I’ve been involved (at the time of writing at least) in the CRM industry now north of twenty years, eleven of which have been spent as an independent CRM consultant. Over that time I’ve been involved in, or a spectator to, hundreds of CRM projects, involving a wide range of CRM technologies, across the full spectrum of commercial, government, and not for profit organisations.
As I talk to organisations, it’s apparent their approach to CRM is often shaped by a range of assumptions that seem entirely logical, except that the reality, based on my experience anyway, is very different. As basing your CRM approach on a false premise is likely to lead to problems, I thought there was merit in setting some of these out.
So here are eight common myths:
The main challenge is choosing the right CRM software – this might seem a little rich coming from an independent CRM consultant as a lot of what I do is help organisations identify the right CRM technology. And this is not to say selecting the right software isn’t important, it’s vital, but the problem is that there’s often a belief that once you’ve chosen the software everything else just slots into place. This simply isn’t true, as I’ll cover in some of the points below.
Software vendors understand how to apply CRM technology – in principle you would expect, having chosen your CRM technology, the vendor, or their partners, would be able to implement it in a way that benefited your business. My experience is that vendors may know a great deal about the technology they sell, but are often surprisingly wanting when it comes to the practicalities of implementing it in a way that adds value for the clients. I’m not completely clear why this should be the case, other than to note a vendor’s primary raison d’etre is generally to sell software, rather than generate value for their clients – though you might expect the two would go hand in hand more often than they seem to.
Software is the only cost – understanding how much a CRM project is going to cost so that it can be resourced properly is vital. Commonly organisations tend to see costs just in terms of the software itself, or software plus vendor implementation services. The reality is there can be a variety of other expenses such as IT infrastructure, third party software, project management, consultancy services, and internal costs. Perhaps reflecting the preceding point, vendors tend to articulate pricing in terms of the software and services they sell, rather than the full investment necessary for a successful outcome.
The quality of implementation partners is uniform – as a general rule, software tends to be implemented by a network of implementation partners, sometimes referred to as value added resellers, rather than the organisation that develops the software. The general assumption is that the quality and capability of these partners is generally high, but this is not what I’ve found over the years. Experienced, capable, resellers that offer fair value to their clients, are very much the exception rather than the rule.
Vendor recommendation is a good means to identify implementation partners – many organisations will look to the software vendor to provide recommendations as to which implementation partners they’re best to work with. In principle this sounds a logical approach, but I’ve found it a far from reliable means of identifying good partners, largely because vendor recommendations tend to reflect factors such as the partner’s pedigree in selling software (rather than implementing it), assigned territories, or as simple as whose turn it is to receive a sales lead. As an addendum to this point, rather mystifyingly, I note some of the worst CRM projects I’ve worked on have been with some of the CRM vendor’s most highly decorated partners. Go figure.
We’re going cloud, so we’re not going to get these problems – there is a perception, perhaps resulting from some of the hype that surrounded the advent of cloud-based solutions, that some or all of the implementation challenges that apply to traditional on-premise deployments, don’t apply when using software as a service. Nothing could be further from the truth. The choice of deployment – cloud or on premise – has little bearing on the complexity of successfully implementing CRM technology.
User adoption is just training – getting people to use CRM technology in a consistent way is fundamental to extracting value from it. However achieving this is often seen as simple as offering users training and letting them get on with it. Training on its own however, while necessary, is not sufficient. Successful user adoption is much more involved, requiring a raft of initiatives and associated resources. The practicalities are that as much effort and investment needs to be made in the user adoption phase as the initial implementation of the system.
CRM is a project – too often implementing CRM is seen as a tick box project – ok, we’ve done that, on to the next thing. However success with CRM relies on driving value out of the system over the long term, and this can be very challenging. CRM systems are fragile flowers. Changes of personnel, technology, and the underlying business need to be successfully accommodated otherwise the system can head into rapid decline.
While a lot of what I’ve highlighted here may seem counter-intuitive or in conflict with conventional wisdom – and in many cases I struggle to comprehend just why things are the way they are – it’s just what I’ve found over the years. I hope it helps.