The Top 4 CRM Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

By Erica Abt on Jan 10, 2019

3 Minute Estimated Read Time

CRM (Client Relationship Management) can be defined as “the strategy upon which companies plan, manage and analyze interactions across their customer’s lifecycle to acquire, grow and retain customers”.

That’s at least what CRM is supposed to be. Instead, what we usually hear from clients about their CRM are comments like:

“It’s a mess.”
“We use it badly.”
“We bought it for reporting but since nobody uses it, it adds no value.” 

For a tool that is so expensive, time-consuming to implement, and promises to help sales people do their jobs more easily, it’s surprising how many companies struggle to get the full return on their CRM investment. Why is it so difficult?

In our “CRM, Where’s the Link” whitepaper (also known as our CRM Disaster Prevention Guide) we outlined the top reasons why CRM implementations fail. Those reasons include:

  • A lack of a strong vision and business case for change, resulting in little to no leader advocacy or accountability to actually use the tool.
  • Excessive emphasis on technology, with little understanding of sales and service business processes and what is needed by way of reporting.
  • Inadequate focus on sales skills and behaviors, meaning little capability to leverage the data and insights that the CRM actually delivers.
  • Treating CRM as a project, leading employees to believe the launch of the CRM is a “one-time event”, not a tool that should be constantly used and refreshed in order to drive and sustain customer relationships over the long-term.  

Over the last several years, we have helped various organizations address the challenge of re-implementing CRMs (e.g., Salesforce) with the goal of unwinding a botched first implementation and the resulting poor user adoption.

There are four ways to approach this challenge well: 

#1: Develop the CRM Business Case and Change Vision

At the start of CRM-related projects we work closely with the company’s leadership team to understand the vision for their sales and service organization and the use of their supporting CRM technology. This step is so important because it gives the company something to anchor to when inevitable sceptics challenge the CRM effort during the implementation and launch phases. Also, with involvement from the leadership team from the beginning, leaders are automatically clued in on key decisions that can support any change management messages down the road.

#2: Define Capability Building Blocks

Once a vision is set for the CRM, it is critical to define what we call the “building blocks” of the sales and service organization. By that we mean the core foundational components of the CRM that will support the usage, for example activity logging and reporting in the tool. Often, companies define key building blocks like Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities, and Activities, and their respective supporting sub-categories; however, the key building blocks can and will vary from company to company depending on the industry, geographic reach, and growth strategy and objectives. Aligning on the building blocks is critical to get everyone in the company using CRM in the same way across various geographies, business segments, or roles.  

#3: Ground in Business Process

As mentioned in the above section, one of the biggest reasons why CRM implementations fail is because of a lack of understanding of business process. Too often, the Technology or Marketing department will purchase and implement CRM with great intentions, but not with a great understanding of the sales and service organization’s needs and processes. Building on the concept of defining building blocks in #2, in order to implement CRM well, there must be a strong understanding about how the sales and service organization actually works with and manages objects like Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities, and Activities in the “real world”.  At this stage, we typically help organizations align on a global sales process that incorporates how a sales or client service professional works with Accounts and Contacts in their territory, manages an Opportunity through the sales pipeline, or generates the right Activities in order to achieve revenue goals. This thorough understanding of business process underpins any successful sales transformation roll-out (which a successful CRM launch or re-launch can then support).

#4: Manage the Change

One of the most difficult (but often most rewarding) ways we work with clients is helping them work through change management. Change management across any aspect of sales is challenging, but it is especially challenging when it comes to CRM because of the various departments that the change cuts across – Sales & Service, Technology, Marketing, HR/L&D, Leaders, Frontline Users, etc. Actively managing the change should be a number 1 priority from the very start of a CRM re-implementation. Key tip: there must be executive sponsorship, a central governing body (like a Center of Excellence), and user champions. Without these elements, it is difficult to get frontline managers and users to prioritize the time to learn the CRM and make best use of the tool day to day.   

There are a number of reasons why companies re-assess the value of their CRM tool. Some of the most common reasons include a shift in strategy to grow or retain specific customer segments, geographic expansion, plans to go through integration with another workforce, an increase in flexible or work from home policies, high employee turnover, the need for better prospect and client relationship documentation, or pressure from the Board or investors for better visibility and predictability of sales outcomes.

To access Symmetrics Group's full CRM Disaster Prevention Guide, click the image below:

CRM Guide Download

Erica Abt

Written by Erica Abt

Erica Abt is passionate about both the macro trends and the ‘nitty gritty’ of sales effectiveness. At Symmetrics Group, Erica might be found examining the generational impacts of Millennials and Gen Z on sales forces across America. Or, she might be building a detailed process inventory and training curriculum for CRM effectiveness. She brings her experience as a quota bearer and sales manager to help clients tackle complex business challenges, such as account and book of business planning, client service and retention strategies, as well as sales coaching and training.

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