The Biggest Hurdle to CRM Success

By: Gareth Cartman

When businesses invest in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for the first time, or seek to upgrade to a more powerful software package, many believe that expenditure is the biggest hurdle to success. It isn't. It's the implementation, and the preparation for that implementation, that can make or break CRM success.

More than half of CRM solutions fail because of poor implementation. By fail, I mean adoption is poor, usage is poor, and communication is poor. And as a result, the CRM system gets the blame. If I had a dollar for the number of times I've heard "this system is useless," I'd be able to retire. No system is useless if implementation is prepared for successfully.

Here's how to prepare for CRM and ensure that not only is implementation a success, but the CRM is adopted and used to its maximum benefit.


Again, if I had a dollar for the number of times I've heard someone say, "It's not my problem," I'd already have taken early retirement. It's everyone's problem, and it's everyone's solution. Everyone owns CRM, from top to bottom, but it's important to underline this by driving ownership from the very top. Senior-level backing of a steering committee or a project team aimed at promoting ownership and usage of the CRM is essential. Buy-in from the top means buy-in at the bottom, and everywhere in between.

Equally, project champions should be nominated throughout the business, driving engagement within each department. I've seen implementation projects brought to life by departmental champions who have not only given their all for the project, but have brought issues and improvements to the table.

Strategic Direction

What do you want from a CRM? Why are you getting one? If your business has five business goals or strategic aims, align the CRM to each and every one of them. For example:

  • Growth: How is the CRM going to help you drive new business?
  • Loyalty: How is the CRM going to increase customer loyalty?
  • Marketing-leading: How is the CRM going to communicate the fact that you are market-leading?
  • High-performing: How is the CRM going to help drive performance levels?

Hold workshops to map out the answers to each of those questions, and get champions within each department (sales, marketing, finance, operations, etc.) to lead the workshops and promote usage within their teams.


No matter what CRM system you choose, you will always have work to customize it for your business. For example, with Microsoft Dynamics, you will have everything at your disposal, and you will need to cut away the parts your business doesn't need. With SalesForce, you will have the opposite scenario: you will have the base CRM, and you build up what you need.

Either way, the information that was fed through the workshops should lead to more detailed workflow and processes dictating how the CRM is going to function. In other words: what do we need to do, and how are we going to do it?

  • What custom fields are required for each department / function?
  • How are the screens going to look?
  • Is there are 360 degree view? If so, how does it function?

Above all, participation should transform into empowerment. How empowered do users feel about the CRM solution? Do they feel they can suggest improvements?


Never let a steering committee hide their light under a bushel. One of the main failings of CRM systems in the past has been the lack of communication. Indeed, its direct opposite, over-communication can also be a failure. What is required here is concise, precise, and targeted communication of where implementation is at, what needs to be done, what's coming up next, and how it affects everyone in their day-to-day jobs.

A gradual roll-out of solutions, accompanied by communication of reporting on milestones, successes and ROI, brings CRM implementation into real life.

Because ultimately, that's what CRM is all about—real life. It affects relationships with customers, it affects relationships with prospects, and it affects the relationship between marketing and sales, customer service and operations. And its implementation requires that everyone is a stakeholder.

Remember that mantra, and CRM implementation should go like a breeze.

Gareth Cartman is a business blogger interested in outsourcing, CRM software, human resources, and marketing. He currently works with Preact, a leading Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner in the U.K. To learn more about how to prepare for CRM, download 11 Steps to Prepare for CRM.

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