Few things are as frustrating as going through the expensive, time-consuming process of implementing a new customer relationship management (CRM) system, only to see it fail. It’s an all-too-common problem, with multiple industry studies claiming failure rates between 47% and 63% for new CRMs. To avoid this costly situation, it’s important to understand how and why a CRM fails. If identified early, most of these issues can be corrected long before they threaten the entire CRM project.
Let’s take a look at the 25 most common reasons that a CRM fails, and how to fix them.
1. Lack of user adoption
Low user-adoption rates are the root cause of most customer relationship management (CRM) project failures. This happens when your employees and other CRM users actively resist learning essentials of the system. Perhaps the CRM isn’t well integrated with existing workflows and processes, or the system is just more confusing than it needs to be. This situation can often be avoided by bringing end users into the design and user-experience testing processes, and by enhancing CRM training.
2. Lack of vision
One of the biggest mistakes companies make going into a CRM project is not setting specific goals and targets. CRM software is designed to be flexible and adaptable, allowing it to be used in a wide range of industries and use cases. Without a clear vision of what you need your CRM to accomplish, it can be easy to lose focus over the planning and implementation process. The more specific your plans are for what the CRM — including how employees will use it in their daily work, and how it will improve your KPIs — the more likely it is that the implementation will be a success.
3. Thinking it’s just a technology solution
It’s easy for companies to get excited about the technology behind their CRM projects, but it’s important to remember that these software solutions should always be in service of enhancing customer relationships. The technology alone can’t improve those relationships. When the CRM’s technology is combined with the right workflows, operated by well-trained staff, and managed thoughtfully, the system’s full potential can be tapped into to generate powerful results.
4. Not putting the customer at the center
While CRM technology provides a wealth of tools for boosting the efficiency of your business, improving your processes, and providing insights into your sales cycle, its true purpose is to enhance your relationships with your customers. When a CRM is designed without your customers’ needs in mind — focusing solely on increasing sales KPIs, for instance — many of the software’s best features simply go to waste. A well-designed CRM starts with the customer right at the center.
5. Poor planning
Implementing a CRM system is not a simple task. It’s a multi-stage process, refining a general outline into clear workflows, software systems, data curation, user testing, and employee training. It’s not a process that benefits from trying to figure it out on the fly. Every moment invested in planning serves to prevent later confusion and frustration, ultimately helping to prevent a CRM failure.
6. No plan for evolving
It’s no surprise that most companies design their CRMs with only their current needs in mind. A good business changes and evolves over time, creating new products and services for it’s customers. A good CRM needs to be designed with this growth in mind, allowing for expansion, refinement, and other future needs. This includes a process for identifying issues and improvements to include in the next iteration of the CRM.
7. Scope creep
Great ideas excite everyone who hears about them. A CRM project that seeks to improve sales pipeline management may be such a compelling concept that the customer satisfaction team decides that they want a piece of the project, too. Before long, everyone wants in. What began as a relatively small project now needs to serve the needs of multiple departments, and account for dozens of use cases. The project’s scope grows after every meeting, making it increasingly likely that the project will collapse under its own weight. Don’t let this happen. Clearly define your project. Once you have that plan, stick to it.
8. Too much all at once
One way to balance an expanding CRM project is to break up your implementation into manageable pieces. Planning the system is one distinct stage, for instance, as is user testing, design revision, and employee training. Trying to rush the process by combining or skipping these stages usually results in serious problems with the overall implementation. To keep the implementation process moving smoothly, it’s essential to keep each stage manageable, and with realistic timelines.
9. Lack of training
No matter how you decide to roll out your CRM software, it’s imperative that you fully train your team. CRM software can have a steep learning curve, presenting a challenge even for relatively tech-savvy people. Cutting down on training time might seem like a good way to trim the project’s budget, but in practice it usually results in low user adoption rates and increased risk of CRM failure. If you want your team to make the most of the CRM software, don’t skimp on the training.
10. Lack of support
In an ideal world, your CRM project would have a “champion” on staff to act as a software guru, cheerleader, and point person. If you don’t have a CRM champion, however, it’s absolutely vital to get a high level of support from your CRM vendor. Your team will always have questions about the system, and your software will inevitably need revisions and tweaks as your business grows and changes. Your CRM partners need to be available to help at every step of the way, not just at implementation.
11. Wrong vendor
Can your CRM fail simply because you chose the wrong partners? Yes! Some vendors take a cookie-cutter approach to their work, delivering a bare-bones CRM that isn’t customized to the client’s unique needs. If a conflict arises between their client’s business processes and their one-size-fits-all software, they prefer to change the business rather than modify their own code. A true CRM partner will always build a customized solution that fits your needs.
12. Choosing the wrong software
Choosing the right partner is important to your success, but so is selecting the right software. It can be tempting to choose the cheapest CRM software licenses, for instance, until you realize that customizing it to fit your company’s needs is often far more expensive than just buying the right software in first place. Other companies will make the opposite mistake, spending a small fortune on an expensive system with a ton of features that they will never use. Cost is important, but it should be a secondary consideration to finding the right CRM software for your company’s needs.
13. Too many bells and whistles
CRM software is designed with customization mind, with dozens of modules and add-ons that can be configured to work for countless possible use cases. Unfortunately, some companies make the mistake of trying to make use of all of those options at once, rather than only using those that are essential for their specific needs. A great CRM provides a lean user experience, only making use of those elements which are absolutely necessary. Why force your teams to learn systems they will never use, or add additional steps to a process that should be simple? The more intuitive and streamlined the user experience, the better the user adoption rate.
