What Are the Top Challenges of Implementing a CRM System?

I personally feel that user adoption is one of the top challenges companies face when implementing a CRM. Do you agree? What do you think is the biggest challenge companies come across when implementing a CRM?


Martin Schneider (Vice President, Marketing, Basho Technologies)
Adoption is certainly a huge concern - but I think important challenges pop up even before you go live. (Of course, previews, training and a long ramp up will aid your adoption efforts.) Data migration and data quality are very big issues our customers face when starting fresh on our solution. Usually, they had a poor legacy system in place - so data quality is not great. Without solid mapping and a well thought out data model (one that is flexible so it accepts different data sources and types) - it can be difficult to really get a great stride out of the gate.
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14 Additional Answers
Len Green (Consultant/SI, TSI-Transforming Solutions Inc)
In addition to the points above: Far too many companies see CRM as a silver bullet for sales performance increase. The key issues I see are:
1. lack of clarity about how a CRM tool will improve the customer interaction process (including post sales interaction); also the mistaken belief that all CRM software is the same (some are good for SFA, others for field service, etc)
2. ill defined requirements (or just a wish list of steps) and an absence of understanding the business processes that should be implemented, including the interaction between the CRM and ERP based processes
3. failure to answer the WIIFM* question for all users of the system - sales staff, sales management, customer service, credit and collections *=what's in it for me?
Carlos Hidalgo (CEO, The Annuitas Group)

One of the biggest challenges we see in organizations is them struggling to get the overall value of the solution that was expected at time of purchase. Many companies buy CRM technology in hopes of gaining efficiency and effectiveness (improved close rates) and that promise never comes to fruition.

One of the biggest reasons we see for this is there is no pre-defined process in place for sales to use the technology to manage their customers and leads/prospects.

The more companies understand that technology is an enabler of process and not the solution to their problems, we will see increased adoption rates, higher ROI and an increase in customer satisfaction.

Carlos Hidalgo
The Annuitas Group
Mark Mondo (President, Mondo Media, Inc)
I have several thoughts here.

1) It's gotta be easy, easy easy for users. In other words, my CRM interfaces try to stay as simple as possible. Sales Reps, stereotypically, despise data entry tasks. They believe it distracts from sales, which can be true. Again the perception of 'easy to use' is key. It may be easy for an IT person to use, but if the sales rep does not adopt quickly, it's going to be a tough sell.

2) Management has to demand reports or some sort of output from it. In other words, if the goal of the CRM is to report on sales and service activity; then, the CRM has to be report generator also. I design my systems to data is easy to input first; then, reports can be made.

3) Or, if management uses this for outbound marketing and referral reports; then, make sure the sales reps input the data. Then, they are rewarded by acquiring more leads and getting more targeted lists for their marketing co-workers.

4) Find a stable platform. If users believe data will evaporate; then, it won't be adopted.

5) Training. Train the sales staff to show what's in it for them rather than IT or management. As one of my friends state, 'Sales people are coin-operated'. Show what's in it for them to make quota.

Mark R. Mondo
Josh Margolis (CRM, ERP & eCommerce Integration Specialist, CRM INSIGHTS)
[Gartner Research Director Chris Fletcher said in the July 2010 issue of Customer Relationship Management, p. 18, that] originally, CRM systems were “geared toward high-level managers and CIOs.” The result was these CRM systems didn’t “give salespeople something they wanted to use, something that makes their job more efficient so that they don’t mind spending the extra time imputing data. . . . [so] People were using probably 15 percent of the functionality in 80 percent of the implementations. ”]

1. Keeping it simple. I see much frustration with systems that are cumbersome and difficult to use.

2. Getting employee acceptance. Some things may be required, that's OK. E.g., the names of prospects have to be entered or they're up for grabs. What's important here is maintaining company control over leads and prospects if the user leaves. However, the users have to be involved in the early stages so they are committed to it.

3. Make sure you know exactly what functions are included in the system. Otherwise you'll find yourself being nickled and dimed for critical components.

4. Be realistic about the time it takes to implement. Some systems are easy and can be installed in a few days. Some take months. Talk to references to find out.

