Jun 10, 2012

Implementing CRM Should Be Easy, Eh!

Thought that I would let my Canadian heritage show this morning!  I recently participated in an interesting Focus.com Discussion initiated by Kerri Groves, a Brit from Vancouver now living in UK!   

The following summarizes the discussion and my contribution including some additional post-discussion thoughts.  Kerri started this Discussion with a question along the lines of “CRM has been around for quite a while and maybe has not produced the expected (or hyped) business impact.  Yet many still believe that a successful implementation is just as easy as downloading an app to your phone or pad.  No one views an ERP implementation this way!  So what’s up?”

I have participated in both CRM and ERP implementations – so I have seen both sides now!   It seems to me that part of the answer lays in the starting point for each, in evolution of the technologies, expectations for the outcomes for the resulting implementations, and business priorities.  This sounds like Stages of IT Maturity (i.e., CMM)!  A quick walk thru history might help put things into a context.

The mainstream ERPs (e.g., Oracle, SAP) that have been around for a while started way back in the days of mainframes with all that JCL stuff that was not user friendly!  In fact these were big complex systems that required specialized IT skills just to install the vendor software.  That was acceptable as IT had all the skills necessary, and it was seen as an IT responsibility.  The vendor software was developed with the assumption that these required skills would not be a limiting factor in the success of their ERP solution.  Further, the top business priority was to get the operational part of the business done, accounted for, and reporting on correctly and timely!  The expectation was that the data when reported was correct; after all the company used this data to take action, in annual reports, filings, executive compensation, etc.   Time moves on, this stuff is pretty mature by now; people have realistic expectations about what is required to implement a successful business system.

The sales guys were historically pretty much left on their own to manage their sales opportunity tracking.  In the early days most nascent CRM software solutions could only survive in a world where sales users could manage its implementation (the IT guys were busy working on the latest ERP upgrade!).   As a result CRM solutions developed on user accessible platforms; laptops initially then later “in the cloud”.  In order to survive the whole implementation of the technical CRM solution had to be very easy, quick, and not require a lot of technical support!  And in fact today a simple “stand alone” cloud solution for tracking accounts, contacts, leads, sales opportunities can be turned on in a couple of weeks, by non-IT people!   Expectations for the data played a big role.  Most organizations historically and perhaps even today see this as “data for the sales guys”.  It never leaves their department; the company does not formally report this data beyond its internal use, and so forth.  So most sales managers took the view that “close is good enough” because in their view “It’s a lot better than those spreadsheets we had before!”  Early implementation success was never broadly reviewed within the company; maybe not even within the sales organization.  However, the CRM side is maturing as well.

The past few years have seen many developments and changes in the CRM space and the satellite solutions around it.  In fact it could be said at a highly accelerated pace of advancement!  Vendors have been pushing the functionality of their solutions with a significant focus on links and integrations to other business systems (e.g., ERPs), internal and external sites, and services.  Sales management’s expectation for what can be done has been increased (mostly by vendor push).  The very competitive business marketplace of the past several years has raised the business priority on improving sales results.  The nature of CRM is changing as well.  I recently sat in on a webcast by InformationWeek and IBM on “Becoming a Social Business".  What Ted Schadler of Forrester Research described looks like the next wave in CRM evolution – Social CRM!  Big implications!  As result CRM implementations have now become bigger, more complex (i.e., more money), more disruptive to normal sales and other business operations, and with links into other business systems (back-end, front-end, you name it!).  Maybe starting to take on that “ERP implementation look”!  Hence people are asking a good question “Did we get the value that we set out to achieve?”  And… maybe the answers are not so rosy!  At this point you could say that the industry is in or approaching the Disillusionment Stage of IT Maturity for CRM implementation!  If not now then soon as the “laws of IT Maturity” hold that all must go through these Stages.

So how can an organization minimize the impact and time spent in this Stage?  This is where, as David Brock pointed out, organizations need to shift their focus to Change Management.  It’s not about the technology!  It’s about identifying, understanding, and successfully implementing the business change that will drive the business results sales management seeks.  The focus should be on assisting sale management to enhance the maturity of their thinking about and involvement in not only the functional aspects but the business change aspects of CRM implementation.  Change Management is an organizational skill and capability, not something invested in a few people.  It is an organizational capability that must be developed internally, over time; it cannot be acquired through service-for-hire people (although they can coach you).  It is also has a maturity growth curve so there are implications about how much change can be successfully achieved depending upon the organization’s current level of Change maturity.  To succeed the scope of a CRM implementation must be broadened from “Is the system installed and turned on?” to “Has the new behavior that we envisioned as result of new system been adopted and become the norm, and are we getting the expected business results?  If not, why not!”  As the capabilities of an organization mature the disciplines of Project Management and Change Management merge into a single project plan, let’s call it a program.  So going forward in addition to the usual questions about objectives, functionality and funding, sales leaders anticipating a CRM implementation (or major upgrade/enhancement) should ask themselves the following “What changes in the way we sell and what resulting changes in the behavior of my sales teams, and myself, will be required to achieve my goal?  Based on our organization’s ability to adopt business change how much can we reasonably expect to introduce successfully?  What do I have to do to ensure my sales people and others adopt the changes?  How will I track progress in this change?  How long will it take for the new behavior to become the norm?  What is my role and that of my sales managers in making this happen?  How much of my personal time should I be engaged in this?”  Steps need to be included in the overall project/program plan to make sure that these questions are addressed and appropriate actions taken to ensure the expected business goals of the program are realistic, achievable, and achieved.