14. No measurable objectives
How would know if you have implemented a well-designed CRM solution? If it was failing, how would you detect it? Without the right metrics, there’s really no way to tell if the CRM is a success. Your CRM project needs clear, measurable objectives that can be easily tracked, analyzed, and evaluated. This allows you to make timely changes to the CRM itself, workflows, and even training long before the CRM is at risk of failure.
15. No executive buy-in
In order for your CRM system to have its best success, everyone involved with the process needs to be on board. While your sales and marketing departments may be able to easily grasp the value of a CRM, the advantages might not be as obvious to other departments. This can even apply to executives, who may focus more on the costs of a new CRM than on the benefits. It’s not enough for the C-Suite planners to acquiesce to trying out a CRM, they need to be 100% behind it. The better their understanding of the value the CRM brings to the company, the more invested they will become in its long-term success.
16. Look at your business through your customers’ eyes
The fundamental job of a CRM is to efficiently assemble customer information in one central location, and to make it easily accessible when needed. There are countless ways to organize this system, and typically this data is organized in the way that is easiest for the company, rather than the customer. In some cases — such as customer support — this company-centric approach isn’t always the optimal one. If your CRM is failing, it’s worth taking a step back to see how your customers (usually through your employees) interact with your CRM. You may find some surprising disconnects, roadblocks, and other frustrations that are only obvious when you work backwards from the customer’s experience.
17. Failing to involve end users
Design your CRM around the needs of the people who will use it most. A workflow that makes sense to a CRM vendor’s coder or UX designer might be bafflingly unintuitive or painfully slow to the salesperson, support desk agent, or data entry worker who has to use that system all day, every day. These end users are often the very people who ultimately determine if a CRM project succeeds or fails. If the system is poorly designed and implemented, those users will either avoid using it, or — even worse — use it in a way that makes the process less efficient than not having a CRM in the first place. By bringing these end users into the planning and user-testing stages, these headaches and costs can often be avoided completely.
18. In-house CRM coordinator picked randomly
Businesses often toss the job at the CTO or COO, as the CRM is a technology-driven tool. In some cases, the Director of Marketing or Sales may be assigned to the task, as CRMs are built around customer relationships. Another common choice for a CRM coordinator is a mid-level IT manager. There are better ways to select your CRM coordinator. This person needs to have the time, the ability to plan and a passion for the project. Learn more about choosing your CRM champion.
19. Bogus data
Your CRM software works because it provides insight into the customer data you collect. The CRM cannot make bad — corrupt, outdated, or just incorrect — data useful. To get meaningful results, your data needs to be as pristine and complete as possible. Before you start your CRM project, make sure your data — and the methods you use to collect it — are in the best shape possible.
20. Employees don’t trust the data
The CRM is not always the reason for why a CRM fails. Sometimes, the CRM’s data sources are to blame. A good example of this is incomplete or incorrectly entered customer data, which can make employees skeptical about the information in the CRM. If the wrong names or phone numbers are tied to prospect data, for instance, it’s not hard to see why a salesperson would be reluctant to rely on the CRM to make sales calls. If there’s a problem with how the data is getting into the system — poor data entry training, for instance — nothing you can do to the CRM itself will address this. Instead, you need to retrain workers using best practices.
21. Business and tech teams don’t work together
Every department in your company plays a vital role in the overall success of the business. At the same time, these departments also have their own priorities, considerations, and ideas about how to tackle any given problem. When a project comes along that crosses through multiple departments — like a new CRM — one of the biggest hurdles to success is often getting these teams on the same page to reach a mutually beneficial solution. This often often means breaking down departmental barriers, freeing data from dedicated department silos, and creating uniform (or at least consistent) processes for accessing and using customer information. Your business and tech teams may need to work together in new ways to make sure that everyone is getting the most from CRM software.
22. Team members don’t understand their role
From in-house office assistants to field sales agents, everyone the company will need to upload data to the CRM at some point. The processes for getting that data into the CRM, however, may be completely different depending on the use case. Reflect this process within the CRM interface. Additionally, you need to support it with both adequate user training and documentation. When this support isn’t available, the CRM soon stops being effective. To get the most out of the CRM, each team member needs to fully understand their specific use case.
23. CRM is not the center of your business
Every business has specific tools — like email and spreadsheets — that act as the “center of gravity” of the operation. What happens when a more efficient tool, like CRM, disrupts the established workflow? It can create a situation where workers avoid using the better tool in favor of more familiar ones.
24. CRM is considered a one-time thing
A CRM system should ebb and flow with your business. A great CRM isn’t the result of a single, perfectly executed implementation. Instead, ongoing refinements, revisions, and expansions lead to success. The CRM is never “perfect” because your business is always changing. If your CRM is failing, it might need an update so it has room to grow. At the same time, a great implementation partner won’t abandon the project when the CRM is finally up and running. Instead, they will check in with you regularly, providing the ideas and support you need to keep the CRM healthy.
25. Attempting the process alone
A CRM system can catapult your company’s efficiency if you implement it properly. The best way to do that is to partner with a customer relationship management software expert to ensure you are engaging your employees and getting the most from your investment.
Jennifer Karpus-Romain serves as Director of Marketing for Intelestream. From journalism to PR to marketing, she has been around the written word for her entire professional life. Previously, she has held roles in the publishing and marketing industries, as well as managing her own content and publishing firm.