5. Don't pinch pennies on the discovery stage. Without a detailed scope and project schedule, the implementation will fail. Allow one third of the project schedule for discovery, design, scope, and testing. The actual implementation should take one third. The remaining third is training (see no. 7).

6. Know what constitutes success for each element of the design and implementation. The scope should be written so that each element is a testing point: the scope says a field will appear in the upper right of the main screen. If it is there, success. If not, fail. The scope says clicking a button will do something. Test it. The same holds true for data migration. What is coming over? Is there a conversion of some sort? How much time? How are you going to test that it succeeded?

7. Don't pinch pennies on training. Without proper training, the implementation will fail. Determine what is absolutely necessary to operate the system. This will be included in the initial training session(s). Some fancy things can wait. Insist that everyone scheduled for training shows up. No execuses or you don't get a logon and password. On the other hand, respect people's time. If training requires a full day, split it in two. Schedule the first half in the afternoon--people fall asleep after lunch, but will be excited about learning something new, so you'll have their attention. Schedule the second half the following morning. Now you get them when they are awake (hopefully) and they've had a chance to try the system and/or think about it, so they may have relevant questions. Knowing that they still have half a day to make phone calls, etc. takes the pressure off.

8. Make sure the implementer is available for the first week after going live, preferably on site. There are inevitably questions and adjustments.

9. Schedule review periods, perhaps 30, 60 and 90 days after going live.

10. Have fun.
Tom Metcalf (President, Telenotes CRM Inc.)
User adoption is a huge obstacle for many reasons, however one reason is that many companies use the wrong approach. It comes down to corporate culture.

Quick analogy, most sports teams invest large amounts of money in capturing their games on video. Do the athletes view this type of video taping as intrusive? Big brother? do they say, 'Mind your own business, I'll win the game? Nope, most professional athletes can't wait to get into the 'film room' to break down the last game and see how and where they can improve.

Your CRM needs to allow for the rep to have full view of their past activity and notes to prepare for future sales calls. Again, it's corporate culture...do the reps view their sales activity information as something that is being gathered to benefit them? Or is it simply big brother watching their every step waiting to pounce and reprimand?

Go into each sales meeting (Game film review session) with data from your CRM that will open doors for your reps and help them sell more of your product. Give them feedback to help close deals and they will give you more information in the future. Make sure the system you implement is easy to use and is mobile!
Barrett Powell (Technology Business Development Consultant, WBP Consulting, LLC)
1) Lack of user buy in
2) Lack of planning (objectives)
3) Lack of (sufficient) implementation resources (financial and human)

Solutions are being oversold and under-utilized for many reasons. Add to this the fact the target is moving...market forces and a changing economy have created a gap in CRM solutions vendors are marketing and CMR (Customer Managed Relationship) being driven by many factors, including demographics and Social Media.
James Allen (Service Center Manager)
My thoughts on this question mirror many other commenters so I'll summarize for brevity. The data in the CRM system must be considered by all in the enterprise as the only 'legitimate' customer information. In other words, the only actionnable customer information is that accessible through the CRM system. Information on individual users hard drives, spreadshets, cheat sheets etc. are no longer valid sources of customer information for business decision making. The purpose of the CRM is to promote the knowledge management principle of 'Known by one, known by all'. If something is important enough for a single person to record it, it must be important to others.

Management must reinforce this principle and reward those who create new customer knowledge within the CRM and address those who don't, from the outset.
Ellen DePasquale (Regional Development Director - NY Metro, Constant Contact)
I totally agree that user adoption is a top challenge.

As many of the other answers point out there are many top challenges such as design, goals, and training, but even with everything in place, if the system is not used, it is not successful.

User adoption starts before anything else. Many times CRM implementations are spearheaded by management or marketing. While that in itself is not an issue, making sure that the people who are actually going to be using the system are involved from the beginning is an issue.

It is much more than WIIFM (what's in it for me?). People work in different ways and a CRM system has to take as much of that into consideration as possible. All users should be heard from the start so they have a level ownership of the final product. When they see the feature of function that they requested they are going to be more apt to use it.

In my opinion, CRM also means Customization, Resistance, and Maintenance - which is the realty of a CRM implementation. Success equals a good fit for the needs of the business, overcoming opposition, and daily data maintenance.

