Use these steps to avoid CRM implementation failure

A strong Client Relationship Management program (CRM) can be a major asset for your organization’s revenue generation engine. But… effective CRM implementation is OFTEN TRICKY and more often than not, it fails. Time and money is lost and frustration and blame leads to misery.

There is a right and wrong way to implement CRM. Very smart people have fallen victim to the wrong way. I am going to share with you the right way. You will be successful if you follow my process exactly.  No shortcuts.

At an ACEC National Conference in Colorado Springs, as a member of a CRM Implementation Panel, I delivered this solution.

Cart Before the Horse

The most prolific reason that CRM fails is because it is implemented when there is not a single established and working sales process. It is critical to recognize that CRM is wrapped around your sales process. It is a software tool that supports people to implement a sales process.


Take a look at the Classic Sales Funnel graphic (right). Note that sales is a  multiple stage process. CRM’s are built to manage all of them. Are you thinking and managing sales with these or similar stages?

Note the Selling Conversion Rate chart below. Are you tracking sales effectiveness this way? Hardly any professional services firms do, but they should. If you do, your sales will be more efficient and more predictable.

The Funnel and Conversion Rate charts clearly show that proposal win rates are an incomplete view of sales. Each of the stages shown has its own Go/No-Go and required skill set to execute. A sale starts from a Lead that is identified out of the Universe of client entities. It then progresses to the Relationship stage, then uncovering Opportunities and finally to closing the sale.  Learn these first, then implement a CRM.

sales-conversion-chartIf you do not have a single in-force sales process in your firm, you are not ready for CRM. The CRM is not justified to just have a central place to store contacts. It is not just a central place to log opportunities either. That is a “make work” approach that will surely fail. Either use it to manage sales, or don’t use it at all.

Don’t despair if you don’t have a single sales process in which all revenue responsible staff have been trained and are making part of their daily behavior. If this is you, then first apply the process I  describe to establishing a single sales process.

This approach works because my method applies to every strategy idea. So, just fill-in the words “Sales Process” into this article where it says “CRM” and get to work on your Sales Process.

You Must Have Sincere Buy-in From the Start

In a nutshell, you need to show others what they’ll personally gain from the CRM system.
All of your communications, such as your company goals, need to be expressed in terms of personal, not corporate benefits. Syncing with personal goals paves the way, whereas conflicting with them is cause-of-death for new programs.

Be aware that in a public forum, it is easy to think you have buy-in. People around the conference table know what they SHOULD say. You need to know what they really think.

Securing sincere buy-in is the single most important element of success of any corporate initiative. So spend the right amount of time to identify and overcome resistance before a single dollar is spent on the software.

This is the first step in the People element of your firm. And there are four elements which must be addressed in sequence.

Organizational Element Change Sequence Crucial to CRM Implementation Success

The four elements described below are fundamental business law when it comes to implementing strategy. People, Process, Structure and Tools must be addressed in the order they appear below.

PEOPLE:  People will refuse to use the CRM—unless they’re PERSONALLY interested to see it succeed. Frequently a problem occurs when there’s intense attention on being billable. If you force the sales process and CRM upon them, they’ll find a way to work around them. The unintended consequences of this are diminished client relationships and sales.

However, if the priority is sales AND people are influenced to be truly excited about sales, then they will seek out training, processes, and tools to achieve more sales. Because their core career purpose is to work on projects (which means be billable), they will seek to save time and simplify the process. A clear sales process and CRM will do this for them.

PROCESS:  People will likely think CRM is a time waster that conflicts with their priorities if the CRM doesn’t seem to support their individual processes. It’s also going to be a big mess if everybody does their own thing, their own way. Especially when they start recording CRM activities into a system made for a standardized sales process.

Therefore, it’s crucial to develop a uniform and systematic sales process so that everybody is on the same page and speaks the same sales language.

STRUCTURE:  CRM can easily become another low quality, chaotic stockpile of customer notes. Therefore, it’s vital to decide how information will be recorded and reported, and who’s going to be responsible for managing the CRM and provide QA/QC oversight.   

CRMs come with data entry forms and reports out of the box. Resist the idea of tailoring it too much. Is your tweak deviating from your sales process? Who is responsible for what, who does the training and who must be consulted before changes are made? Who is managing the sales process? Is it distributed?  

TOOLS:  Don’t just run out and buy any CRM. Make sure you choose the system that best suits your organizational needs. Will this only be used to track sales? Do you want a fully integrated system that includes individual emails, email campaigns, people and “internet of things” research data and mobile device applications?

Look beyond what your competitors are doing. Much of the digital marketing and sales world has advanced far beyond professional services firms’ practices. Seek out and analyze firms that lead in the marketing and sales world.

Should you be a leader and adopt those processes and tools as well?

If you have any questions or if you’re having sales, CRM or strategy implementation challenges now, shoot me a quick email at Provide a description of your challenge and I’ll help you overcome it. There is no charge for our first consultation.  It may also be a good topic for a blog post, so just send it over.