Why CRM Implementations Fail

11 min read
Dec 16, 2021

Did you know, up to 50% of CRM implementation projects fail? That’s a staggering number for an initiative where you might spend countless hours and funds.

Implementing a CRM can be a complex task, but it is not an impossible one. We’ve worked with many companies on their CRM implementations, so we know just how daunting this process can be.

I want to take you through some of the common causes of failure and what you can do to avoid them.

The Number One Reason for Failure in CRM Implementations

While there are clear benefits to a CRM system, it’s essential to understand its impact on any particular business. This is still the case, even if you already have established best practices for your industry.

What Business Problems Are You Trying to Solve?

Before you begin, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions. What problems do you think the CRM will solve? Is there a way to measure them and have a clear target once implementation is finished? What will success look like for you? What will it look like for the stakeholders and the company itself?

There is going to be an incredible amount of time and energy required from the whole team involved; make sure you’re setting yourself up for success by establishing concrete answers to these questions.

You need clear objectives and goals to implement an effective CRM platform. The most common thing we see is the CEO or someone in sales getting excited about implementing this new technology and wanting to implement it right away.

While this excitement is necessary, pushing for immediate implementation only signals disaster.

Without clear business goals in mind, it will be challenging to prove the benefits of the implementation. You need to understand what impact will the CRM have on the business to move forward. Without it, you’ll question why you went through all that effort in the first place.

Is Senior Management Onboard?

It’s not always the higher-ups who drive the initial excitement about implementation. Sometimes it’s someone in sales or marketing, but it’s imperative that management gets involved in the process.

This is because CRMs cover more than just one area of business. They’re responsible for client-facing processes and therefore cover multiple departments.

Management will have questions you need to be capable of answering. Is this effort going to impact business expenses? Is it going to reduce costs in any meaningful way by improving the efficiency of business processes? Is the implementation of a CRM going to help close sales more efficiently?

These are all potential ways to get management on board. Prove that the spend will be worth it to those bringing the money to the table. Just like in marketing, you have to spend money to make money, however, showing how these new systems will increase client growth and retention is paramount to getting them involved.

Do You Have a Sponsor?

Sponsors are a key for complex system implementations. They sign the checks and get the financial ball rolling. Without their support and buy-in, you’re going to struggle to get your new project off the ground.

This is especially true for a CRM, as it involves not only an investment of money and time but also a commitment to consistently reviewing and improving working practices within the system.

The Importance of Having a Sponsor and CRM Champion

A sponsor is going to be in charge of actually bringing the resources to the table. They will ultimately be responsible for the success and accomplishments of set goals.

They will provide authority, the necessary budget, and the right framework and feedback to those leading the project. I don’t want to understate this, either. There must be a leadership structure in this implementation. There can’t just be a general project leader.

Leaders from different areas will need to work together to make the project a success. You need to put together a team that can work together across different fields and departments.

So, just as your implementation must have goals and the approval of managers, there needs to be a spokesperson or sponsor who drives the implementation through the leadership of this team.

How to Bring a Sponsor on Board

Bring them in by highlighting the benefits of the CRM. It’s as simple as that. A CRM can increase revenue, decrease operational costs, and increase staff and customer satisfaction.

Portray these benefits with clear, verifiable facts. Consider showing your sponsor examples of companies where effective CRM implementation has changed the game for them.

Before bringing your proposal to the table, make sure you are clear about what you are selling. You need to know the product’s features inside out and be able to answer any questions thrown your way.

Extensive research and preparation will ultimately get you and your sponsor on the same page. Above everything else, remember you are pitching your ideas to a human being. They may be your boss or have more authority than you, but they are still people.

Processes and People Before Technology

I like to say that when you are implementing a new software platform, it’s important to remember that what matters first is the process and people. Technology is secondary to that.

The technology maps out the existing processes and the way people usually do things. This is great, of course. And necessary! But, when you focus solely on what the technology can do, you risk forgetting your current processes and the people involved in them.

