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Top 10 CRM implementation pitfalls

Get the top 10 CRM implementation pitfalls and learn what organizations should avoid when implementing a CRM system in this tip.

When implementing a CRM system, what are some common mistakes to avoid?
The common pitfalls associated with implementing a CRM system will depend to some extent on what you are looking to achieve. If your ambitions for your CRM system don't extend much further than managing your contacts, or setting yourself a reminder to call Bob in February when you know he has some more budget to spend, then these will be met 'out of the box' by most CRM systems and there isn't too much that can go wrong. On the other hand, limited objectives means limited pay-back.

Where CRM can make a huge difference is when you start managing the huge range of business processes associated...

with recruiting and retaining customers through the CRM system. This more structured approach to CRM technology usage is where the key implementation challenges arise, and in this respect here are my top 10 CRM implementation pitfalls:

1. Lack of a compelling vision – a lot of CRM systems are implemented without any clear vision as to what issues are being solved or what improvements are being sought. As the saying goes – if you don't know where you are going, any road leads there.

2. CRM project gets under-resourced – this is often the function of a lack of a compelling vision, in the sense that without a powerful business case a lot of projects only attract minimal funding, which in turn proves insufficient to implement a system that delivers real value. People also tend to underestimate the internal time required to implement a CRM system effectively, and projects get badly impacted because staff also have their 'day jobs'.

3. People see CRM technology as the answer – CRM is a tool, it doesn't produce results in its own right. It's one leg of a three-legged stool; the other two are people and process. When organizations focus on the technology to the exclusion of the other two dimensions, projects fail.

4. Lightweight CRM requirements gathering – a lot of times, requirements documentation takes the form of a brief bullet-pointed list of high-level requirements, rather than a well-considered, detailed description of objectives, supporting processes and associated functionality. In these cases, many organizations make poor technology choices because generic requirements make it difficult to compare and contrast different offerings. Users tend to over-pay because the true cost of the project often becomes clear only once they are committed to a vendor and have a very weak negotiating position; and there's a tendency for 'new' requirements to appear during the implementation process, increasing costs and delaying delivery.

5. Selecting the wrong CRM technology or vendor – this often flows from poor requirements gathering, but is also caused by an undue emphasis on the quality of the salesperson's sales presentation rather than a dispassionate assessment of the vendor's capabilities.

6. Lack of attention to detail in the design phase – with the vendor selected, the first step is to work out how the requirements will be met in the chosen technology. Unless the requirements are met out of the box, the vendor will generally produce a design specification. These are often very detailed and extensive documents, and it can be tempting to sign them off without properly vetting them. However, what's signed off on is what gets developed, and if that doesn't turn out to be what you want, it can be expensive and time-consuming to resolve.

7. Signing up to unrealistic CRM implementation timelines – it's easy to underestimate the amount of work in a CRM project, and there's also a tendency to see project activities as seamlessly sequential, whereas there can be long delays between phases as milestones are signed off. Organizations who struggle to manage expectations can often find themselves having to cut corners in areas such as testing or training in order to meet self-inflicted deadlines, and these can later prove fatal to the project.

8. Unnecessary conflict with the CRM vendor – IT is an imprecise science. Things will go wrong. Many organizations react badly to fairly trivial issues and it can reach the point when something major does crop up and both parties really need to pull together, all good will has long been exhausted.

9. Underestimating the user adoption challenge – poor CRM user adoption kills more IT projects than anything else. User adoption tends to get treated as a trivial afterthought. In reality this is where the bulk of project resources should get deployed.

10. Failure to adapt over time – CRM projects are often seen as one-off projects rather than ongoing programs. Systems can start off fine but quickly fall into obsolescence as the organization changes and the system doesn't keep up. Effective CRM systems need resources and attention over the long-term.

This was last published in December 2008

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