Customer relationship management (CRM) projects are particularly difficult to successfully deliver.  In fact, research into CRM project failures over the last 10 years has consistently found a failure rate between 30% and 70%.  A quick scan of the proposals that we have delivered to new clients for CRM projects over the past 12 months shows that fully 59% of new clients who approach us are dealing with a need to administer CPR on their CRM implementation.  This is true across all CRM products (we have seen failed CRM projects across virtually every CRM solution on the market).  In this article I’ll take a look at one of the most frequent causes of failure that we have encountered and will offer some guidance for avoiding this (or for recovering if you’re already there).  I will also be doing a deeper dive into this topic during our CPR for CRM Webcast.

A Case Study in CRM Failure

Let’s start with a true story.  We were called in to a new client to evaluate a “partial failure” of a CRM project a few years ago.  The client was using one of the CRM systems that we support (we work in both Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Salesforce).  The dialog went something like this:

Executive 1: My line of business has been trying to use the CRM application for a while now, but we’ve been totally unsuccessful at adopting it.

Executive 2: My LOB has found CRM to be an incredibly valuable tool.  We use it to communicate and collaborate better, to predict cash flow, to ensure we close more sales deals, to service and support our clients and to run a lot of our internal meetings.

C5: That sounds great.  How are you using CRM in your meetings?

Executive 2: We run a lot of our status meetings for both our sales and support groups using CRM.  Everyone knows that their information has to be in CRM or the meeting will be more time consuming and it will be obvious to everyone (including their manager) if they  haven’t done good job with this.  The information in CRM is accurate, timely and our meetings are more productive.

Executive 1: Wow, that’s great that you can get your team to do that.  My team just won’t adopt it so I’ve never been able to trust the data in it.  So to be sure I’ve got everything right, we require them to fill out a spreadsheet before each meeting.  I think we need a more user-friendly application.

While the conversation wasn’t quite that clear – it wasn’t far from it.  We suggested additional training an coaching for Executive 1, and possibly training for his team, to improve how their customer relationship management solution was being used by the business.

Flash forward two years.  We are again invited to consult with this client.  They determined that they needed to switch to a more user-friendly CRM solution (which happens to be the other solution that we support) and would like to get a few hours of training to get their entire team up to speed with the new tool.  They seem to be having all the same frustrations that they experienced with the previous tool.

The Role of the Executive in the CRM Project

The core issue faced by this company is “executive commitment.”  If you’re researching best practices in any kind of project management, you will frequently see references to “executive buy-in.”  Our experience is that, in CRM projects, buy-in is not enough.  We’ve seen far too many projects where the executives “buy-in” (they approve the project, sit in on status meetings and provide access to resources on their team), but where they do not have “commitment.”

Commitment from an executive means that the individual is committed to making sure that their entire organization adopts the tool and gets value out of it – beginning with the executive himself/herself.  Successful CRM executives play an active role in using the solution, in identifying the invariable frustrations and working with a partner to resolve them, in making sure that their team is getting the most out of it.  These executives approach the project with an attitude of “failure is not an option and I will personally take responsibility for the success of the project.”  Their team quickly understands that the boss is using the system and they will stand out if they don’t use it.

Make no mistake – this can be a challenging and risky proposition.  We’ve worked in larger organizations where the CRM project is a “hot potato” because no one wants to be seen as owning something that might risk failure.  The result in these cases can be that the executives who are truly empowered to make it a success are not willing to commit.  In those cases, you will often see a highly motivated individual take up the project, only to see it get derailed through executives and users that they cannot have a direct influence on.  Having the right person lead the project (or at least fully willing to support the leader of the project) is critical to success.

KIS: A Tip for CRM Success

There are many other tips that the executive can use to drive the success of the solution.  The one that we find executives most often lose track of is: Keep It Simple (aka the KIS principle applied to CRM).  When you see the capabilities of a CRM system, it is easy to build a long wish list of features and functions.  The disciplined executive keeps it simple in the first iteration, even when it is painful to let go of favorite features.

Recovery: How to Administer CPR on a CRM Project Failure

In most cases that we have observed, a failed CRM project should not require a “do over” or a switch to a different CRM solution.  An audit of your team and your processes can often result in some immediate gains and a long-term plan for improvement.  Assuming that one of the issues that you face is executive commitment, it is never too late to garner this commitment.  Gaining the commitment, however, has to be something that either the executive decides to commit to or that a higher level executive enforces.  New habits for showing commitment can have a fairly swift impact on the success of a struggling project.

More Info on CPR for CRM

Please join our upcoming Webcast if you would like to learn more about CPR for CRM. You can also visit our contact us page to request the slide decks we have used for past presentations on this topic.