Conspiracy of Culture: 5 Contributors to CRM Failure

Most companies of any size have a CRM application. Every company says it wants to build great relationships with its customers. Almost as many businesses say they want to be “customer-centric.” However, as any customer can tell you, the companies that attain these goals are few and far between.

What is it that’s keeping businesses from doing what they know they need to do?

It’s not one thing; if it were, that problem would have been identified and eradicated long ago. Instead, it’s a lot of little things — often baked into the corporate culture — that conspire to wreck your CRM aspirations even as you believe you’re working toward customer relationship success.

Here are five areas where CRM starts to unravel. These aren’t the only areas that present perils, but they account for a major share of unrealized objectives and unfulfilled investments.

1. Organizational Silos

We often talk about technology silos, and these are a genuine problem. Yet CRM is often undone by organizational silos. Decisions made by humans are far more limiting to CRM success than issues with integration.

All too often, internal organizations fail to understand how data they’re collecting can assist other parts of the organization — for example, service fails to tell sales about support issues, so upselling efforts fall completely flat as sales people call customers who are actively angry at the company.

Another great example comes when marketing launches an effort that succeeds spectacularly, but sales and operations are blindsided by its success and overwhelmed by leads or demand.

2. Competing Interests

Another CRM hazard comes when one part of the organization sees CRM (or any customer-facing system) as its property. A classic way this plays out is in marketing organizations that are under the gun and have an adversarial relationship with sales.

Instead of sharing marketing data, they send over only data about hot leads. Meanwhile, other marketing data that could help sales sits just out of reach. Sales people may be prospecting as well, duplicating contacts. This data may help marketing look like it’s doing better — but that comes at the expense of the entire business.

3. Dead-End Processes

CRM data works when it’s put to work, but you’re probably aware of instances when data (CRM or otherwise) has been collected, ordered, put into a report and delivered to the key stakeholders — only to sit unread until the next edition of the same report comes out, when it’s unceremoniously dumped into the recycling bin.

The question you need to ask is why are you collecting and analyzing data. There’s a reason for you to have sales people and marketers collecting and adding data to the CRM system — otherwise, it’s useless busywork.

Too often, this data is used for a handful of purposes — sales, lead generation, devising customer satisfaction statistics in service — and that’s it. The task is seen as done. In reality, that data can be combined with new data to give you greater insights into how your entire organization is performing.

The insights you gain should be applied somewhere to strengthen customer relationships. The effects of those efforts should be analyzed in turn. Have you mapped how data can be used within your organization across all departments? If not, you’re probably leaving some of your CRM ROI on the table.

4. Misunderstood Customer Lifecycle

Too often, once the sale is closed, the lead is generated, or the service call is completed, CRM is thought to have done its job. However, customer data is not a one-and-done kind of thing: It can be applied to improve all aspects of the customer lifecycle, and to extend that lifecycle to its maximum duration.

Do you understand what your customer lifecycle looks like now, and what it could look like if your relationship-building efforts were to succeed?

Part of the blame for the disconnect that’s so common can be laid at sales’ feet. The drive to close new customers long has been what gets the kudos and the bonuses.

However, the reality is that profit comes not from that first closed deal but in renewals, upsells and cross-sells — and those come about by keeping customers happy, successful and engaged with your product. If you think that CRM’s mission is done once the contract is signed, it will be — at your expense.

5. Employee Performance

All the analysis, process design, and sales and marketing planning in the world will amount to nothing if you haven’t made sure that your customer-facing employees have received the message.

One bad experience with an employee will undo all you’ve built and make it very hard to win a customer back. That makes your first step hiring employees who show they have the attributes to relate to customers.

In many organizations, the ideas behind CRM programs aren’t very well explained to customer-facing employees beyond the fact that they generate data, leads or support tickets.

So give your employees some credit — explain to them your plans and philosophies about CRM, and don’t view them as the sole province of sales, marketing and support. What you do in those areas affects employees, and what employees do affects your efforts in those areas, too.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.


  • Several of these issues can be completely dismissed by having a CRM that is applicable and open to all divisions of the company. For instance, a CRM and project management software combo helps everyone in the whole customer journey to participate using the same software and, thus, the same data.

    It helps to keep everyone in sync and builds a better experience for each and every customer.

    Brad Hodson


  • This is great list of items. I would actually build-out the final item very slightly and just emphasise that in terms of employee performance, it is not enough to explain what it is that you are trying to achieve with your CRM effort, you really need to get your employees to engage with the idea so that they can put your it into practice. A great way of doing this is to ask them what they think: they may well have some great ideas of their own!

    Andrew Heriot

    Maximizer CRM

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