By John Cheney, CEO, Workbooks

It is a truth universally acknowledged that your first CRM deployment is more likely to fail than succeed — 63% of CRM initiatives fail according to a 2013 survey by Merkle Group Inc . Just like your first love, despite the hopes, excitement and expectation, a mixture of naivety and youthful exuberance means the first foray into CRM is unlikely to stand the test of time.

But that is no reason to turn your back on CRM for life; learning from the good and bad aspects of that first experience is the key to getting it right next time.

Happy Ever After

It is sad but true that just a tiny percentage of first loves lead to happy ever after. As we have discovered over the past two decades, the same is true of the first CRM deployment. While organisations begin with high hopes and excitement about improving sales and marketing activity and driving measurable financial benefit, a slow realisation dawns that the reality is less compelling than initially expected.

So what goes wrong?

Good Reasoning

First time around it is easy to get caught up in the moment — and too much time and energy is spent on the wrong things. With a CRM deployment it is very easy to lose focus on the real objectives. Why is the business investing in CRM? To increase revenue; to cut costs — or both? Sadly in the excitement around new tools such as mobile and cloud based access to information for sales staff out on the road and integration with social media, it is far too easy to forget this underpinning goal.

As a result, six to nine months down the line and the £30,000 investment is yet to deliver any real benefits — and the sheen has begun to fade. It is essential to continually reassess, focus and retain perspective on the fundamental requirements.

Wrong Partner

It is, of course, obvious that no relationship will succeed if there is a mismatch. From a CRM perspective, there are many potential traps and pitfalls to avoid: the right partner can ensure the right approach to the project and reduce the impact of issues on the business. For example, it is tempting to use the chance to automate and streamline processes to reduce administrative overhead — but does this actually improve the client relationship, enhance lead generation or drive up conversion? Does it cut costs and deliver benefits across the board — or is the result a small improvement in the day to day activity of just one or two individuals? Any changes that do not deliver either additional revenue or cost reduction should probably not be considered — and certainly should not be prioritised.

Avoid Distractions

There is no doubt that CRM has become inherently far more usable in recent years. From the availability of cloud based solutions that provide anywhere anytime access to information, to the ability to use mobile devices to immediately update customer information after a sales call, the process of managing customer relationships is faster and slicker than before. But these features can also be a distraction from core objectives.

For a company with 1,000 customers but no idea what each purchased last year or what they are likely to buy next year, the ability to talk to them via Twitter is completely irrelevant. The only way to minimise the risk of being led astray by seductive yet unnecessary new technologies is to be very specific. Set cross-selling and up-selling targets for example, and focus on using CRM to improve understanding about existing clients and what they have bought to improve the relevance of cross and up-sell offers.

Take Responsibility

Like any relationship, success depends on people taking responsibility. And just as no-one can take a part-time approach to a relationship and expect it to succeed, a CRM project is far more likely to be successful if it is the sole responsibility of an individual — making it a part-time role results in CRM competing against other projects.

Done well, CRM can transform the way the business operates, from client interaction to sales and marketing activity. Effective change management is therefore essential. Dedicating an individual to overseeing this change, in conjunction with the right partner, makes a massive difference to project outcomes, easing the process of operational change and reinforcing the message regarding expected CRM outcomes.

Learn from the Past

No relationship is perfect and it takes work, commitment and dedication to get the best from both sides. While there is a perception that CRM has been around for some considerable time and is not that difficult to implement, the reality is that first time failure is a high probability, but is at worst a huge learning opportunity.

There are always some aspects of the first implementation that lead to good outcomes. Success second time around is about taking the positives from that first experience and being objective about the negatives - and that includes recognising the role the business played in the outcome.


Much of this advice is common sense — but when the rose-tinted glass effect wears off it is tempting to over-react and assume the worse. Retaining focus on the objectives, the reason for the original CRM investment and gaining advice as to how best to achieve that goal is imperative.

However, not all relationships or CRM solutions can be saved! It may be a wrench to walk away from that first CRM solution but the business has changed and grown. Just like your first love, the first system you buy may not stand the test of time. And there are plenty of other solutions to fall in love with — and like an older, more experienced lover just learn from your mistakes and make sure it works second time around.