Is your CRM managing you? Or are you managing your CRM?

In an analysis of 8000 CRM implementations:

  • The average project exceeded budget by 90% and took more than twice as long as scheduled to complete.
  • 50% were considered a failure
  • 55-75% of CRM projects failed to meet their objectives (

When I started in sales many (many!) years ago, I can remember receiving my sales reports every Friday afternoon via Fedex.  It was like Christmas come early, every week.  I couldn’t wait to open the reports and see the latest trends in my business.  Which customers were up, which were down, who was buying what.   I can remember feeling like I knew everything possible about everyone of my customers. It was super simple, simple to read, simple to understand and because of that I used it, a lot.    Fast-forward the tape to today.   Very few businesses use spreadsheets of any kind to report sales.  (And I’m not recommending they do!)  The capability of the CRM systems that we use today have changed the way we view our business and certainly have expanded exponentially the depth at which we can analyze it.   With my spreadsheets, I could tell you what my customers bought.  With today’s CRM systems, I can tell you what color socks they were wearing when they bought it!   Given that, why does CRM implementation bring with it so much anxiety, confusion, decreased morale, and poor sales team adoption?  Because unlike the spreadsheets, they can be complicated to read, use and understand.  So, unlike my spreadsheets, they don’t get used.  So how do we leverage and synergize the simplicity of the spreadsheet with the capabilities of today’s CRM systems?

I have had the opportunity to inherit a bad CRM system, re-launch a decent CRM system (many times), and launch a CRM from ground zero in a start up environment.   I have also spoken with so many managers and sales people about this very issue.   Companies want as much data as possible (Why can’t the sales people just enter this simple information?).  Sales people just want to sell (Why do they want me to spend so much time in front of the computer?)  The issues that companies face are universal, and they are avoidable.

Top lessons from launching CRM systems

Do your homework

Don’t partner with a CRM system just because it’s the one you used at your last Company.   Truly assess the business needs of the organization to determine which one fits your objectives and strategies.  Make sure that the CRM system you pick is a good fit with a solid track record in your specific industry.  The reality is that the nuts and bolts of most of these systems are similar, but the nuances of them are different and can be a deal killer if you pick the wrong one. This is a prime example of “measure twice, cut once”.   A redo is costly.  See next point.

You make the rules, not the CRM vendor

At one of the Companies I worked with, we had charts, graphs, descriptions, titles, categories that were completely unrelated to our business.  The vernacular that was inherent to the CRM system was obviously designed to apply broadly to as many businesses as possible.   The problem is that if the CRM language doesn’t match the Company language, it’s not useful.    I learned my lesson and when I launched a CRM system at the start up Company, we spent time upfront mandating that all the field descriptors, charts, embedded spreadsheets all reflect our Company language, not the CRM vendors language.  Adoption was much better.  It’s the CRM vendor’s job to adapt to you, not the other way around.

Involve input from the sales team

People rarely tear down the house they built themselves.   When sales operations, marketing, manufacturing and finance actually collaborate with people in the field in search of solutions that work for all, you will be surprised how fast people get on board.   That applies to far more than just CRM systems.   Ask sales people what they need to see in a CRM system as they are planning their day.   Incorporate it; people are much more apt to use a system that they helped design.   From the survey above, “salespeople generally do not tell us they need customer profiling, opportunity management, call reporting or forecasting systems.”  No kidding.   Additionally, the survey reported “Too many sales initiatives have failed to deliver because they focused on technology, not on effective selling. Projects that think technology first, and selling effectively second generally are not successful. Similarly, projects that seek to achieve sales management objectives first, and sales person gains second, often find an uphill battle looming.”   Words worth remembering.

Launch it correctly the first time

This is by far the biggest mistake that leaders make when attempting to ensure CRM adoption by any sales team.   They force the CRM system into the sales organization in one giant bolus feeding and the team simply can’t digest it.   Understand from the beginning that most sales people don’t wake up in the morning excited about entering calls and contacts into their computer.  It’s just not how sales people are wired.  Granted, some are, but even those individuals seek simplicity, not complexity.  If you launch poorly, 1 month after launch you have honeymoon excitement.  3 months after launch you have confusion.   6 months after launch you have people spending way too much time in front of their computers and not selling.   12 months after launch, you find yourself planning “CRM relaunch” because morale is low and adoption is awful.  So how do you launch correctly the first time?  See next point.

Go slow and build

Identify a 24 month cadence of CRM initiatives.   From the beginning, launch dashboards that are simple and tell the team what they need to know, and no more.  Too much information is just noise.   Require minimum input that will provide maximum output value.   That is how to get early buy in.  Know from the beginning which initiatives that you will fold in each quarter.  While this approach may seem slower, after 24 months, you will have a system that has broad scale adoption, as opposed to one that you launched too quickly, without input, with poor direction that is not being adopted.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

This applies to so many areas of business, but it is “big time” applicable in CRM implementation.  As per the analogy above of tracking the color of the buyer’s socks, there is no question that the capabilities of these systems are beyond robust.   You simply do not need to do everything that they do.  CRM vendors try to differentiate themselves by explaining “how much they can do” rather than “how they can do a few things very well to grow your business”.  Companies feel that because they paid for the system, they need to maximize it.  I would suggest that rather than maximize it, you optimize it.   Determine what you need to measure, and measure that.   No more.   It’s just not that important.

Measure the right thing

Measure results.  Measure sales.  Measure growth.  Measure profitability.   In the case of CRMs, it’s the lagging indicators that matter.   I understand that leading indicators like sales calls made, # of people contacted, etc, are important leading indicators that need to be coached.  But you don’t need to track coachable activities.  Those will drive the lagging indicators, but they don’t need to be on the scoreboard.   You don’t see, “batting cage swings” in any Major League box score.   I know.  I know.  We can measure everything.  But you just don’t need to.   Scoreboards keep scores that matter. 

Great Selling!

  1.; the online CRM source for successful selection, negotiation and implementation