CRM troubleshooting: How to ensure a smooth and successful implementation

16th Jan 2014

CRM projects represent a rocky path to travel and there are many different obstacles along the way that can derail the initiative.

Some of these obstacles manifest as a direct result of poor preparation. For instance, in a study of over 500 individuals involved in CRM projects by Forrester Research, two-fifths (40%) reported that some of the biggest challenges they encountered related to CRM strategy, such as a lack of clearly defined objectives.

Other CRM obstacles are tools-related. In the Forrester study, a third (35%) reported that they had experienced challenges related to technology deficiencies, such as functional shortfalls in vendor solutions and poor usability.

Hopefully, we’ve already managed to square off most these issues in the previous articles in this series concerning building a CRM strategy and selecting a CRM solution.

But there are a host of other challenges that face businesses in their CRM implementation process along the journey. And these must be addressed if your project is to have a fighting chance of success.


Bill Band, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research, highlights one of the more common issues he encounters when talking to businesses.

“Many have problems because they didn’t pay attention to the customer data management requirements early in the project,” he explains. “They didn’t really think through what data they would need, how they were going to keep it clean and how they were going to manage it. CRM applications are just databases with some logic on it, so if the data is bad, then everything else will collapse.”

Richard Boardman, founder of Mareeba Consulting, adds: “Good systems require good data, and, if the new system is to be populated with existing data, it’s important that the quality of that data is high. Many organisations are surprised at how many data sources they possess and how poor the data quality is. The cleansing of data and reconciliation of different versions of the same record in multiple data sources can be very time consuming. While there are tools that can help, this process tends to be very manual, and is not something that can be fully outsourced as it requires considerable input from the data owners.”

He continues: “The problem is that organisations don’t necessarily understand all the complexities associated with it. They think that if they have 20 Excel spreadsheets on the PC, they can just dump it into the system and don’t think about the fact that the same person probably appears on six of them, with slightly different details on all six. There is some inappropriate expectation on a lot of people’s part on how much data they are going to be able to get into the system. Therefore, you need to get them to focus on what is the core useful data, and not try and bring everything in, because that will create a potentially ridiculous amount of work. It is a case of treating the data as a key stage in the project and not a minor sideline to it all.”


CRM implementations are also commonly blighted by business process problems, according to Forrester’s research. In its study, it found that nearly half (44%) of respondents agreed their CRM projects faced problems relating to the likes of poor/insufficient definition of business requirements, inadequate business process designs, and the need the customise solutions to fit unique organisational requirements.

In a recent blog post, David Taber, CEO of SalesLogistix and author of ‘ Secrets of Success’, notes that CRM projects done right mean business changes. He highlights a number of business process issues associated with CRM projects, including:

  • Unclear/undifferentiated processes. Job descriptions in marketing and sales must reflect highly differentiated process roles and responsibilities, with unique ownership of goals that can be independently achieved. “You’re looking for specific descriptions of cogs in a machine, not vague statements about teamwork,” notes Taber. He recommends that businesses pay close attention to service level agreements (SLAs) that involve lead generation/cultivation, inside sales, and channel managers and sales partners, with each SLA including explicit quality criteria and deadlines.
  • Terminology. Taber advises that businesses have clear definitions for what the likes of leads, contacts, accounts and opportunities mean to the marketing and sales process. Discourage people from saying misconceptions such as “converting leads into opportunities” and look at every record type and status value for the sales objects. Taber notes that you must have qualifications and conditions that ensure all leads, contacts, accounts and opportunities fit into the scheme and that at least 80% of these fit into one record type or status value at any one time. He adds: “For the status fields (leads, contacts and accounts) and the stage field (opportunities), make sure, again, that there is clear definition of what the status value means, as well as a set of unambiguous entry/exit criteria.”
  • Metrics for key success factors should be clearly identified and enforced. These should evaluate things that individuals can actually control (i.e. a classic mistake is to hold outbound marketing accountable for revenue, when overall pipeline volume would be more appropriate; or hold sales reps accountable for customer satisfaction even though they have nothing to do with customer service or product quality).

