All or nothing – Successful CRM implementation

Australia is a sport-loving country.  The range of sports to watch and play is almost endless.  I prefer to play sport than watch it.  The most intense sport I have played is squash.  Through lack of commitment, I have never been a good squash player.  The rare occasion I was able to win a game against a formidable opponent was when I played at the 150% level.  99% only ever resulted in a loss.  I found that winning at squash required a strategy, anticipation of key variables and 150% commitment.

The implementation of a CRM (Wikipedia definition in references below) can be viewed similarly.  Just going through the process without a clear strategy, anticipation of the use and purpose and less than 100% commitment will fail. Scott Edinger (2018) references that up to 90% of CRM projects fail.  That means, regardless of all the good intent and cost, you may not win with your CRM project.

Here is the key point: the best implementations of CRMs into (small, medium and large) businesses I have seen all had one thing in common: they all involved the sales leadership as principal stakeholders.

Your intent should be simple: set up a CRM with processes that help the sales team achieve targets and make the company money. 

The reality is much more difficult.  The key stakeholders across the business are typically strong “A” types, and quite often the loudest voice in the organisation will determine the direction.

However, after implementation and “go live” CRM use by all stakeholders cannot be optional.  The easiest way to achieve this is to have buy-in from the sales leaders from day one. Day one means an early planning stage.  It does not mean day one of implementation.

From my brief time of working in Fuji Xerox Japan’s Ebina factory with day-end kaizen sessions, I have W. Edwards Deming’s quality missive ringing in my ears.  If you do not adhere to this key success fact, trying to correct this after the project has run its course will be very expensive. It's not about “analysis paralysis” or “planning to the nth degree”.  But it is about having a clear strategy, the anticipation of key variables and 150% commitment.

Once the system and its configuration are agreed and implemented, it must become part of the day to day habits, processes and culture.  The data and the system become the “gold nugget” IP with real intrinsic value for the company. 

The successful implementation and the daily entry of quality, reliable data must be the only aspiration.

The bottom line: using the CRM as a blunt instrument does not work. It’s about culture.  What is your company culture?  If it is one of the silos and withholding information, then it’s unlikely a CRM project will succeed.  If it’s about teamwork and sharing information willingly, you have a great start.

Sales professionals the world over hate entering data into a CRM.  This is especially the case when it is data entry for data entry’s sake…or so the CFO can receive an exciting set of numbers at any time she wants.  However, if there is tangible evidence that the sales team will make money from the CRM, then the argument is won.

Of course, the CEO and her leadership team want access to clean, reliable and timely data and the chance to generate management reports that enable key decisions at the executive and board level. 

Here are some five steps to follow for a successful selection, planning and implementation of a CRM which will help your sales team’s success:

1.    Steering committee formation

Make sure the team is a manageable size (4~10).  Of course, the key stakeholders will be determined by the size of your business and the number of strong leaders you have.  Too many and decisions will be compromised.  Too few and key decisions will be biased.  There is no perfect answer, but it’s worth investment and consideration.

2.    Desired workflow and processes

This is the “off the shelf “and the bespoke discussion.  There will be an internal push for business as usual but try to steer the process towards industry best practice.  Bespoke can mean increased cost, and off the shelf can mean industry best practice and reduced cost.  Remember, the best CRMs are being developed on an ongoing basis with feedback form the whole industry, not just from your company.

3.    CRM Selection

There are many CRM systems in the market for every business sector.  Once you have a shortlist talk with peers and competitors.  Warning: the selection process may be heavily influenced by the CRM company sales executives.  However, the selection process needs to be controlled by the steering committee and take into consideration:

·         Workflow and functionality

·         Business requirements

·         Data migration capability form preexisting systems

 4.    Implementation

Many companies run parallel systems for a period, but the best is to switch over to the new system.  Go “cold turkey”.  This way, there is no option but to get up to speed and use the new system.  Make sure all the training and concerns are addressed before the “go live” date.  Think of it like a dragnet that brings all with it as the change process is implemented.

5.    Data integrity audit

As part of the implementation, be sure to have a data audit resource.  It's not necessarily a full-time role, but it is someone who checks:

·         everyone is logging into the system regularly

·         data is being entered accurately

·         red flags or outliers that need to be addressed

Now you should be set for your whole business to benefit from the gold that will reside in the CRM.  First, the sales and then the executive team.  It's about a clear strategy, anticipation of key variables and 150% commitment.


1.    Wikipedia CRM definition: CRM or Customer relationship management is an approach to manage a company's interaction with current and potential customers. It uses data analysis about customers' history with a company to improve business relationships with customers, specifically focusing on customer retention and ultimately driving sales growth.

2.    Why CRM Projects Fail and How to Make them more Successful – Scott Edinger - December 20, 2018