By Jessica Vionas-Singer

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is a foundational piece of all sales efforts (and marketing too). I have been at different companies that used Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, HubSpot Sales, homegrown systems, and even (horror upon horrors) Excel spreadsheets. Although all systems have their pros and cons, not having a system at all is no longer an option.

There are two basic scenarios when you are talking about a CRM implementation: 

  1. You don’t have anything (other than spreadsheets) and are implementing a CRM for the first time at your organization.
  2. You are migrating from one CRM to another.

Both scenarios are fraught with peril and carry high stakes, especially when it comes to stakeholder expectations. “Failure is not an option” may be the saying, but failure may be just around the corner when you are implementing significant change for the sales department at your company. 

Assuming you have already chosen a CRM system that performs the functions your organization needs, there are two main reasons why CRM implementations fail. This is how your organization can avoid a similar fate.

1. You didn’t prepare adequately.

Some things are easy to change—the brand of pens at the office or whether you get a Pepsi machine in the hallway, for example. (Well, I suppose even those things can be hard, as I found out at a previous job during week one!)

Regardless, implementing a new CRM or changing your CRM system is not one of them. Significant time must go into planning and preparing for the change. Here are just a few things you’ll want to consider as a prerequisite:

Data Mapping

The underlying data in a CRM is what gives the system its value. The first consideration is the quality of your current data. If you are starting from scratch, you’ll want to ask your salespeople for the spreadsheets (or other form of data) they are using to track Deals so that you can get a handle on what the CRM will need to include.

If you have an existing CRM, you want to assess what shape the data is in. As the old saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” Migrating data that’s a mess won’t serve anyone any good.

These are just a few questions to ask when thinking about data and setting up a new CRM system, to get your creative juices flowing.

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New CRM

  • Beyond standard fields, such as first name, last name, email, company name, and so forth, what type of information is your salespeople currently tracking?
  • Can any of this information be standardized? For example, if salespeople are using a spreadsheet and typing in whatever industry makes sense to them, could you implement a predefined drop-down list of industries that the user could choose from?
  • Are there fields that some salespeople are tracking that others are not? Would those fields be a nice-to-have or a have-to-have?

Existing CRM

  • Which standard fields do your salespeople currently use for Companies, Contacts, and Deals/Opportunities?
  • How many custom fields do you have? What is the field type of each? What are the field options? Which object(s) are they tied to?
  • Are there fields no one is currently using that can be eliminated?

Both

  • What information would be nice to have when a person fills out a form on your website?
  • How are salespeople determining the priority of leads? How are they marking (or are they marking) propensity to close?

Defined Processes

If there’s no CRM, usually there aren’t many processes the salespeople have to follow. However, if you are moving from one CRM to another, it’s likely that there are at least a few processes and procedures in place, or perhaps many. 

Start by taking a full audit of the existing processes. Have your salespeople walk you through how they use the system on a day-by-day basis. Without understanding this, it is difficult to prepare for processes in a new system that will address their needs. 

For example, a client of mine used to create new Leads in the old CRM every time there was a new inquiry so that they could track the lead status from beginning to Deal. The new system only allowed one Contact record per person. Without realizing this discrepancy ahead of time, we would have been unprepared to address this issue and communicate the new process with the new system.

With your full audit in hand, determine what processes should (or can) stay the same and which need to change. For example, your Deal stages may be great just the way they are, but you may realize that you need salespeople to indicate industry on the Company level instead of the Contact level. 

Finally, get a detailed account of what management will need to see in terms of reporting. Is it deal by industry? Leaderboard by sales rep and goal? Time in each deal stage? These reporting requirements will have an impact on the processes your salespeople need to follow and how the data will be stored in the CRM.

SLA Between Marketing and Sales

A CRM system has many benefits, including salesperson efficiency, data tracking and management, reporting, and the ability to manage a pipeline if a salesperson quits or a new one is hired.