This can position you at a point of failure, which is what we want to avoid. The right approach is to begin by auditing your existing processes. Even if you think you don’t have one.

You do.

You may not have it in writing yet, but it exists.

This is usually going to occur through conversations with the sales team at large. It should also involve other areas, like marketing and customer success. This will form a significant part of the auditing effort. Once you have those processes identified, write them down.

Creating Opportunities for Evolution

You can then start the process of implementing each new piece of technology one step at a time. This allows you to evaluate whether something can be eliminated or simplified.

Right now, for example, with the workflow of most companies moving through online and remote systems, there is a greater need to ensure the steps you currently have make sense in a digital world. Is it still necessary to send proposals by mail or a piece of paper? Definitely not. It’s possible to collect signatures digitally now and have multiple collaborators in a single document.

What I’m saying is, during the auditing process, don’t simply map out the technology as is. Take the opportunity while you’re working through it to interface with other areas that could be cleaned up. At the very least, consider how they can be simplified and improved through the use of technology and digitization.

What Happens if You Ignore Data Mapping in CRM Implementations?

So we’ve defined the importance of logging processes as a key part of a successful CRM implementation. We can’t ignore the value of data mapping in this equation either. By data mapping, I mean the value of a CRM relying on the quality of its data. If you don’t have good quality data, you risk implementing a system or database that isn’t worth much.

What do I mean by not worth much? I mean that at its core; it doesn’t contribute any meaningful insight into how your company works. This will ultimately make you feel like your CRM platform is costing you too much money and is no longer worth the effort.

Worth and value go hand in hand. When the system has little worth, the value it adds is insignificant.

Assessing The Situation

You need to make sure that your implementation is working with the right set of data. In this situation, there are two potential scenarios that can occur. One is that you are migrating a legacy CRM system to a new one.

In these cases, it’s obviously important to map and track your data to make sure you’re bringing forward the things that work and leaving behind the things that don’t.

The second situation is that a company doesn’t have an existing CRM at all. I have mentioned already that even if you don’t have written processes, they still exist. You still have data compiled in various places in the same way. This could be an Excel spreadsheet the entire team uses or a system of files and folders that naturally occurred out of a need for organization.

It’s this information that should be compiled and centralized in the new CRM. Sometimes our formal databases keep productivity tools together, like inboxes and emails. Sometimes they can be non-incidental sources. Things like business cards or templates spread out across the team.

Take this opportunity to identify those sources and compile them. This will identify the fields you’ll need to import into the new CRM.

Perhaps you have new or additional systems you’re likely to integrate. Through proper data mapping, you can see what entities are not present in your current CRM that you may want to incorporate. You want to identify what areas need more properties and rules to enhance your system’s value.

Forgetting About Integrations

Even when the CRM is the primary source of transparency in a company, not all the pieces of your current process will exist on the CRM right off the bat. Here, you need to consider the value of third-party integrations.

Some of these integrations may be for business reasons, like incorporating Quickbooks or Office 365 into your CRM. They could be related to internal organization, like incorporating Google Drive or Dropbox.

It’s not only valuable but necessary to consider what integrations you will need to have during your planning phase. Incorporating third-party integrations mitigates frustration within your teams. Times of change are naturally frustrating, of course, but the right integrations can lessen them.

Your CRM Needs to Talk With Other Systems

There are several integrations you could lean on which facilitate clearer communication amongst co-workers.

An example of this could be an integration that allows you to make proposals during business deals. You could integrate software into the CRM to track and keep up with those changes.

Other examples include working with integrations that encompass meetings, whether online or in-person, that allow you to follow up with any inquiries that arose during the meeting. This can become a part of the sales process and stop things from falling through the cracks.

This comes in handy when tracking things off-site as well. For example, if you’re doing social selling through platforms like LinkedIn, you want to track how your sales reps are managing situations. This paints a full picture of how they follow up in the context it’s occurring.

