CRM: A Business Solution, Not a Technology

    February 4, 2004

Before sitting down to write this article, I went onto the web and took a look round: I haven’t written about CRM implementations in about 6 months, and I’d assumed that in this time period, purchasers of CRM would have figured out why the implementation process was costing them $5 for every $1 spent on the technology.

I was wrong. I read several stories of disastrous – costly – failures, many, many articles on why CRM was great, and many articles on why CRM was losing market share. Here are the most recent numbers: 50% of CRM implementation projects are considered failures; there are 40-75% cost overruns; only a small percentage of CRM systems are built and sold by the largest vendors (most are built in-house). The most frequently sited problems are organizational. The technology is great – but it loses something between technologic capability and implementation. Kinda like the patient dying but the surgery being successful.

The most cogent article was by Linda Hershey called “Why CRM Implementations Fail. What Part Don’t You Understand?” For those of you interested in learning precisely how to be successful in your implementations, you might read her important article at


Basically, Linda says our biggest problem is that we assume CRM is a technology solution rather than a business solution. The most frequently sited problem in CRM implementations are organizational, not technologic.

Ms. Hershey names the areas that need to be addressed to ensure a successful implementation:

1. make sure all business processes that will be touched by the CRM project are re-engineered;

2. ensure that the top executives spearhead the effort;

3. communicate objectives and goals to all personnel;

4. make sure all personnel levels are actively involved;

5. understand that technology is not the key driving factor for the CRM initiative (customer satisfaction is).

Four out of the above five areas involve people.


Since the people factor’ is my specialty, I’m going to focus this article on the human element: What’s stopping us from including people into our CRM implementations?

For starters, companies seem to differentiate between implementing small’ systems, and implementing large’ systems. The small systems, it seems, don’t get rolled out’ – they get dropped. Into the laps of the users comes this new system that they’ve heard about, but haven’t used, trialed, or been asked for input around. It’s amazing that any of the users actually remain working after their job descriptions change and their familiar work tools are taken away and replaced by some strange technology that they had nothing to say about. Stories of resistance are legendary.

Large systems implementations are just beginning to add people to the equation – occasionally – by having them be a part of the implementation. Sometimes users are asked for input before the system gets implemented and the tech staff can support their requests. Sometimes users get a Beta system to trial before the roll out of the larger system. Sometimes the system is administered in stages so each piece is adopted, altered, and accepted prior to the next piece being brought in. At Bank One, the users were given a simulated system to train on before implementation.

But these are the successful implementations.


Let’s look for a moment at the areas within a company that get touched by a CRM implementation. Obviously, the users – sales people, generally, or customer service folks – and the technical staff. Then there is management. They are caught in the middle between the users, techies, senior managers, and the vendor. The HR folks who have to manage the unhappy personnel, and recruit and train new ones to take their place. The clients, naturally.

So – let’s see – who is NOT involved in the process? The accounting staff comes to mind – but they have to manage the huge overruns and reconfigure the budget to find funds to pay the consultants and recruiters and techies that have to come in and fix the problems.

We read about this, hear about this, and might have experienced this, and yet we continue to do the same thing – leave people out of the equation. Why? Let me make a few guesses here: technology has a scientific basis and may be seen to be removed from the human’ element; CRM systems have replaced many sales people, taking over the reporting and informational ends of the sales processes and are seen to manage the doing’; and, last but not least, the belief that having data can and will forge relationships.


Sellers still need to help buyers make purchasing decisions separate from the data in the CRM material. Buyers only buy when they know how to manage whatever change issues a purchase will incur – and the CRM system, per se, cannot help them do this. Once you remove the personal aspect from this interaction, you might as well not have sales personnel.

So what if you know I’m moving? Does that make me like you when you mention it to me? What about when you know how much I earn, or how many times I’ve called? Or who I’ve had problems with in the past? What do users DO with that data? Of course, the technology can coordinate global efforts, and potentially offer data that might help a seller up-sell or cross sell – but only if the data is used as a place to start a conversation and not as a bludgeon.

In fact, the data that a CRM system offers can only be used as a starting point with which to support customers – not an end point. Again, it’s focusing on the doing’ rather than the people issues, and ends up leaving people out of the equation if not managed properly.


Here’s my take on the situation. If companies use technology to help support customers more effectively, they must recognize the business problem behind the technology. Senior management obviously understands this when they seek the best approach to meet company initiatives. But the next step is to go out to the people. All the people.

All of the people touched by the problem must begin the process of aligning beliefs, needs, fears, (the human stuff) around the technology solution, and then begin the process of planning how to bring all of the aspects of the solution into play. It’s also imperative that companies hire a facilitator – an OD facilitator who does NOT work for a technology company – to come in and help all of the people and initiatives get into alignment before any technology comes into the company. And I’m not just talking about the users being aligned.

Companies will end up dealing with the people issues anyway. They’ll either do it before the implementation when everyone will get on board happily, or after the implementation when the costs of human and monetary capital rise.

CRM is a business tool. It’s not a solution. People are. Make sure you line up all of the people within your organization to ensure that your internal systems won’t face chaos as part of your solution. It might take a bit of extra time at the front end. But over all, it will save you time, money and good will, and, keep your employees happy and creative. They will also be a part of your solution for a successful implementation. Remember that they are your customers also.

Should you wish to learn more about this, go to and purchase my ebook Buying Facilitation: the new way to sell that expands and influences decisions