Why CRM (still) fails

Why CRM (still) fails

CRM is a core component of the operational toolkit – SME adoption has reached 79%, according to a survey from Workbooks. And yet, success rates are still too low. For every business achieving transformation, another will have wasted resources, achieving zero return.

As a mature market, there are countless solutions with fantastic features and functionality. So what makes the difference between failure and success? In my experience, it isn’t the technology – success can only be achieved if companies set clear business outcomes at the point of purchase.

Pressure to change

In a post lockdown economy, businesses are adjusting to change. Staff turnover reached unprecedented heights, while customers moved online and radically raised expectations. So it’s little wonder businesses are reassessing their existing CRM solutions.

Done well, CRM can transform operational performance and support rapid changes in business direction, and yet, the risk is widely recognised: in the Workbooks survey and report, The State of the CRM Market: An SME Perspective, 50% of SMEs confirm they are on their second CRM platform.

According to the survey, the primary reason for failure is the CRM is a poor fit for the firm’s needs (53%) – yet features and functions (62%) remain the most important factor when choosing a CRM.

Outcomes not features

Taking a technology-first approach to CRM is a fast track to failure. Companies need first to understand the business outcomes required. Without defined objectives, companies will struggle to achieve value. Once outcomes have been defined – and prioritised – companies can understand the requirements of the CRM and set expectations for its implementation.

If the desired outcome is to improve cross-selling, pulling data into one place improves segmentation and marketing. But will the sales team be informed when customers click a marketing email? Taking time to investigate how CRM could support an outcome turns the project on its head.

Technology sell

Few SMEs have the analysis skills to undertake this process and the CRM industry is not set up to provide support. For most vendors, the product sell is features and functions focused. Then, the implementation is handed to an integration partner that wasn’t involved in the original discussions about the customer’s needs.

The model is disjointed: reinforcing the emphasis on ‘bells and whistles’ differentiation and offering little to no alignment with business goals or priorities – which can extend time to value.

Unique business

While there are differences between CRM applications – notably in the ease of integration – the software is approaching commodity status. Business needs, however, are unique. Every company has its own structure, customer base and engagement model.

A CRM investment is about achieving a competitive edge, and looking to explore and use business goals to define the CRM deployment makes the difference between failure and success.

SMEs need a different approach to buying CRM – starting with prioritising outcomes and applying this to determine CRM goals. Companies should look for vendors who help define outcomes, in addition to offering implementation support. Delivering that end-to-end engagement ensures consistent product focus and maximises time to value.


When CRM projects work the business looks different. When projects fail, the business looks the same – just financially worse off. Faced with a rapidly changing landscape, companies are in a dilemma: they need CRM, know it can work and deliver real value. But can they take the risk? Can they afford not to?

It’s time to stop repeating the CRM mistakes of old. Step away from product sell, sparkly features and functions: businesses that prioritise outcomes and look beyond the technology – to additional value a supplier offers – will maximise ROI and achieve successful business change, fast.