Why Your CRM Isn’t Working – and What to Do About It

I first learned about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software way back in 2000, when I needed to choose a marketing automation solution for the speech recognition technology start-up where I was head of brand marketing.

Then as now, the promise was big. Here’s a dream tool that will seamlessly capture leads, automate customer interactions, and spark dramatic business growth. CRM, it seemed, was the answer to a host of sales and marketing problems.

Today there are many CRM, sales force automation (SFA) and marketing automation platforms to choose from. Whether your business is thousands of employees strong or a small one with just are few employees (perhaps even a solo practice), there’s an automated solution that promises to meet your needs.

Just pick a platform, power up, and you’re off and running.

Why Isn’t CRM Working?

After participating in implementation of several CRM and marketing automation solutions over the past 15 years, both during my corporate life and since starting my consulting practice in 2010, I’ve come to realize that the problem is rarely the platform itself.

Certainly some are better than others and I have a few favorites. There are radically complex solutions that require weeks of implementation support, and out-of-the box options that a small business can start using within hours.

Picking the right platform for your business needs is important, but even that doesn’t guarantee a successful implementation. There’s one critical component that all of the CRM, SFA and MA options out there have in common, and if you ignore it, your program will falter.

The Human Factor

Regardless of the solution you choose, the key to successful implementation – and subsequent ROI from the investment – is in the people behind the process.

  • There are always manual processes to complete, no matter how sophisticated your CRM is.
  • Routines and behaviors must be adapted to successfully integrate your new solution into the flow of operations.
  • Groups like Sales and Marketing need to forge agreements on things like the difference between a Marketing Qualified Lead and a Qualified Sales Lead.
  • Systems and work flows are required, defining which communications go to whom, and when.
  • Someone has to create and populate content, so that you have the email messages, templates and materials needed for employees and customers.
  • Positive perceptions must be fostered before negatives attitudes emerge (“CRM is useless”)

The common thread with each of these items is that they’re people-centered concerns, the human factor hidden behind the potential of advanced technology.

Who Succeeds with Customer Automation?

Organizations that embrace CRM, testing and tweaking continuously, all the ones that see the best results. Those that view CRM as just another “thing we need to do” or a corporate mandate have a much harder time.

The most successful implementations are those that consider the human factor from the start. How will the implementation and subsequent use of the system change they way you work? What are the benefit and potential pitfalls? Put those concerns on the table upfront and work through them.

Employee engagement in the process is critical. Projects that bear fruit are typically characterized by a high degree of involvement. Employees embrace the process and take an active part in making it work.

How Can You Get a CRM Project Back on Track?

If your CRM implementation is stalled, off track, or can’t get off the ground, stop worrying about the technology for a moment. The widest scope of features and functions is worthless if no one uses it.

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Regroup and get your people on board. Engage a cross-functional team with representatives from Sales, Marketing, Finance, Customer Service and any other key groups. Let everyone who has a stake in the solution provide input before you launch, rather than forcing the solution on them after the fact.

There won’t always be 100% agreement, but when you paint a clear picture of how CRM transforms business results and makes employees’ more effective (helping them be more successful), the odds of success are greatly improved.

Secure employee buy-in and make sure managers and executives are on board, then restart the project. When reaping the benefits of CRM becomes a shared objective, adoption and utilization will increase, fresh ideas for creative uses will surface, and you’ll be in a prime position to achieve the ROI you anticipated.

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