This Discussion started with the expressed frustration that people see a CRM implementation as easy as downloading an app to their phones.  The consensus seems to be that installing the application is relatively straightforward, technical in nature, accomplished by in-house staff and/or service-for-hire people.  The major challenge for the overall CRM program is getting the organization to successfully adopt the required change in business process to yield the envisioned business results.  The bottom-line: if you are a sales executive anticipating the implementation of a new CRM then you must carefully assess your organization’s ability to adopt change, be very pragmatic about what change you introduce, and doggedly nurture its progress to a successful outcome!

Along the way in this Discussion there were two interesting and related Sidebars that came up.  These have an impact on a successful CRM implementation and must be considered.

  • First one reminded everyone that CRM is really about Relationship Management, and that people need to think beyond the initial simple motivation for CRM of tracking sales opportunities, leads, or contacts.  In the broader context mainstream CRM systems capabilities are intended for a go much beyond these few single things.  They provide the capability to manage the relations between these and many other items including accounts, products, competitors, participants in sales pursuits; they support relationships over the entire lifecycle of business relationship with a client from sales to after sales service and support.  They become true corporate data repositories relied upon by others beyond Sales.  As Kerri eloquently defined “single elements converging within strategically positioned multiple dimensions”. 
  • The second dealt with the preponderance of electronic communications routed through email and the obstacle that this poses to the advancement of CRM success.  Essentially if all electronic communications is routed through email (primarily a point-to-point media) the richness of the messages may never be associated with the appropriate objects within the CRM and hence may not be available to all participants who need to know, now and at some later date.  Email has a long history of use and is the de facto “norm” for electronic communications.  However, email has its limitations!  It is not always inclusive (i.e., key people left out), typically does not include the history, and was not stored with the Lead, Opportunity or Account records making it hard for remotely located team members to stay current.  In my experience a sales pursuit runs on information.  The sales person starts with little information and works toward developing more, a lot more.  Maybe a deal is won when you have perfect information!  Consider the following scenario.  Today’s selling of complex solutions involves virtual teams with several members often remote from each other.  A pursuit (to win) may take several months to execute.  The same participants often participate in other parallel virtual teams with different participants.   To get to “perfect information” it is incumbent upon all participants in a pursuit to contribute information and to follow and use what others have contributed to advance the sale.  (BTW: the sales business process should define what information should be available at what stage in the pursuit, along with some management rules about what to do or not do if the information is not available).   It is usually incumbent upon the sales person to take the lead in ensuring that this communication about information pertinent to the pursuit is taking place.  The sales person, and other participants, all have high demands upon their time.  They wish to communicate quickly and efficiently.  To do so they turn to the most ubiquitous means available – their old friend email sent from their phone or pad just after leaving the client office!  So in this scenario part of the constraint to CRM adoption was the expectation that all participants would communicate through the CRM which was perceived by Sales as more time consuming and perhaps less timely way of communicating.  This had less to do with change management and more about a short term deficiency in the technical solutions available.  Time is money to sales people!  The last time I tried this level of integration with ubiquitous email and CRM solutions the result was pretty clunky and largely rejected by participants.  When this perception is overcome one less impediment to CRM success will be removed.  As Ted Schadler said in the recent webinar, and I paraphrase, “People adopt when new is significantly better than old!”


  1. Dean, Brilliant! In 18 years in the CRM Software Implementation business I have never read a piece as well done as this. And it has nothing to do with the fact I am mentioned, although I am happy to see I got you so inspired to take the Focus discussion to another level. :) Thank you for contributing this fine work of art to the universe of CRM evolution!! All the best, Kerri Groves

  2. Dean: What a thoughtful post! I'm flattered to have been referenced.

    I tend to think we make the implementation of these systems much more complex than they need be--not meaning to trivialize the technical issues. I think we pay too little attention to why we are implementing, what we expect to achieve, what's in it for the users (sales people), how does it make their jobs better, etc.

    So often, I see technical successes in the implemantation, but terrible business failures because we've failed to look at the user perspectives.