The 3 steps of CRM success

Whenever someone asks me about CRM success, I usually draw from my own bag of CRM experiences and engage in a deep conversation with that person. I like to focus the conversation on 2-3 areas that I know, if they get them right, their chances of CRM success rise significantly. Someone asked me about achieving success with CRM recently and I decided to share it with you here.

CRM applications have been around for more than two decades with plenty of well documented success stories and, equally, many stories of CRM failure. Gartner and other analysts often float 50% or more when discussing the rate of CRM failures. Which begs the question, what does someone need to do to assure CRM success? What should you expect from implementing a CRM application? What should you be watching for and how should you approach it? There are many roads to CRM success, I am presenting one of them here in 3 easy steps. I hope you like it.

Step 1- Expected Outcomes

The first step is to define the outcome or business objectives behind the desire to implement a CRM application. Here are some typical outcomes I’ve seen:

  • Increase sales
  • Decrease support cost
  • Improve customer service
  • Meet new regulatory requirements

The key is to properly define the business outcomes is to be specific. For example, the need to increase sales could be driven by new competitors entering the market and thus taking market share away. One of the many things that can contribute to a loss of market share, and prospects taking note of savvy competitors is when all of the sales knowledge resides in each individual sales team member's head, and not in a system where business processes are in play for team members to share their knowledge and activities with the rest of the organization.

Furthermore in this example, the expected outcome of implementing a CRM application to increase sales could be to provide better visibility into all sales related activities (360 degree view) in order to:

  • Provide sales coaching to reps that need help (increase sales efficiency)
  • Better balance the sales team between the various regions (decrease sales cost)
  • Improve the customer experience by providing faster turnaround of sales inquiries (leads)
  • Improve analytics and reporting allowing for better visibility and accurate decision making


Step 2 – Critical Success Factors

Forester’s Survey of CRM Practitioners (2013) provided me with empirical evidence of two key critical success factors for CRM success: having clear Business Requirements and insuring that the people factor is included in the process (Link to survey). Once you’ve set clear expectations in step 1 you start defining the business requirements that will drive this initiative. It is important to spend the right amount of time getting agreement amongst all stakeholders. Clearly defining the business process and designing it to work effectively within the CRM application is imperative for success. It is not uncommon to have to re-define business processes in this step.  The other 2 factors uncovered in the Forester survey will be covered in step 3.

In my experience, properly managing people is the other key factor for success, missing this may often lead to Risk_graphicCRM failure. It typically starts by the creation of “unexpected outcomes” during the sales cycle. Users envision that the CRM application will fix everything. It is what I call the "honeymoon" phase. Unfortunately when the solution goes live, unless proper change management has occurred, there is typically a large crash (“BOOM!”) when the users suddenly realize:

  • The solution will not resolve all of their issues, and
  • They do not know how to utilize the application.

At this point, the end users get frustrated, user adoption suffers and the project starts heading towards failure. Additionally, companies often make the conscious decision to cut out change management because the CRM project was already too expensive. Big mistake.

Managing the people factor is not that complex, but it's extremely hard to get right. The people who are going to use the solution must:

  • Understand why the CRM application is being deployed (expected outcomes)
  • Understand how to use it and where they can get support
  • Understand what benefits they will get from using the application (this is a 2 way street)

This is only feasible if you include change management in the CRM implementation process.


Step 3 – Execution

Once the expected outcomes are well understood, the stakeholders understand the CRM critical success factors, the final step is proper execution (or implementation). In this step, a good understanding of the following and the impact on the project is key for success:

  • Good project management
    • To manage expectations
    • To match methodology to culture
    • For early warning of possible problems
  • Selecting the right technology
    • Select the right technology for your business needs and environment
    • Cleary understand its limitation – do not push beyond its boundaries
    • Avoid over customizing, use “out of the box” as much as possible
  • Choosing the right partner / have the right experience
    • Must have individual(s) with the right CRM experience on the team
    • Having the right partner will reduce overall effort and increase probability of success
    • The selected partner should be innovative and have experience with your industry, it will increase the synergies

I believe that paying attention to the 3 steps presented here can increase your chances of CRM success. If you only want to remember one item, remember that the most common pitfall is spending too much time focusing on the technology itself and not enough time understanding how the technology will support current processes and how people are actually going to be more productive while using it.