How to create CRM success

For every CRM system that is successful, another two or three fail dismally. We know this sounds pretty grim, but despite the statistics CRM success is possible. No CRM implementation is without its challenges – the road to success is not always a smooth one. So, to help you avoid becoming yet another CRM statistic, we have compiled a shortlist of the key factors that we believe cause projects to fail and offer you some tips on how best to avoid them.

Key factors that contribute to CRM failure

  • Treating CRM as just a technology.
  • Assuming that your organisation is already totally focused around your customers during CRM planning.
  • Overzealous management of deadlines & budgets in CRM development.
  • Thinking of CRM as a one-off project.
  • Focusing on processes and technology, while neglecting the people that make it all work.
  • Being distracted by non-critical issues that divert focus and resources from your main CRM objectives.
  • Misunderstanding the height and shape of successful CRM project.
  • Changing everything at once.

What is CRM success?

Okay, so now you know what the key factors are behind failed CRMs – what does CRM success look like? Successful CRM solutions are those with clearly defined strategies, business objectives and processes. They are created with a clear understanding of the people who must use them. They evolve over time as the organisation's objectives and customer demands change. Below are some strategies that you can apply to avoid some of the issues that get in the way of successful CRM projects.

Recognise that CRM includes people and process as well as technology

Spend at least as much time on your organisational structure, culture, processes, and training as you do on the technology side. Even consider scaling back the scope of the technology in order to focus on getting the people and processes right. If you treat CRM as just technology, without understanding the people and processes that bring it to life in the unique context of your organisation, your people might not end up using the CRM system as intended (or at all). If this happens you'll be left with the same problems and inefficiencies you had before – and a raft of new ones.

Pause. Measure. Analyse.

Do an honest analysis of how you engage with your customers and what kind of experience they have. Audit your customer touch points and look for moments of truth – those opportunities that set or change a customer's opinion about you. You can approach this in a number of ways – for example using 'secret shopper' methods or by simply talking to your customers about their experiences.

Apply the results

After you have analysed your customer's experiences, apply your findings to your CRM plan. This means you will avoid building your CRM solution around existing habits and processes that might be acting as weaknesses and engagement barriers to customer satisfaction and overall performance.

Outcomes not milestones

Define CRM project completion as a business outcome, rather than a time or technology milestone. Tweaking and adoption often continue for months after people get their first experience of a new CRM system. Ensure your CRM budget and deadlines extend beyond the final step in the technology phase.

Have backup plans

Ensure you have contingency plans in place so that if parts of the implementation unexpectedly change, you don't need to sacrifice critical elements like training or fine tuning. If you do need to cut something to meet budget or time constraints, then consider dropping functionality before dropping training.

Don't make too many cuts

Once you've set the objectives of your project, be wary of the project team making cuts to scope in order to remain on schedule and budget. This can lead to sacrifices being made without an appreciation of the impact on business outcome. For example it's often a temptation to cut end-user training to save project costs, but this invariably means that people are less likely to adopt CRM and the desired business outcomes can be placed in jeopardy.

Don't underestimate the value of training and support

It's easy to underestimate the effort required to inform, train and support your people so they use CRM to its full potential. If people don't see the ongoing benefit in using CRM, or if they find it too difficult, they won't use it.

Remember CRM is an ongoing process

After your CRM solution goes live, things can stagnate if there are no resources available to fine tune processes and continually improve the way you engage with customers. Establish ways to continually measure and improve customer experiences using CRM as a framework. Set aside budget and regular review time to make sure your CRM solution evolves with your organisation and customer demands.

Listen. Communicate. Enforce.

It's critical to take into account what people want and need from a CRM solution, so consult with them during the planning stages and carry this through to after go-live and beyond.

  • Communicate why CRM is so important, preferably by combining things that people find compelling (for example that tasks are easier and take less time) with things your organisation is striving for (like accuracy, accountability and performance).
  • Develop and enforce a program to reward effective use of the system and apply penalties for incorrect usage.
  • Use CRM's reporting features to help people see how their actions are directly impacting customer experience and overall performance.

Don't get bogged down in the detail

CRM implementation is both complex and challenging. It is easy to get tripped up by focusing too much attention on unimportant details. When detail challenges do arise, evaluate their impact against your declared CRM objectives. Try asking whomever has raised a detail issue to weigh up the impacts and get them to engage in debate and present a proposed solution. Always ask the questions; "Does this issue stop us from achieving our core goal for CRM? What impact does it have on our customers?"

Set multifaceted goals

Defining CRM success at a level that is too tactical can draw focus away from the big picture and defining it at too high a level makes it too distant to be measurable or useful. Instead, try setting multiple goals that have varying levels and time frames. For example:

  • A long-term strategic goal could be "Become the leader in our sector with the highest customer satisfaction rating by 2015".
  • A medium-term tactical goal could be "Increase the average customer satisfaction rating from 4.5 to 7.5 by the end of Q3″.
  • An immediate operational goal could be "reduce the number of open support queries from 150 to 50 by the end of this week."

Make sure goals and measures are relevant to you

Spend time thinking about what CRM can do for your organisation and then set your goals and success measures accordingly. You won't get these out of a box or a book or a whitepaper – there is no blueprint for what CRM success should look like. This process takes more work and understanding up front but it will help you see the end result in the context of your organisation's real-world success or failure. You may find the biggest success factor is a change in the way your people behave – in that the CRM helps them be more efficient and effective.

Take things one step at a time

If you are trying to improve too many things at once, you can find yourself in a state of "analysis paralysis" where there's too much information to process and you can't make key decisions because everything depends on something else.

Instead, keep an eye on the big picture and develop strategies for delivering your entire CRM solution. Implement these in a phased approach, breaking down the project into manageable phases in short time frames. Let changes settle in before embarking on new ones.

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