Catalytic Management Consulting
Accelerating Growth, Driving Performance

Unrealistic Expectations Doom CRM Initiatives

CRM implementations fail every day, often due to unrealistic expectations. You will not make your problems go away by installing a CRM system. In fact, in many instances, a CRM installation will cause more problems up front than you had initially hoped they would solve.

There are six misconceptions that lie at the root of many (if not most) failures:

  • “CRM will force the sales team to follow our processes and to document its client work”
  • “CRM will improve the production of our underperforming sales reps”
  • “CRM is software and so the project should be managed by IT”
  • “CRM will insure that our marketing programs are effective”
  • “CRM will force Sales and Marketing to work together seamlessly”
  • “CRM systems are relatively simple and intuitive. Our staffers can easily learn the system on their own.”

The First Step: Fix Your Sales Process

Leading CRM vendors will try to convince you that their solutions will instantly improve your performance. After all, these solutions will organize your sales chaos and give your managers instant dashboard reports, right? Wrong.

Remember the old adage: “garbage in—garbage out?” Because this is true, you must carefully examine all aspects of your existing sales and marketing processes, throwing out the worst elements of the process, fixing the broken parts and improving the rest before you even start the CRM vendor evaluation process. Although CRM systems start out generic, customizing your vendor’s systems to your processes is a must to insure that CRM efforts are successful. It’s critical that your processes be effective from the start.

CRM considerations should begin with a strong commitment to business process improvement techniques and tools. Build flow charts of your processes within and across departments to understand where the breakdowns occur, and then fix them. Use your process maps to evaluate CRM vendors. Give them your sales process maps and ask them to demonstrate how their systems will mirror and support your processes.

And don’t forget your customers. Your CRM system must be as simple or as complex as your customers themselves. This is in fact a unique opportunity to involve key customers. Ask them to help you define your new CRM system—don’t pass this opportunity up!
Systems Don’t Change Users—Users Work The System

Even the best CRM system will not solve your performance issues. Poor performing sales people will also be poor users of your CRM system. CRM may however make the job of identifying poor performers easier for management, and after time you will discover who has been manipulating the system. But relying on CRM to fix broken sales people is as bad as installing CRM to fix broken sales processes. It’s important to realize that, in many aspects, CRM systems measure past activities but are not so good at predicting future activities.

So don’t count on a brand new CRM system to cure any conflict between Sales and Marketing. Department relationships are created, thwarted or sabotaged by people, and a CRM system can become a dangerous weapon in such a war. Building and sustaining cross functional support requires effective department managers, not CRM magic.

Sales and Marketing must own the CRM Initiative

You should look to IT for help in determining and evaluating systems against its technical standards but IT should not dictate your solution. This is a case where the “user buyer,” i.e., Sales and Marketing Departments, must carry more weight then the “technical buyer.” If your company culture gives IT complete authority over software purchases and installations, be prepared to battle for the right CRM system. This is not the time to be pennywise and pound foolish, opting for the least expensive system and/or one that will not complicate the lives of the IT Department. See yourself as IT’s customer, and its role is to ensure that you are happy and that your needs are met, not vice versa.

Doing your homework up front and improving your sales and marketing processes will give you the information you need to clearly define the right system. Thus clearly defined systems requirements will provide the leverage you need with IT. ROI calculations will also provide compelling leverage to secure the right solution. Sales and Marketing must own the systems from the beginning, continuing as time goes on to drive upgrades and additional customization that meet their needs and those of their customers.

Adoption and Execution are Change Management Issues

Ignore the human dynamics and dramatics in CRM initiatives at your peril. CRM is not “build it and they will come.” People in general—but sales people in particular—will resist change, even when it is in their best interest. So start by demonstrating that this is in their best interest.

Involve the sales and marketing staff in setting the system specifications. Get the sales team to talk to customers in order to solicit their wants and needs. Resist the urge to focus on how it will generate revenue and activity reports for sales management. Instead, focus on how much easier it will be for the sales team to track a customer from needs identification to closure.

Discuss too how sales reps will be able to view at a glance who the true players are in complex sales. This will allow them to determine an appropriate strategy that will lead them to a sale. And train and train and train again! Training should be a journey not an event. Train on segments of the system in order to give people time to master that segment before moving on. Force feeding the new system in one sitting is a sure recipe for disaster. Never assume that any system is simple enough for the team to learn on its own.

Companies derive great benefit from carefully planned and executed CRM initiatives when their expectations are realistic and when they take the time to:

  • Map and reengineer the sales process
  • “Sell the benefits” of the system to critical users
  • Assign ownership to Sales & Marketing
  • Train, train, train

Follow these precepts and cautions and CRM will support your change initiatives … not doom them.


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