recently asked me what my thoughts were about CRM: Why initial CRM projects failed, what has now changed to make deployments successful, and what the future holds for CRM. Here is the first part of my point of view, as well as a link to a series of three published articles from


Question: Nearly a decade ago, estimates suggested that a very large proportion of CRM projects were failing. What were the main problems undermining CRM projects in those days?

Answer: The main problems undermining CRM projects a decade ago were mismatched expectations with reality in three categories: technology, process and people.

The first CRM systems were not fully baked and had large feature holes that were not always communicated to the purchaser. The technology was not intuitive or easy to use. It was hard to implement with long time-to-value and hard to become proficient in its use. It was even harder to change the business processes that had been implemented — changes that were necessary to stay in line with evolving business needs.

CRM systems were also difficult to integrate with a company’s IT ecosystem, which meant that many actions needed to be repeated in multiple systems. (For example, consider a CRM system that was not integrated into a company’s email system. This means that a sales person would have to cut and paste a customer communication from their email correspondence into the CRM system, which was labor intensive and often not done. )

Systems were also not scalable, and as users were added, they slowed to a point of being unusable. Duplication of effort, slowness, and user-unfriendly interfaces detracted many sales, marketing, and customer service professionals from using the tools. This meant that CRM records were incomplete, inconsistent, and many times inaccurate. And, as information became stale, fewer employees used the CRM system, which added fuel to the fire.

In addition, many companies launched into large CRM projects, instead of smaller ones with quick wins, without a realistic understanding of the time, resources, skill set, and organizational commitment needed to be successful. Many companies abandoned projects midcourse, and this track record added to the negative reputation of the value of CRM systems.

Question: What has improved/changed to make CRM implementations more successful now?

Answer: My flip answer is that we’ve all grown up. Our technology has matured, we now have best practice processes to scope, implement, and deploy CRM systems, and we understand the organizational commitment and achieve the ROI that CRM has been promising us for the last decade.

A more factual answer is that CRM systems are now feature-rich, with best practice and industry-specific workflows built into them. This means that customers can choose to adopt these best practices without needing many man-months of customization work. The CRM architecture has evolved to make them immensely scalable, more easily integrate-able with other IT systems, as well as easily changeable to keep in step with changing business needs (think about all the mergers and acquisitions that have happened in the last several years, and the IT changes that have had to quickly happen to preserve the customer experience.). There are also SaaS solutions available to achieve a rapid time-to-value. Vendors and system integrators have a proven track record of deploying, tuning, and optimizing CRM projects to achieve quantifiable ROI, and this knowledge can be easily leveraged.

There's more points of view to consider in the published article "The changing challenges of CRM: The problems we had. The issues we face".