I was asked to review a CRM system a few years ago. The client suspected that there was a user adoption issue. Which indeed proved to be the case. The system was, in principle at least, used to support sales forecasting, but usage was pretty mixed.

Some areas of the business used it religiously, others not so much, or not at all. Those that used it, used it in different ways. Individual users, teams, offices, and countries tended to update different fields and it was clear that the same field might have a different meaning to each user.

What was also concerning was what the system was being used to forecast. Some users recorded every sales opportunities, small or large. Some only tracked the big ones, some only tracked those for new customers and excluded those for the existing ones, others only tracked certain product sets.

The data clearly wasn’t always being updated. Opportunities that it would appear had been long since won or lost were still open in the system, and there were a huge number of records well past their estimated close dates.

On the surface it appeared as if user adoption was the core problem, but it wasn’t. There was a much bigger issue. Despite some digging I couldn’t find an end consumer of the data.

Forecasting had been positioned as a core process, but, speaking to those that might want that sort of information, it was clear that the CRM system wasn’t going to help them. Firstly, because of the data quality, and secondly, and perhaps more alarmingly, because the system didn’t track that data they would actually need for that purpose anyway.

Which raised the question, if the opportunity data wasn’t being used for forecasting, what was it being used for? On this I drew a blank. Staff had changed over the years, and we weren’t able to locate any documentation to help. Perhaps there had been a clear objective when the system was first implemented. Perhaps there hadn’t.

Either way, what was clear was that a lot of people were spending a lot of time updating a system for no clear reason.

This might appear an extreme case, but it’s surprisingly common, and I could trot out numerous examples from my years of system audit work of users slavishly updating systems for no, or some long forgotten reason.

The reason for telling the story, is to illustrate the importance of clarity of purpose. What are you trying to use a CRM system for?

To be successful this needs to be compelling. You have to be improving something that matters, or there really isn’t any point in doing it in the first place. What that something is will vary from organisation to organisation.

For some this might be to help support a sales methodology that drives better lead conversion, for others it could be to improve the customer experience, to track leads better, to improve direct marketing, to help increase the life time value of a customer, or to improve productivity.

It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you have a) absolute clarity of what that improvement looks like b) that the yield from achieving this improvement substantially outweighs the cost and pain involved in implementing and running the system c) it excites the hell out of the management team that have to sanction, pay for, and support the project, and d) you can – and do – measure it so that you prove the improvement is happening, or if it isn’t, take the necessary action to ensure it is.

I dare say what I’m writing here isn’t rocket science, but in the main I think many buyers of CRM technology have a somewhat hazy notion of what they’re looking to achieve, and rarely implement any metrics to validate that they are getting any sort of a return on their investment.

I also think less is generally more in this respect. It’s often a good strategy to pick one or two exciting improvement areas, focus on them like crazy, prove that improvement has been achieved, and extend the system from there, than try and do all things for all people.

The reason for this is that, as I’ve covered many times in this blog before, unless users are already heavily systematised, it can be surprisingly difficult to get users to adopt new technology. The resources required to achieve consistent usage patterns can easily get stretched if you’re trying to do too much too soon. It’s much better to focus them on achieving quick early wins and extend out from that initial beachhead.

If you are looking to implement a CRM system, just check for a moment that you’re clear on what improvements you’re seeking, and, as importantly how you will monitor them. If you’re not sure, it’s best to pause until you are. If you already using a system and are unable to identify the benefits it’s producing, it’s probably a good time to carefully review where you’ve reached. You wouldn’t be the first to find they’re spending a huge amount of time updating a system for no reason.

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4 thoughts on “Why absolute clarity of purpose is so important in implementing CRM systems”

    1. I always ask a potentail client
      “Why do you want a CRM”
      And if they answer with some vague idea like ‘a 360 degree view of our customers’ the I ask
      “And how is that going to help your business?”

      I’ve maybe lost some business that way, but I’ve not got the failures either

      Great article!

  1. This is a great post. This line resonated with me:

    “Either way, what was clear was that a lot of people were spending a lot of time updating a system for no clear reason.”

    It reminds me of a scene from ‘Lost In America’. A couple sells everything to ‘find themselves’ in an RV, However, on their first night in Vegas, the wife wakes up and loses everything gambling.

    Broke, they start over. He becomes a crossing guard and she gets a job in fast food.
    The husband meets the wife’s new boss, a young lad named ‘Skip’ who begins bragging on the wife. The line from the movie I relate to the line from your post is when Skip says, “We got this new fry machine and, the funny thing is, we don’t know how to use it…but…we use it anyway.”

    Too often I have seen companies using CRM as ‘best they can’ with, as you so clearly indicate, “…users slavishly updating systems for no, or some long forgotten reason.”

    Much like a new fry machine they don’t know how to use…but use it anyway.

  2. So True!
    To some, CRM is a dirty acronym simply becasue so many users have experienced a flawed system. The problem then is to convince the organisation and users that it can be useful to them but will require effort.
    Once the belief is lost, it’s difficult to get it back.

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