The 20 best tips for you to crash your CRM project. For sure.

These are the kind of excellent ways to wreck apart your CRM project. If we were really being honest about CRM initiatives performance, we may be wondering why some projects result in very strong benefits – growing profit or reduced operational costs -, while others produce disappointing outcomes, literally blowing up money into a black hole as in space science theory.

In 2000, when I got into CRM, I started to gather some of the best ways to cripple a CRM project. I kept doing it across the years.

In this paper, I summarized some important reasons I have seen over time why some CRM initiatives are successful and why others might fail

1. Selecting a CRM technology and start implementing before creating a strategy.

I met the CIO of one of a company in Consumer Goods some years ago. We are good friends. We talked about CRM. He told me he had started into selecting a CRM technology and was planning to start the implementation project, heading into CRM. I asked him “Have you drafted a customer strategy for the company and communicated across the organization?”. Basic question. In this case especially, it would appear that the firm had not thoroughly figured out where to go and had not communicated it at all. “Isn’t it putting the horses before the cart” I asked then, adding “The technology is only here to execute the strategy, not the opposite”. Wouldn’t you agree?

2. Not clearly defining goals for your CRM initiative

As I was discussing with my friend, the CIO, it appears that quite a good number of organizations start implementing a CRM solution without agreeing on common goals for it. According to Gartner, more than 60% of organizations still do not have a common vision on goals before starting. I put it bluntly: “A CRM project without goals will fail”. Goals provide the foundation, why we are doing it.

3. Not defining a long-term strategy

Many business leaders still believe CRM is a technology and look at it as the “magic trick” that will solve everything… until they become disillusioned. CRM is not a technology. It is a business change first, often supported by technology but not always First, defining a long-term strategy is critical. Second, this is the operating model, processes, people, and technology that must be aligned with the specific strategy of the company.

4. Not conducting a “what if” analysis and risk assessment

This is one of the first activity of creating a strategy. What will happen if we do not do anything? Will it be the Kodak syndrome?

5. Putting technology before people

I always recommend involving key business users from the very beginning of the project. From the scoping phase, throughout to the implementation and deployments. It seems to be common sense but is not always applied anyhow. When we do not do it, it for sure results in issues with business requirements, communication, acceptance, change, etc. Why try not to avoid them from the very beginning?

6. Your organizational culture is not aligned with customers

CRM is about customer centricity. It is not a technology topic as I said above. Implementing and deploying CRM in an organization that is not customer focused might prove being difficult. It is about corporate culture, and the way the operating model, processes, people, products, and technology are organized around the customer. Beginning with aligning the culture and the enablers around the customer might be a good idea.

7. Not taking an end-to-end approach

Many organizations are still organized in siloes. Customers look at a brand holistically. This is as simple as that. When we start a CRM initiative, I would always recommend an end-to-end approach around customer journeys, translating them into processes, epics, user stories, etc.

8. Lack of communication between IT and the business

A classic. It often results in a misunderstanding of requirements and expectations. Lack of communication fosters resistance to change from the business users, due to the fear of the unknown and the lack of understanding of the benefits for them. Failure becomes inevitable.

9. Limited investment in Change Management

I will never argue enough about the importance of designing a comprehensive change management strategy. I feel that we all agree on the idea. But in practice, it appears our understanding might differ. In some cases, it is limited to providing training. Period. Change Management is about making sure that end-users are fully prepared to respond positively to the change. My own experience shows that some risks increase if we do not have a clear plan: More effort required to achieve the goals, scope creeping, and a reduction in end-users’ satisfaction, motivation and commitment.

10. Not having a common (or incorrect) definition of a customer

I remember suddenly two cases when there was no alignment. The first one was to agree ion when a prospect becomes a customer. Several business units had their own view on the topic. The other case was about the distinction between a partner and a customer. Is a partner a customer or not? Those two examples show the importance of alignment across an organisation around common definitions and terminologies.

11. Not understanding actual customer needs

The wrong assumptions and misunderstanding on the actual customer needs are more common than we think. This may lure companies away from their markets and their customers and lead to the wrong focus for the CRM initiative. CRM best practices require companies to focus on things like the correlations between product purchases for cross/up selling and the predictions for the future.

12. Not having an enterprise-wide approach to customer interactions /customer interfaces

In some cases, organizations have implemented CRM in such a siloed way as to target customers with repeat messages by phone, fax, email or the like. This may jeopardize customers satisfaction and business in the long run. Key here may be for you to dentify the right customers (The one that want to form a relationship with you), then figure out how to contact them in the best with the right channel.

13. Incorrect project scoping

Poor project scoping, undefined project objectives, and unclear roles and responsibilities lead to the setting of unrealistic expectations and difficulties: Wasting money, decreasing satisfaction, and causing the expected project value to not be met.

14. No senior business sponsor and separate project manager

Top management support was a key requirement for implementing end-to-end process and system changes across the organisation, and for supporting the adoption of a new CRM system within the organization.

15. No KPIs defined for measuring program and change management success

The lack of KPIs clearly agreed and defined at the start makes more difficult to monitor the progress of a CRM project and evaluate its success. And this is true at various levels, from a management, program/project management, to change management.

16. Having a weak (or no) scope change process

Changes in requirements and scope in CRM projects are inevitable. We all face the possibility for scope creep in projects. The PMBOK® Guide describes scope creep as “Adding additional features or functions of a new product, requirements, or work that is not authorized (i.e., beyond the agreed-upon scope)”. Strong governance processes like a “scope change process” are required.

17. Having weak project tracking processes with limited alignment with business case (timeline, budget, etc.)

Here I am talking about the lack of regular checks to ensure the project is on track, time and budget-wise. Again, strong program / project management methodology is needed.

18. Solving CRM implementation issues with additional CRM technology or customization

Some companies try to implement a market-leading CRM platform at once. They think that the latest technology will instantly solve a decade’s operational issues, etc without first looking at the business and operational challenges. They spend millions in doing so.

19. Not focusing on data quality

Data quality is tremendously important. Data is the lifeblood of a CRM system and dirty data is an insidious hurdle. Inaccurate and old information, outdated contact information, or incorrect numbers will negatively impact the user satisfaction level. Ultimately the technology goes largely unutilized.

20. Under-estimating integration complexity

Integration is an evolutionary process. Most large-scale implementations require some integration to other systems like ERPs for instance. And most customers expect integration to happen like plugging and flipping a switch. It is more complex that we think it is. Under-estimating the integration often results in budget and timeline deviations.


In listing the 20 best tips to wreck a CRM project, I have not tried to design a generalizable model, but only suggested several key factors to take account when starting a CRM journey and moving into implementation. My point here is that if we pay enough attention to success factors and address the causes of high failure rate of CRM projects, organizations will have greater chance to achieve stronger benefits from their investments.

About the Author

Didier Dessens

CRM and Digital Experience Advisory

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