In October last year I passed the ten year milestone as an independent CRM consultant, and at some point in 2015, all being well, I’ll pass the twenty year mark of working in the CRM industry.
I mention this because back in the early days tales of CRM project failures abounded. Perhaps this reflected the relative inflexibility of the technology at that time, or the inexperience of the implementers.
In more recent times there’s considerably less talk of ‘failure’, but that doesn’t mean all is well. It seems to me there’s a significant, but largely unarticulated issue of ‘zombie’ CRM.
Zombie systems, are those that while technically operative, contribute little or nothing to the organisations that implemented them. They may be used, but not in a sufficiently consistent or structured way as to add value.
Here are some of the common reasons that systems become zombified (and what to do about them):
Unclear objectives and supporting processes – CRM technology can be used in a lot of different ways to achieve a lot of different objectives. Too often these objectives and how the system will be used to achieve them aren’t clearly defined. As a result the system achieves very little.
Solution – take the time to identify up front what the business objectives are and define in detail how the supporting processes will work in the system
Friction with the implementation partner – friction between the CRM buyer and the implementation partner is surprisingly common. While this rarely results in a full breakdown during the implementation phase, it often manifests itself in a reluctance to engage with the implementer once the system goes live, which means the system doesn’t get vital the support it needs.
Solution – take your time and take great care in selecting implementation partners. Look for a company that you can work with for the long term
User adoption – no matter how good the system you develop, if the users don’t use it as was intended it won’t produce results.
Solution – place as much, if not more, emphasis and resourcing on the user adoption stage of a project as the pre-live stage. Too many organisations go live and use the opportunity to rest. Live is when the work really starts.
Lack of management support – too many senior managers distance themselves from the CRM system. They often don’t use, or perhaps really understand the system, and are the last to know they may have a zombie on their hands.
Solution – the management team need to be users of the system or at the very least the outputs from the system. They need to understand the central role that technology can play, and resource it accordingly.
Not managing for the long term – once a system is live and the user adoption is in place, there’s a raft of maintenance activities that need to implemented. Neglect these and a system can rapidly become obsolete.
Solution – pay careful attention to areas such as maintaining data quality, on-boarding new users, checking usage patterns, and adapting the system to meet changing needs. Ensure there’s ongoing investment in the system and people to support it.
The zombification of CRM systems might not be talked about much, but it’s a real and present danger. The five points highlighted above are just some of the potential causes, but they’re not the only ones. The key thing is that would-be implementers of CRM technology need to be aware that just because we’re no longer talking about CRM failure, doesn’t remove the need for caution. There are some things worse than failing, and zombies are rather more common-place than people realise.