Perhaps you need a dedicated system that can take reports and information from other sources and update itself in real-time.

You can also incorporate internal communication tools like Slack into new CRM systems. I’d like to note, however, that it’s important to acknowledge when things need to be done more informally to allow for the flow of new ideas and creativity.

These are just a handful of ideas. Believe me, the possibility for integrations seems endless. The criteria you need to evaluate lies solely in knowing if your CRM needs to talk with other systems to keep it synced and updated.

How a Lack of Training Can Topple the System

Training is a vital part of any implementation process. And, as valuable as the people in your company are, they’re going to be the ones that cause the system to fail.

I do not mean this to be an indictment of your team. After all, a system is simply a set of rules that need to be followed in order to exist. When rules exist, people need to be taught how to follow them.

It’s simply not realistic to expect that people will learn new processes while you’re updating ones from the past. Take your time at each phase and ensure everyone is on board and up to date.

I have seen this happen many times. A process is mapped out, the data migrated, and some initial introductory training is given. Following that, however, there is no other process that allows people to continue training within the system.

Defining a Training Program

It’s important to consider how new people will be trained as they move into the system. It’s important to define the parameters of your training once you have a system set up.

You can then test and track these parameters with your first few training cycles. This could involve anyone who is adapting to the system, learning it from scratch, or adapting new pathways for training future users. By doing this, you’re sidestepping problems that may occur in one to three, or even six years’ time.

You want people to keep using and benefiting from the CRM. Not allowing new users to explore it as a productive space means people will get frustrated and move on. This rules out any exploration of task efficiency.

You want your staff to take advantage of a system that works for them because it means they get their work done faster. Not giving them appropriate training is a sure-fire way to hinder the entire process.

Lack of Support From the CRM Company

The last reason that the implementation might fail is that you don’t have enough external support to manage it. I specifically mean support around the system itself. Users can (and should) be trained, as mentioned. But they will inevitably encounter technical difficulties. It’s just par for the course.

Questions You Need to Ask About Support

You want to know from your CRM provider what support they offer to their users. Are they available 24-7, or is it just during business hours? And if that’s the case, what time zone are those business hours occurring within?

What happens if there’s an urgent problem?

What channels or mediums are available for you and your CRM users in the case of system failure? These are valuable questions and will shape the system you ultimately choose to use.

How do they offer support? Is it via webchat or email? Or are there options to solve problems via phone calls and online meetings?

You absolutely need to understand and document how hard it is to get support. Ideally, you want to work with a system where it is not a challenge. Second, is there a cost associated with support? Some software companies will charge extra for support and you must know this upfront.

Understand these scenarios and communicate them with your team. This way, they’ll know where and when they can ask for support.

You also want to know if the CRM system offers any type of support documentation. Your users may be capable of resolving problems on their own. With this, only more complicated matters will require additional support from the software provider.

How Do You Effectively Implement a New CRM?

I know we’ve thrown a lot of information at you, and most of it feels negative, right? Everything I’ve just said is to show you what can go wrong, not what will.

With all that in mind, let’s recap what you need to do to effectively implement your CRM, whether you’re updating it or bringing in an entirely new work process.

  • Assemble your team
  • Establish your goals
  • Determine what data needs to be migrated
  • Consider your integrations
  • Train your users
  • Analyze the software

When you work these things together, you bring forward a unified and concrete front that can tackle any problems that may arise.

Prepare for the worst but hope for the best, as they say. You know what you want to achieve, so don’t undermine it by not putting the work in where it’s truly needed.

Finding Something Tailor-Made for You

While most CRM systems are typically designed to work out-of-the-box, it’s rare that this is actually the case. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution and will require training and careful consideration.

Invest in yourself, your business, and your employees. By bringing in the appropriate training, integrations, and testing, your team will be right on track to see a successful CRM implementation through till the end.


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