Incentives is another area that demands attention if it isn’t to derail the company’s CRM project.

“You can get conflicts between different departments when they try to collaborate,” explains Ed Thompson, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner Research. “The best example is the utility who builds an inbound cross-sell tool to get people to buy dual fuel. The test was successful, they’ve modelled which customers are most likely to buy the deals, and which ones they should offer them to, the pilot was successful, they’ve increased sales dramatically with double digital growth in revenues as a result and everyone is happy and ready to go ahead.

“Then the customer services director highlights that when they do this they’re going to increase the average length of call by three minutes on the calls where they do the cross-sell because they have to set up a direct debit and go through a series of steps. This means they are not going to meet their service levels because my service levels are about a number of rings before they pick the phone up, and these correlate with customer sats, and the sats are going to go down. The customer service department is compensated on sat therefore they’re not going to hit their targets. So the service director requests 500 additional head count for his contact centre and wants to transfer some budget from market. But the marketing director says no. And so service says well ok my team isn’t going to read your scripts for cross-selling and you end up with a dead CRM initiative.  

“So the tech works, the process works, the pilot worked, but it is not going to happen because the senior execs are compensated in competing ways and they haven’t resolved that issue. And that happens fairly regularly. So compensation plans and incentives need to be addressed.”  

Boardman has also identified business process pitfalls surrounding the sign off procedures at key milestones in the implementation process.  “It’s common that sign offs will involve a range of individuals in the organisation as well as senior executives making up the project board,” he says. “The logistics of coordinating sign offs can be complex. The simple act of diarising review meetings that all required parties can attend can add months to a project, and is a phenomenon that isn’t well catered for in many project plans.”


However, nearly half of all problems with CRM projects are the result of people issues, according to Forrester. Its study found that 42% of respondents report issues such as slow user adoption, inadequate attention paid to change management and training, and difficulties in aligning the organisational culture with new ways of working.

And staff problems can start early on in the implementation process, according to Boardman. “CRM projects are hungry on the use of internal resources. For example, users will be involved in requirements definition activities and training, the IT team in project management, key users and sponsors as part of the project team, and senior management in overseeing the project. When fully mapped out, the demands on internal staff can be considerable, and, as most will have ‘day jobs’, projects often suffer disruption as staff struggle to balance their day to day activities with the demands of the project.”

The implementation process is also likely to put further strain on any relationships that have had a history of problems.

As Mike Muhney, CEO of vipOrbit, explains: “The enterprise environment of what the sales department needs and what the IT/ design department does are often at odds. I once was personally at the headquarters of a Fortune 100 company with the both the CTO and the VP of Sales. The VP of Sales was literally ready to jump across the table in fury because the IT department would not allow input from the sales people who really needed it to be designed the way they work. Instead, IT felt that it exclusively ‘owned’ this ‘project’ and designated a non-sales type individual to singularly focus on the ease of process integration with the technical side of the business.”

In his blog on best practices for CRM success, analyst Bill Band explains that the top people challenges to implementing a CRM solution include cultural resistance to adopting new ways of working (45%), difficulties in achieving user adoption (44%) and insufficient planning and attention given to change management (42%).

All of which reflect what Ed Thompson, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner Research, has seen in his experience. 

“There are two things that always seem to come up in terms of organisational change. With sales it is adoption – how do we get the sales guys to adopt it when there is not benefit for them and all the benefit is for the sales management? And in the marketing department, the problem is often that they are under-resourced – they decide to industrialise campaigns and start targeting much more refined segments and having more specific messages and have a higher campaign response rate with better quality leads, but to do that they need to increase the head count. So that’s a resourcing issue.”

Serious people problems

Band lists the following advice to tackle the most serious people problems that you can encounter during your CRM implementation.

