CRM systems are never good enough

There are always enhancements to be made to a CRM system. Any organization that is happy with what it has, needs to question itself.

Many business executives say they are not (or never) satisfied with their current CRM solution. They would like to have better reports, forecasts, greater flexibility in answering customer requests, higher orders rates, shorter delivery times, and a host of other wishes.

And I agree, they should never be satisfied with their CRM systems. Especially if they have had the same one for many years. They should take a hard look at it.

What does my personal experience of CRM implementations suggest in this context?

Perhaps, that there is a natural progression with CRM. Some kind of maturity to be achieved. And, clearly, this applies to every company.

First, I want to align with you on what I do include into a CRM system: A strategy, an operating model, some processes, smart people, and a bunch of technologies to support.

Second, I want say that the business environment is dynamic. It has always been lively. There are new challenges in the air, that impact each organization and their CRM functions, and that cannot be dismissed or overlooked by anyone. Continuously. This is very much like “continual reinvention” here.

Three thoughts raced through my mind.

Looking at the strategy level first, organizations are constantly under fire by the ever-changing nature of competitive markets, behaviours, technology, regulations, and the like. The competition is intense. Whether we seek to understand the trajectory of the business or to build a sustainable CRM capability, the organization must remain flexible enough while confronting these shifting challenges.

Another example is data quality. It is tremendously important. Data is the lifeblood of any 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 Inaccurate and old information, outdated contact information, or incorrect numbers will negatively impact the user satisfaction level.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 system will go largely unutilized and will quickly become obsolete. Data quality is a never-ending story, and not just during the implementation project.

But apart from strategy and data quality, one of the biggest challenges has been so far that most of the processes start to slowly deteriorate after a few years. And whatever the technology supporting them is. This often results in defective products, inadequate services, frustrated employees, and dissatisfied customers.

The cycle shows no sign of ending. As process efficiency decreases, new concerns arise.

Why is this happening?

It is instructive. Many of the processes that we are today struggling with to maintain and to improve, performed well at the beginning.

But a lack of focus, ownership, discipline, and other priorities that draw our attention elsewhere often led to operational inefficiencies in the long run. You know, things like lack of cooperation between business units, high level of copy pasting, switches between systems and other limitations.

And I have always been fascinated by the incredible creativity of the workforce to create workarounds to solve their daily problems.

Sometimes we can blame the technical platform itself which is aging and shows lack of flexibility and scalability to adjust to the business strategy.  

Each organization must find its own way of course, but I believe that these pain-points will affect most of them sooner or later, and probably it is already now. It might seem wise to take the time to look for deviations and limitations and correct them.

One simple way to address those challenges is to answer the question: “How do we actually make improvements, especially at the scale of a complex CRM system?”

I have identified three steps.

Many business users explain that many new improvement opportunities, business needs, and benefits emerge after go-live and continued use. This is the first clue.

I agree. A list of the expected benefits is always identified, planned ahead, and included in the business case of the initial project. This is one of the critical step to obtain funding and go decision.

But after go-live really comes the time to pursue additional benefits and realize the full potential of the investment.

Just as important as the actual project itself, the post go-live period brings windows of opportunities: When business users start using the functionalities made available and provide extremely important feedback.

Equally important, a second window of opportunities open very quickly after: SaaS vendors usually update their solution continuously, on a rolling basis, with new features and capabilities. This means for an organization to be able to understand and articulate how a specific new feature can or cannot help achieving its objective. This step often gets overlooked unfortunately.

While those are mostly small improvements, they may over time accumulate into changes that are critical to increase the operational efficiency and business performance.

As maturity grows, we may understand why something happens, but that does not tell us what to do about it. There are many possible paths forward. Even with consensus and a clear view of the future, acting on a complex CRM system is hard. It requires organisation, cooperation, precision and reaction.

Business executives have been trying many approaches.

Since the 2000’s, many organizations have been famously conducting re-engineering, continuous improvement, or quality programs. Extensively. All coupled with benchmarking practices. Suddenly everyone was lean, TQM or Six Sigma. Others were ISO-9001 certified. The objective was the same: Solving the problem of “process fatigue”. Interestingly, being able to measure customer satisfaction is one of the key dimensions common to all these approaches.

A decade after, the concepts of ideation and innovation became important. The world itself was becoming agile and innovative. Each and every organisation needed to be more innovative in order to stand out in the market and inspiration came from the GAFAM’s “spontaneous innovation” culture and from the startup world.

Whatever initiate the willingness to improve a system or a process, the first step is always the same: Generating ideas. Ideas about what is working well, what is broken, about the root causes, about the impacts. It has always been the backbone of any good continuous improvement program.

Large organisations frequently have the means to develop ideation initiatives, hackathons, contests, and other innovation labs. With some good success. On the small scale however. Sometimes their reliance on the traditional organisational structures limits the effect.

People produces massive amounts of ideas. They are very creative. But without context and some sense of direction, ideas are just noise. Ideas must be focused, organized, filtered, and decided. In fact, directed at the wrong pursuit, they may even become counter-productive


The first CRM platform is rarely the last. The latest CRM platform will not instantly solve a decade’s operational issues either.

But business executives are right to never be happy with what they have in place. It is healthy. There are always enhancements to be made at any point along the progression.

It is a radical, continuous business change.

The best performing organizations that thrive are typically those that continuously adapt their processes to stay ahead of the competition and focus on reducing siloes, process and system complexity.

This is not what we want?

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About the Author

Didier Dessens

CRM and Digital Experience Advisory