10 Top Reasons CRM Implementations Fail

As CRM consultants, we see a lot of CRM implementations. Not all of them are successes. Sometimes we don’t get called until the CRM has already failed. At that point we’re called in to try and salvage what’s left. But how do companies get to that point? How can you avoid a failed CRM implementation in the first place? 

 There are a lot of factors involved in a successful CRM implementation. We’ve gathered a list of the top 10 that we see out in the real world. These come from 15+ years of implementing CRM, and honestly, the list hasn’t changed much in all those years. At the root, the issues come down to people. So let’s learn how to avoid these all-too-common pitfalls. 

  1. Organization

With so many moving pieces involved in a CRM it’s easy to get out of sorts. Approaching your CRM implementation with an unorganized approach is a sure way to fail. They say 15 minutes of planning can save an hour of implementation. They’re correct. Before you even chosen the CRM system you’re going with, you should have a clearly outlined plan for implementing.

Your plan doesn’t have to have every single detail to begin, but you do need a good overview before taking the first step. The plan should include a budget, list of key players, a general timeline, and all the steps necessary to implement – including training. 

  1. Choosing the CRM

Most CRMs have the same functionality. But rather than finding a CRM and defining your needs based on its capabilities, instead define your capabilities and then go out and find a CRM that fits. The CRM software should never dictate the needs. 

Once you’ve implemented, it’s fine to look at the software’s capabilities that go outside the scope of your initial needs assessment. But that should be in a phase 2. Really all you’re doing here is trying to get the most out of your CRM. But before you do that, you really need to be sure your CRM fills the initial needs that you have.

That’s the biggest way to avoid picking the wrong CRM. The other thing to keep in mind here is budget. CRM systems range up to 300% in costs. But more about that later.

  1. Technical Issues

Along the same lines of choosing the wrong CRM, is choosing a CRM that’s fraught with technical difficulties. Most CRM systems are web-based now, and therefore, avoid common tech pitfalls. But if you’re choosing a CRM that gets installed locally then be sure it works with your environment. You should be able to get your hands on a demo copy for free to test.

The other caveat to technical issues comes after you’ve already gone live with your CRM. If users encounter errors which halt their use, they’re going to stop using it. They may call for help once or twice but eventually this can completely tank user adoption. Ironing out all of the possible errors before going live is a keen way to help be sure the system will continue to be used.

Another important aspect of technical issues is having a tech support protocol. After going live, users need to know how to get support for the issues that come up. These are computers after all and they don’t always work like they should. Typically we make the last part of our training sessions about how to get help. This lets the entire user group know that there is help and promotes asking for help when they need it.

Budgeting for your CRM implementation

  1. Budget

There is no worse way to fail your CRM implementation then by running out of money to implement it. There aren’t typically hidden costs in implementing your CRM, you should be able to plan for everything. Although some CRM systems, like Sales Force, hide functionality behind a paywall. So be sure your chosen CRM includes the functionality you need for the cost you expect.

Beyond the cost of the CRM subscription itself there are several budgetary concerns to keep in mind. Even if you’re implementing the CRM on your own you should still consider the cost of a consultant. If worse comes to worse and you need professional help you’ll want to be sure that’s budgeted in. Making sure it’s part of the initial budget will help you make the call to a professional before it’s too late. If you haven’t budgeted for consulting and run into some difficulties you’re more likely to trudge forward on your own, making matters worse, and more costly to fix.

Another budgetary concern is training. You will never fully succeed in your CRM if your users are not properly trained. Training videos, self-help, and learning as you go are terrible training solutions. You want your users working as a team, doing things the same way, keeping things standardized. Allowing users to train themselves is a sure way to have everyone doing their own thing. Even if your users are tech-savvy there is still room for training to assure everyone is doing it the same way. 

  1. Streamlining

A lack of streamlining the CRM system can have a pretty negative impact on the end users. CRMs come with a ton a vanilla fields, modules, and screens. Part of implementation is to eliminate the unnecessary sections. the only thing users should be able to see when they login are important things. Sections that are uncommonly used can either be hidden or at least placed off to the side where they don’t take the main spotlight.

Taking streamlining a step further, and you should be able to create screens based on the user’s role. So when a salesperson logs in they see a salesperson’s screen. When accounting logs in, they see the accounting screen. Good CRMs tend to allow for this role defined configuration.

Lastly, streamlining also means not asking for more information than is necessary. I’ve seen plenty of CEOs putting together a CRM that asks salespeople to fill in fields like favorite color, pet’s name, and other mundane details. We’re not saying that those aren’t important things to know about a prospect or client, but they’re not important enough to have their own fields. That’s what the note section is for. 

  1. Consultants

Implementing a CRM without a consultant is a bad idea. Implementing a CRM with a bad consultant is an even worse idea. CRM systems are complicated. They take time and thought to put together. There are a lot of little pitfalls that a good consultant can prevent you from toppling into. 