  • Use continuous improvement to soften culture shock. Successful CRM requires that an organisation learn and accept new business processes and supporting technologies, which is never easy. Use quick wins to gain support for the new CRM system and continuous improvement to keep interest high.
  • Overcome adoption issues by letting users influence functionality. New CRM processes and technologies that do not have a clear benefit for users and that are not properly socialized will not be adopted. Enterprises should ensure that users have opportunities to influence application functionality and enhancements.
  • Plan carefully to facilitate changes in management and employee behaviours. The tone for a customer-centric culture, and the need to adopt new processes and tools to serve customers more effectively, is set by the top executives of an organisation. Employees look at the behaviours of the senior leadership team to determine which activities are valued and which aren’t.

Band adds: “Leadership is an important factor in making these things successful. Make sure senior leaders are doing what they can to communicate the importance of the project. But also you must really focus on supporting user adoption and having a really good change management plan, recognising that people need to know why things are changing and give them the tools and training so that you can support them in their new roles.”

Boardman strongly advocates a phase of user acceptance testing.

“This can be a surprisingly extended process as many members of staff representing each functional area may be involved. It’s not unusual to have to go through several rounds of testing. This is also at this stage that additional requirements emerge particularly if the original requirements were lightly specified,” he notes.

“The reality is that you’re probably looking at a couple of months to test. You have all of these iterations and it can take quite a long time to get all of that sorted out. Meanwhile, you have got all of the pressure of the looming live data and expectations set, with senior management probably baying for the system to go live – and what often happens is that the team get pressured into allowing the system to go live with a lot of bugs still in it. Then the users go in, find the bug, say it isn’t ready, stop using it, and in many cases never resume. User confidence in systems is fragile and if you break it straight away it can’t be repaired.

“Therefore, first of all get your testers – you need people on the project team to be involved and going through and checking it all back against the documentation. You also potentially want users themselves feeding back their thoughts on it. But make sure you set aside a fair amount of resource.”

Finally, arguably the biggest ‘people issue’ that impedes CRM implementation is the thorny issue of user adoption. An effective CRM system requires consistent and systematic usage. Over the years, the CRM industry has realised that the biggest challenge for CRM systems is getting people to use them. And just because a vendor says their software is ‘easy to use’ and ‘fantastically intuitive’ does not guarantee adoption.

“If we’re looking to run our business processes through a CRM system we need everyone to use it and use it the same way, otherwise we’re not going to get the outputs from the system,” says Boardman. “If you really want to add value then you need the team to use it consistently in a structured way. And that doesn’t come easy. Traditionally the entirety of a user adoption programme is a half day training course – and that’s it. But just because they’ve been on training courses doesn’t mean they’ll use it. So you need a lot of structure and infrastructure around that to look at usage and see where there are issues and take action to address them and be proactive about it.

“Getting the usage bit is really hard work and really resource intensive – but if you’re not prepared to devote the resources, then don’t do it.”

In the next feature in this series, we’ll look further into how you can ensure user adoption of your CRM system.

For the time being, here are some final tips for CRM implementation, courtesy of Geoffrey James of from the Base CRM blog.

  • Take a gradual approach. Roll out a  pilot project to small group, that will serve as both an in-house evaluation period and also enable you to tailor the system to match your sales process. Furthermore, a pilot team providing a ringing endorsement of the new system will help corporate-wide acceptance.
  • Entice don’t force. Trying to force salespeople to use CRM creates resistance and resentment. Show reps how it can save them time and help them make more sales.
  • Make the executives use it. Everyone must be involved and talking the same language if CRM is to hone the company’s sales strategy, so everyone – including the execs – must be using it. Furthermore, nothing will undermine CRM quicker than if not using CRM is seen as an executive privilege.
  • Don’t support multiple systems. While some may want to continue to use spreadsheets, emails and handwritten notes, because that’s what they’ve traditionally done, managers must refuse any report not generated with the official system.  Reps will soon understand that it’s less work to use the system than to rekey the data.

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