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How to stop your CRM system from becoming a very expensive address book

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AUTHOR: Louise Donadieu
Founder & Director - Growth and automation specialist

It seems shocking to me that in 2018 69% of CRM projects failed across the UK. Considering the implementation of these systems costs upwards of hundreds of thousands; you would think that organisations would want to get it right. So why is it that they so often fail?

The failure of these projects is usually blamed on data integrity, technological limitations, budget restraints…so on and so forth. However, in my experience, it is rarely any of these things. It’s quite simple really, you need to know what you want to achieve from your system and make it part of your organisation’s processes.

If you want it to ‘fix your data’ it’s not going to do that without good data going in in the first place and then being maintained. If you want it to help manage your sales pipeline, it won’t do that without the sales process being understood, robust and adhered to in the first place. The list goes on. 

Half of the issue is that today, CRM systems serve too many masters (IT, Business Development/ Sales, Marketing Management, etc.), and each want to achieve different things from the system. They try to address more objectives than are reasonable for any software system. I recently worked with an organisation looking to select a CRM system and by the time everyone weighed in on their must-haves, we had identified over 20 unique objectives. With such a diluted focus, it’s virtually impossible to meet everyone’s expectations.

I’ve seen many CRM implementations and consistently find that they fail more than they succeed. This isn’t the fault of the technology, it’s a result of misguided strategy.


1 - Don’t worry about 15,000 contacts being right, worry about the ones that are most important to you

I worked with an organisation that never maintained their data in CRM and every time (yes, every time) marketing wanted to send out an email, the data was extracted into an excel spreadsheet, sent to the contact owner and every contact was changed and updated by a PA and then sent back to marketing to update in the system. It was nothing short of madness (and also a complete waste of everyone’s time). 

The easiest way to manage your data with CRM is to stop worrying about all of the data in the system being up to date (obviously ensuring GDPR compliance is a must, good old GDPR!). It is virtually impossible and unsustainable to ensure that you know the birthday and dog’s name of every contact your organisation has ever come across. When you are working on your marketing and sales strategy at the beginning of each year, identify the most influential people to your business and ensure that they are nurtured properly. Did you take them out for dinner? Make a note of it! Did they refer you a large piece of business? Then link the opportunity correctly. You get the idea. If you really think about it, you know the people that really matter to you and if you focus on ensuring that their information and data is looked after (and more importantly everyone in the organisation can understand their significance and influence), then you will quickly find that the system is giving you valuable information about your key relationships. 

Quite interestingly, I have always found that once the system is used like this, you often find that people you thought were absolutely pivotal to your business, are not actually offering any monetary value and vice versa.  


2 - Know what data you want before you even start looking at systems

The worst thing you can do is try and get too much data out of your system from day one…it’s the best way to set up for failure. It’s quite often the case that organisations think a CRM system will automatically fix all of their analytical and reporting problems with the click of the button, but it just simply doesn’t work like that…well, not instantly anyway. You know the old saying ‘it’s only as good as the data you put in’? Well, it has never been truer in this instance. 

If you introduce a CRM system and straight away want so much information that your employees physically don’t even know where to start, they are never going to maintain it and then you won’t get any useful data out of the system. You need to do it in stages. 

Start with the data that is going to have an immediate impact on your business and add real value. Make a list of everything you want, put it in priority order and tackle it bit by bit over a period of time. This will not only help you analyse your data and tweak it to be exactly the way you need it, but it will help your teams to adopt the system by not all of a sudden having to input mounds of data to give you the information you want. 


3 - Stop seeing sales and marketing as different things

This has to be the biggest change in mindset I come across. What is the job of a marketer? Demand generation. What is the job of a sales/BD? Demand generation. They should be working towards the same KPIs and be so interlinked that it’s basically one team. 

If you see the system as a platform to support the entire sales process from first engagement through to won business, then it will become much easier. Understanding what marketing and sales activity is actually generating revenue is one of the most valuable parts of any CRM system. To achieve this, the two teams need to work together towards the same goal – winning more business by knowing where it is coming from! 


4 - It has to come from the top

If your leadership team isn’t using it properly and every day, no one else will. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into an organisation and the CEO or a team leader is moaning that no one uses their expensive CRM system, but when asked if they do… “no, I don’t have time for that”. It’s quite simple really, if you portray the message that CRM is a drain on time, then that is exactly how people will see it. 

There are two ways to fix this:

  1. The system should not be wasting your time, it should actually make your life more efficient. If that’s not the case, you need to look carefully at how it is being used. 

  2. Think of CRM as its own internal marketing campaign, people aren’t going to buy in to it if they don’t understand the value of it. Sell it to them, incentivise them, help them to understand how it can help them. Let’s be honest, we all want to know ‘what’s in it for us’


5 - It’s a marathon, not a sprint

CRM implementations fail at a high rate, but failure is avoidable with the right approach. CRM is not a one-time project. It’s an ongoing journey that requires planning, strategy and commitment to be successful.  

It’s the same as anything new in your life, there is always that initial attraction, excitement even, at the prospect of this new and shiny thing adding something to your life. Unfortunately, as with all relationships, the lust fades and if what you are left with isn’t rock solid, eventually, you are going to break up. This is why it is so important not to rush a CRM project, take your time building the foundations, introducing it into the organisation with care, processes, procedures and incentives to ensure consistent and long-lasting adoption.

Always allocate budget to develop, enhance and improve the system so that it can grow with you as an organisation.