Successful

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In 2017, CIO magazine reported that around one-third of all customer relationship management (CRM) projects fail. That was actually an average of a dozen analyst reports. The numbers ranged from 18% to 69%. Those failures can mean a lot of things — over-budget, data integrity issues, technology limitations, and so forth. But in my work with clients, when I ask executives if the CRM system is helping their business to grow, the failure rate is closer to 90%.

The primary reason they miss the mark in helping companies increase revenue is that CRM systems are too often used for inspection — to report on progress, improve accuracy of forecasts, provide visibility, predict project delivery dates, and provide a range of other business intelligence — rather than creating improvement in the sales process. Front-line sales professionals and managers rarely find the majority of these capabilities useful in winning more business for the company.

CRMs today also serve a lot of masters, from executives in the C-suite, technology, marketing, finance, and, oh yeah, sales. They try to address more objectives than are reasonable for any software system. I recently led a working session for a team of executives looking to select a CRM provider. By the time everyone weighed in on their must-haves, we had identified 23 unique objectives. With such a diluted focus, it’s virtually impossible to succeed.

I saw this clearly at another client where there was a wide range of answers to the question, “Was the CRM implementation a success?” The EVP of marketing was pleased she could now track the assignment of every single lead. The CIO was unhappy about data integrity issues that arose from the integration of more than 20 discreet databases. The EVP of sales liked the easy-access dashboard to report on metrics and the forecast. Sales management was less positive but acknowledged that it helped them monitor activity. And the sales team — well, they mostly hated it. They had to enter a lot of information that added little value (for them), and provided no help in selling more. Because the sales team had so little incentive to keep up with the data entry requirements, the quality of the data in the system became less and less reliable over the following year. The result? Incomplete or inaccurate information from the CRM was exported into Excel spreadsheets for further manipulation by each level of management.

If you want your CRM implementation to increase revenue (which it only will if it enables your sales organization to increase sales), I recommend doing the following:

Re-think your CRM as a tool to increase revenue. Period. That is why you bought this system and spent millions, sometimes tens of millions, on its deployment. Broadcast this message loud and clear from the CEO and sales leadership. Your sales team needs to understand that they drive the execution of your strategy every time they interact with a client or prospect. Your implementation of a CRM system is not about the technology, and it is not to fulfill an administrative reporting requirement, which is how too many sales teams view them. The CRM is a tool to help them sell more, access support resources during sales cycles, and manage their territory or “book of business.” If the sales team recognizes the value of this tool, you’ll get all the metric and forecast information you desire. If not, you’ll be back to modifying guesses in Excel spreadsheets.

Integrate your marketing efforts with sales activity. Historically, these two functions collaborate on CRM implementation so poorly it’s almost a cliché. Marketing blames sales for not following up on all the leads produced. Sales points out that marketing doesn’t understand field reality and truly qualified leads. Overcoming these interdepartmental squabbles requires a collaborative effort by both teams throughout the sales process. Early in the sales cycle, marketing and sales have roles to play in identifying and qualifying opportunities to actively pursue. As sales cycles develop, they should have a shared understanding of what constitutes a qualified lead, as well your ideal customer profile — both in terms of the company and level of buyer. This helps filter out business you shouldn’t pursue. Later in the sales cycle, marketing works with sales to create materials that can be customized to client objectives and case studies, instead of the generic collateral sales teams often see as low value. Finally, working together on win/loss analysis provides an active feedback loop for joint planning and addressing future needs. This kind of integration, using your CRM as the glue, will improve marketing’s efforts to create gravity with prospects, and sales’ ability to accelerate sales cycles. It’s an advantage for the business if you can use at least some of the same metrics to evaluate the success of both departments.

Managers provide coaching to improve, not reporting to inspect. The pivotal role in driving CRM success is not individual sales people. It’s sales management. They will determine how the sales team uses and experiences the CRM. If they use it solely to check on the amount of activity, call volume, or other measures of efficiency, it’s of low value to the sales team and likely be rejected or filled with fictional data. Instead use it as a tool to jointly create strategies for major opportunities, and help the sales team to maximize opportunities by coaching them throughout the sales process. I’ve written in the past about the high value of coaching and the fact that it’s rarely done well. But CRM can be a powerful mechanism to support coaching for individual sales calls, as well as opportunity, account, and territory management.

CRM is an important tool, but it is just a tool. When the laptops are shut down for the day, it’s your sales team that is responsible for bringing value to clients and driving revenue. Implement your CRM with that in mind and you’ll be pleased with your ROI.





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