However, one of the additional benefits is the ability to pass contacts between marketing and sales (given a solid marketing automation solution). The idea of marketing bringing in leads and “tossing them over the wall” to sales is an old one, but is unfortunately still true in many of today’s workplaces.

To get the most out of your CRM, determine a service level agreement (SLA) between your marketing and sales departments. Typically these include the definition of lifecycle stages as well as marketing agreeing to a certain amount of leads and sales agreeing to follow up within a certain timeframe.

Defining how contacts enter the CRM system from marketing (as well as salespeople entering directly) is one final step in preparing for the implementation adequately ahead of time.

2. Salespeople are resistant to change (we all are).

It’s not really their fault. Honestly, nearly all of us are resistant to change. The difference with salespeople is that they have leverage—bringing your company money. For that reason alone, I have seen instances where salespeople hold a lot of the cards and get to call the shots when it comes to how things run in the department and what they are “allowed to get away with.” 

Here are three reasons why CRM implementations fail as it relates specifically to salespeople’s usage of the system.

Management didn’t unilaterally back it.

A new CRM system must be supported from the top down. If salespeople sense ambivalence towards the new system, they may continue to use the old one, banking on the fact that management may buckle and let them go back to the old way of doing things.

Securing buy-in from all levels is the key to bypassing this issue. Have management reinforce the importance and the benefits of the CRM publicly; this will encourage usage and an investment in the project’s success.

The new system is complicated and hard to use.

If a salesperson is used to tracking their deals in a spreadsheet, implementing a CRM may be complicated and frustrating for the users. Processes that were simple in one CRM system may take three or four clicks in another. These types of frustrations add up to salespeople relying on the old way of doing things or—worse yet, when it comes to productivity—doing everything twice, once in each CRM.

There are some CRM systems, such as HubSpot CRM, that keep ease-of-use as one of the top priorities for the platform. Ideally, a CRM should be easy enough for salespeople to pick up on their own while being robust enough to provide the level of reporting the C-suite requires. Live demonstrations of the system help display ease-of-use, but a small pilot may be a better option if you have a salesperson who’s game to try it out and provide feedback.

You didn’t support your salespeople enough.

Getting your salespeople up and running on a new system (or any CRM for that matter) can be challenging. But if they don’t use the system, your project will fail.

To support your salespeople, consider the following five steps:

  1. Prepare adequately for the change and spend time going over the details in advance. Make sure the salespeople will have all the data and custom fields in the CRM that they will need. (See section #1 above.)
  2. Communicate! Let salespeople know about each step along the way as you work toward implementing a CRM. Ask for feedback. Secure buy-in.
  3. Provide training sessions on how to use the CRM and common scenarios; record these sessions and store the videos in a central location.
  4. Document key processes with detail (and screenshots) for salespeople to reference, as needed.
  5. Create a mechanism for salespeople to ask CRM-related questions, such as a Google form or office hours.

A CRM system is used every day, usually all day, by your salespeople. It is integral to their work. A good CRM will make salespeople more efficient, leading to better close rates and shorter time-to-close. Make sure your CRM implementation isn’t doomed to fail by preparing thoroughly and addressing natural resistance to change from the onset.

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Jessica Vionas-Singer

About the author

Jessica Vionas-Singer is an Inbound Marketing Director at SmartBug Media where she leads the strategy behind inbound and content marketing activities to help a portfolio of clients exceed their sales and marketing goals. She fell in love with marketing at her first job at a technology company specializing in credit evaluation software. Prior to joining SmartBug, Jessica was the Director of Marketing at a B2B company that built software for analyzing genetics. Her background includes nearly 20 years of marketing experience in content creation and lead-driving tactics, online presence and blog creation, social media engagement, budgeting and project plans, webinar and trade show event management, public relations, comprehensive promotional campaigns, and analytics. Jessica has a BS in Sociology from Montana State University – Bozeman. Read more articles by Jessica Vionas-Singer.

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