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Why Your CRM Implementation Will Fail

by Todd Williams
Todd C. Williams, Founder & President, eCameron, Inc.

[NOTE: Mandarin version available here.]

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) implementations fail at an alarming rate. In fact, your implementation probably will not meet your goals either. I have heard of few that actually do meet their goals. Unfortunately, the primary reason is not software difficulties. Regardless of what Salesforce and Microsoft tell you, neither of their platforms are easy to implement.

More importantly than that, it is easy to tell when the implementation is going the wrong way. You can tell before the project even starts. For instance, you know when you hear arguments break out between IT and Sales and Marketing over who is going to drive the project.

Sales and Marketing

Sales and Marketing teams make a great case; after all, in classic business structures they “own” the customer and are the ones that drive the customer communications. They know that the minute anything goes wrong the account manager’s phone is the one that rings—whether the issue is with an invoice or an installation. They are the center of the customer’s world and need to sponsor and drive the CRM implementation. Or, so they say.

Information Technology’s Case

IT makes a strong case, too, by pointing out that for the CRM to be effective it needs to integrate with every system from Customer Support, to Sales, Invoicing, Shipping and Receiving, Engineering, Scheduling, etc. With this level of integration and the technological hurdles that must be cleared, IT clearly needs to drive the implementation or the resulting deployment will be a hodge-podge of interfaces where only some of the data required to deal with the customer is available across the organization.

They Are Addressing The Wrong Problem

The logic behind both of these arguments is sound; however, they are both flawed. With all their passion, they have unfortunately taken a myopic look that the problem and missed the big picture. The goal of a CRM implementation is to create a uniform treatment of the customer regardless of who in your company is addressing them. It should lean out the customer interface by allowing the customer to talk to anyone and get the correct answer.

For instance, if a customer is on credit hold, it wastes company resources to answer engineering questions, to prioritize their requests for proposals, look up replacement parts, ship them more product, etc. Everyone in the company needs to see the same data and have the same process to follow—in this case, politely tell them to talk to accounts receivable. Imagine a high-volume customer who is current on their bill getting second-class treatment to a delinquent customer. Although all of us want to treat customers with respect, we also need to reward our best customers.

The problem with Sales and Marketing’s argument is that the customer should not need to go through them to solve an issue. Every group should have the same data. Everyone in the company should treat the customer the same.

This is where IT is both right and wrong. A complete CRM implementation does touch every system in the company. It is a huge integration effort and IT will spend a significant amount of time and money making these interfaces work. However, technology does not solve the problem—it is only a tool. For a successful implementation, we must first change the attitudes of the people and process that they follow.

It Is A Cultural Project

Culture: the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. That is what the CRM implementation project is really trying to affect. The company needs to change its culture around dealing with its customers. There is only one person that drives the culture of the company—the CEO. The CEO is the sole person that can drive a CRM project. He or she must define how to treat customer in every condition and ensure that the entire company lives that culture. Software is not a requisite to making this change. It requires leadership. Without painting the vision and leading your people to that better place, your CRM implementation will fail. The software only enables the culture. It allows you to share data from one end of the company to the other efficiently and accurately. It is only a tool and will just as easily (or with the same amount of difficulty) automate the wrong culture as it will the desired one.

It Is A CRC Project

CEOs need to take the CRM issue by the horns. Forget what your CRM vendor is telling you about how to implement it. They are only selling software to make their monthly quotas.

Rename the project the CRC Project—Customer Relationship Culture Project. You, the CEO, need to be the executive sponsor defining the culture. Each and every department in your company must be responsible for educating their people and implementing the new processes to support it. Only then can you look at how a software package is going to support it. It is all about a new culture. Oh by the way, you will get some software to help.

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