We’re not advocating that you implement your CRM without help (or with just your IT Department). A good consultant can make your CRM seriously soar. Instead we’re just suggesting that you do your research before hiring anyone. Make sure they’ve been around a while. It can also be helpful if they’ve done work with other companies in your industry; although that’s not entirely necessary. 

You’ll know you’re working with a bad consultant if you can’t get a ballpark budget out of them after the first discovery call or if they charge for that initial discovery call. Another indication would be if they’re suggesting lots of add-ons. If the CRM system requires a lot of addons to work the way you want, then they’re probably suggesting the wrong CRM, or your requirements for a CRM are outside the norm.

Buy-in from Management

  1. Buy-in from Management

The tone set by management trickles down to the users in a pretty clear manner. For a specific example, I recall being in a meeting with a few managers and end users. We were hammering out some details about the new CRM that was being implemented. The owner came into the meeting and talked negatively about the project in general. He clearly didn’t believe in the value of a CRM. It was clear to everyone in the room he was not behind it. The tone he set influenced everyone immediately. That owner had basically ruined his own company’s implementation.

The takeaway was a very important lesson. If the folks on top aren’t on board then you’re in for some real trouble. Management needs to convey the importance of CRM for the users to believe in it too. If management acts like the software isn’t important then the software becomes exactly that, unimportant. 

This sort of thing doesn’t come up very often. Sales managers, owners, and the key decision-makers, are often supportive and understand the value of CRM. Honestly, it doesn’t take a genius to see how valuable a CRM can be for management. But if you’re dealing with a stick in the mud, make sure they know how important their opinion can be to the success of your implementation.

  1. Mobile Access / Remote Access

It seems like everybody’s always on their phone. That’s because they are. Our mobile phones have become a huge part of the way we navigate our lives in general. Navigating our work is no exception. When your CRM system is in full operation you really come to depend on it. Your schedule, important documents, and all the information about your customers are all in this one place. Not having access to it while you’re away from your desk is a huge hindrance.

There are some eye-opening numbers about the value of mobile access to your CRM. We discuss it in more details in our CRM apps article, but It’s relevant to this list as well. Not having access to your CRM after leaving a meeting means you’re not going to record your notes about that meeting right away. The details get lost by the time you get back to the office and that’s just assuming you end up taking the time to enter the data then.

Work-life balance is important. We certainly don’t advocate missing your kids soccer game so that you can enter meeting notes. But having access to your CRM from home can be pretty handy. Having access from home means you can be home more often. Also, in a disaster recovery situation working from home could be necessary. There are a lot of benefits to having a CRM that you can access from anywhere.

  1. Training 

Even if your CRM is simple and your users are savvy, training assures everyone uses the system in the same way. That standardization is important. 

Beyond standardization, you want your users to feel comfortable on day one. If they have to hunt around for functionality they’ll become frustrated. As soon as frustration sets in, user adoption rates plummet. Training is a way to simply avoid this common pitfall. 

Training doesn’t have to be an all day event. Most CRM systems have pretty straightforward basics. A good two to three hour session should be all it takes to familiarize users with the screen, how to get around, and how to incorporate the system into their day-to-day routine. Once they’ve got the basics down, it’s time to tackle the advanced stuff.

The best CRM training comes in phases. You start with the basics, then users go out into the real world and use the system on their own. Once they’ve had a chance to try the basics out, you come back together and answer all the questions that came up. Then it’s time to look at more advanced topics, the type of functionality that takes your CRM to the next level. 

Training in phases like this allows your users to learn gradually. You cannot sit down for an 8-hour training session and walk away with eight hours of usable knowledge.We’ve found it best to limit training sessions to three hours, four at the very most. Longer training sessions need to be peppered with hands-on activities. Non-hands-on training can be helpful for refresher courses, but when learning the basics, you really need to perform the functions yourself.

  1. User Adoption

You can design the best CRM system anyone has ever seen. But if your users don’t use the system, then it’s virtually worthless. Garbage in, garbage out – or in this case, no data going in no value coming out. Assuring your users will adopt the CRM system can be a bit of an art form. We could write an entire article specifically on this. But let’s hit a few highlights.

User adoption rates are directly impacted by half the items on this list. Streamlining, technical issues, management buy-in, mobile access, and training will all impact whether or not your users use the system. You don’t have to nail every one of these right on the head, but you do need to come close.

The real linchpin here comes down to training. If you miss all the other items, don’t miss training. Training will have the biggest impact on users adopting the new system. I’ve seen CRM systems come back from failure just because of good training. Good training can’t be stressed enough.

In Summary

There are a lot of variables involved with successfully implementing a CRM. But if you keep all of this advice in mind, and take it one step at a time, you’re more likely to succeed. And remember, if you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out to a partner for help.