Why did your CRM fail?

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In my first few day on a new assignment as VP of Sales, I asked for access to the CRM, to start pulling reports and understand the landscape of the business. What I got was spreadsheets and assumptions on how things were going. When I asked why there was no CRM, the answer back is all too common – “We tried a CRM, and it didn’t work.”

Since then, I’ve had that scene played out multiple times across all types of businesses. As it turns out, a whopping 55% of CRM projects don’t produce results according to the Gartner Group!

The problem rarely is the software (all CRM’s take information in and report information out), it’s the way the company approached the process of selecting and implementing the CRM to start.

Understanding the hurdles up-front can help you from making the same mistakes:

Executive Buy-In

Like all business action, if executives don’t buy-in the project is doomed to fail.  CRM implementation needs to start at the top and have a commitment from there forward.  Make sure that your executive team understands the value of implementing the right solution and the action that will be necessary to ensure the system is used correctly.

Clear and Actionable Goals

Once there is an agreement in the board room, it’s critical to get together and align the company goals with the CRM you’ll choose.  Build a project team that includes key stakeholders across the board, including operations, HR, IT, supply chain and of course sales.  Add to the team end users, so you’re getting a cross section of needs and wants in the final product.

Identify the goals that are truly needed today to achieve your goals.  CRM projects tend to go array here – and an original list of 10 goals has ballooned to over a 100.  Start with the goals that will make the most impact early on and look to build the others on later in phases.  For instance, an end-to-end system that communicates with your other systems might be ideal but adding that layer of complexity may delay (for months) or doom your roll out altogether.

Choosing a CRM

Today there are over 40 CRM’s available to the marketplace, many designed specifically for your industry; all of which do the same thing.  Start your process of selecting a CRM by taking a look at the user’s level of sophistication.  If many on the team are new to using this type of software (in particular on the sales team), then lean towards a CRM that delivers clean and clear visuals which will make it easier to start using.  CRM technology is changing rapidly and the one you choose today, may not work for you in a few years.  Be sure that moving data out of the CRM you choose, is easy to do.  Otherwise, you may find yourself tied into a platform that is less than ideal in the future.


Cloud-based CRM’s are becoming easier to build and implement.  This ease of use may require you to sacrifice some customization, but don’t get carried away with going beyond your original goals.  The Harvard Business Review reports that it can often take companies 24 months or longer to implement a CRM.  Creating the perfect system isn’t necessary on day one.  You can (and will) make changes along the way.  You won’t fully understand what truly works for your company until you’ve put it to use for a few months.

Go Live

If you’ve got more than 25 users on the system, you should beta test your set-up for a few weeks to see how it functions in the real world.  This testing period allows for fixes quickly that won’t throw your whole team into a downward spiral.  Once beta is complete (usually no longer than a month), roll out to your team.  Initial training any system shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours (with follow-up questions and answer sessions later).  Most of the profound learnings come from use.  If you need more time than that – you’ve created a system that’s too complicated to start.


Everyone needs to be accountable to use your new system – from top to bottom.  Executives should expect and demand regular reporting and dashboards.  The manager should expect daily use by their teams.  And individuals should expect their managers are looking first to the CRM to answer fundamental questions on accounts and next steps.  When everyone holds each other accountable, CRM’s stick.

Selecting and implementing a CRM shouldn’t be a scary proposition.  By setting clear goals and working through the process, you will be able to deliver great results.

If you’d like to talk about CRM selection, implementation or the hurdles associated with it – contact me.  bmorrow@thinkempirical.com or 610-310-6707