I’ve been an independent CRM consultant for close to fifteen years and counting. Quite a lot of the work I do is in the early stages of a CRM project helping clients plan out what a CRM project looks like for them and what will be involved in implementing it. Over the years I’ve identified a number of red flags which would indicate a project is going to be more challenging than normal, and I thought it might be beneficial to share them:

Lack of senior level sponsorship – A project is unlikely to be successful unless there is enough senior level support for it. Getting the required investment and resourcing and overcoming the inevitable obstacles on the way is unlikely to happen without a powerful senior level sponsor, or ideally sponsors, to help drive things.

It’s owned by IT – CRM needs to be driven by the business, it can’t be driven by IT alone.

IT aren’t involved – Conversely CRM projects are unlikely to be successful without the IT team. Ironically one of the reasons that cloud-based software has sold so well was that it allowed the business to bypass the IT team, because they didn’t have to install software on the in-house servers. The problem is that ‘the business’ generally don’t have the experience to manage complex IT projects, which is why so many of these ended up in something of a mess.

There are powerful blockers – In some cases there are powerful people in the organisation, who, for whatever reason, simply don’t want a CRM system. I can recall one example where a huge amount to time was spent on planning and requirements gathering and looking at potential technologies, but the IT director had clearly decided there was going to be no CRM project on his watch, and despite what felt to everyone like a compelling case, he had the power to ensure the project never saw the light of day, and it never did.

There’s too much going on– CRM projects are demanding on people and resources and sometimes there’s just too much going on in the business. It might be a reorganisation, a new product launch, or perhaps an acquisition, but sometimes the timing is just wrong.

There are a lot of personnel changes – CRM projects need stability. High levels of staff turnover, particularly at a senior level can be hugely disruptive. On one project I was working on (which unsurprisingly acquired the sobriquet of ‘the CRM project of doom’) saw all eight members of the project team leave at some stage during the six month implementation. By some miracle the project was actually pretty successful in the end, but, it probably shouldn’t have been, and was certainly a heck of a lot more demanding than it needed to be.

Undue focus on technology – While there’s always going to be a technology element to a CRM project, there are other important considerations such as what are you going to use it for and how are you going to get people to use it. A big red flag for me are situations where clients are unduly captivated by the latest features and functionalities rather than the practicalities of if and how they could be applied.

Where they want it tomorrow – Unrealistic timeframes can be a real killer, but it’s not uncommon for target dates to be mandated that defy all rules of implementation physics.

Where there’s a lack of command and control – A managing director told me recently that he was never going to push his salespeople to use a CRM system because he was afraid they might leave. There are a lot of situations like this where the potential users have sufficient personal power to choose not to use the system. This isn’t necessarily unmanagemeable from a user adoption perspective, but it does add a considerable degree of extra complexity.

When the business case is weak – While this happens less often than you might suppose, sometimes the business case for the project is weak, perhaps, for example, if the existing systems in place are already strong, and the cost of replacing or integrating with them are disproportionately high. In these circumstances the project is unlikely to attract the resources or attention to progress it.

Where it’s supporting a peripheral process – I think CRM systems work best when they support the core operational processes that are at the centre of how people work on a day to day basis. I’ve found getting people to use a system to track things that aren’t a core part of their day job to be much more problematic.

The red flags above aren’t necessarily insurmountable but inject an additional layer of complexity into what may already be a complex project. What’s interesting (to me anyway) looking back at the list is how many relate to people and their behaviours, and perhaps is a timely reminder that while successful projects are based on a harmonious triangle of people, process, and technology, that it’s the people dimension that hardest to control.

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