In the end CRM systems are all about people, not just the people who are being tracked in the system, but also the people who using the system.
Mari Anne Vanella (CEO | Founder, The Vanella Group, Inc.)
Anything that is disruptive to the workflow and culture that's already ingrained is a challenge. However you can minimize the resistance by aligning with usage, benefits, consistency, and quality.

The higher the payoff for reps, the easier the adoption. Many times they view it as extra data entry that doesn't benefit them, and a CRM can be that if it's only used for historical reporting on clients and prospects.

It will ultimately boil down to consistency and usage that allows a CRM to perform to its capacity.

Some suggestions:
1) Identify how your team is consuming information today--keep lead delivery as consistent with that as possible.
2) Avoid creating multiple page data entry requirements that take time. Some of the best tech sales reps aren't the best CRM users, so keep it as simple as possible with the highest data capture.
3) Customize with pull-downs for consistency.
4) Have a documented process for usage and monitor it. It will be easier to train new people on this as an established process, the current team may have a challenge with the change. Monitoring adoption at all stages will give you visibility of small process breakdowns before they become big ones.
5) Customize it so it works FOR your team. CRM lets them throw a bigger net in prospecting, more effective lead follow up, and enables them to be in the right place at the right time. Have these benefits clearly defined and attainable for them.
6) Address data quality early. It may require manual steps to make sure data is clean, that it maps to the correct reporting fields, and data points are clearly represented with the foundational data you put into your CRM. Doing this with limited records now will present a much smaller requirement than addressing it 50,000 lead records later when it will be much more than data cleansing.
7) Long term planning around adding other platforms should also be taken into account. Are you planning on using marketing automation? Then make sure you are looking at automation-friendly platforms.

Investing in the process, customization, documentation, data quality, and long-term expectations will optimize your results every step of the way.
Kirk Alexander (President, CEO Teams, Inc.)
Planning, Commitment, and Consistency.
Colin Earl (CEO, EnterpiseWizard)
User adoption is certainly one of the top challenges, but it is not a root cause of failed CRM deployments. Rather it is a symptom that the CRM system does not meet the needs of the people who are actually using it.

If the CRM properly supports the users, rather than just their managers, they will embrace it with the same enthusiasm that they embrace any tool which reduces their workload.

The following white paper describes how you can ensure the success of IT Projects. One important method is to provide Early Demos - ideally before you commit to buying a particular system. Another is to make sure that the system can be adapted based upon user feedback. Full details are available at: http://www.focus.com/briefs/information-technology/how-ensure-success-it-projects/
Graham Holt (Vice President Product Marketing, Coffeebean Technology - Social CRM for Mid Size Companies)
Once you get into it there are many challenges that companies face when they implement a CRM. I think the underlying cause in many cases is the lack of definition of real business goals and figuring out what you need to do for the end user to achieve the goal.

Why are you investing in CRM and what are the tangible things you will get back as a business. It's interesting when you look at data source like CSO Insight that what most companies want is to increase sales but what they report they get is more efficiency in process, few report that they get what they expected.

I think you need to be sure on how you will reach the goal, if you want to sell more how will it happen, is it through better sales knowledge, is it through better product info, what can you give to the sales reps to help them. I believe that if you don't give the users the benefit then the adoption is always going to be very difficult to achieve.
Brent Mellow (CEO, akaCRM)
There are 4-5 items that make for a successful adoption, but the key for my company has always been the discovery and doing a quality business process review. If the consultant (or client itself) doesn't understand or have uniform agreement on the objectives, processes and outcomes, it will be a failed project or will be greatly challenged. More at http://www.akacrm.com/salesforce/implementation.html.
Michael Pettersson (CRM Business Analyst, Astra Tech)
If I am to pick one of many important aspects, it would be (top) mananagement sponsorship. Long term!!

A CRM implementation should be treated as vital part of the customer strategy and involves much more that just a system implementation. Although many vendors shows customer testamonials that shows immediate increases in closed opportunities etc, I feel that a CRM implementation doesn't show it's true value until after a couple of years, when there is enough information to draw some real conclusions.

Until then, there will be constant battles with different user groups and departments about the value of the system, so a long term strategy and excecutive sponsorship is absolutely vital.
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