The Challenge with CRM Initiatives

John Moore, on his recent blog post, Why aren’t you using your CRM system more? has facilitated a meaningful conversation which has triggered some very productive dialogue related to CRM, what it is, and why companies haven’t had more success.

This thread confirms what I have suspected for quite a while; While the evolution of Social Media and CRM continues to push forward in present day, many are still confused about what CRM is. There is an ever widening gap between those caught in an early 90’s mindset (as Esteban Kolsky references in an earlier comment) regarding CRM and those looking forward to leverage the latest technologies for their customer facing initiatives (ie Social Media, Mobile, Mashups, Cloud Computing, etc).

If you polled 100 executives, and asked them to define CRM, you’d likely get more than 50 different answers.

I’d define CRM as something like this:

CRM is a business strategy for increasing profitability through the alignment of people, processes, and technology towards enhancing the company’s value proposition and overall customer experience.

That said, if you can’t clearly define something, how can you possibly measure success?

The challenge with a CRM initiative is that there are so many expectations at so many levels, both internal and external. Success is certainly attainable, but requires the complex organizational alignment across management levels and functional disciplines.

An organization rolling out a successful CRM initiative will have:

1. An understanding of who their customer is, what their customer needs, and how they can present a compelling value proposition and unmatched customer experience

2. A clear understanding of the organizational and procedural changes required to deliver the compelling value proposition and customer experience

3. A clear understanding of the expectations/needs from:
a. Executives
b. Managers
c. Front Line Workers (across the disciplines of all customer facing departments – Sales, Marketing, Service, Support)

4. An ability to deliver a “system” (process plus technology) that maximizes value to ALL OF THE STAKEHOLDERS presented above.

Doing something like this requires tremendous alignment between executive vision, leadership talent, a “customer centric” culture, systems design, user empowerment, and the proper technology tools to support it.

For every company that is able to execute this, there are boatloads of those who can’t, and most don’t have any idea why.

I’d enjoy hearing your input below.

9 Responses to The Challenge with CRM Initiatives

  1. John Moore says:

    Very good post. The point that most people trip on is the fact that CRM is a business strategy, not simply a piece of software that is installed and everything magically works.

    I love the fact that you state, in point #4 above, that the system must maximize value to all stakeholders. You avoid the mistake I see some making when they say that it must equally benefit all stakeholders, which will only lead to overall system disatisfaction.

    As I have noted before, we must attack business improvement on all fronts. Educating leaders and their teams on the benefits of process improvements, focused execution, and constant measurement will make the difference. We must back this, however, with systems that support this view of the world. One without the other will only lead to failure.

    Glad we’re all continuing to push this onward.


  2. brianvellmure says:


    Helpful comments and a nice job starting and nurturing this conversation.

    Best regards,

  3. Esteban Kolsky says:


    Thanks for the reference, I am certain it sounds better when you write something I say than when I say it.

    I like your definition as it encompasses all the things you need to be successful in CRM. It is also flexible enough to accommodate each company’s version of CRM — which is what CRM really is. In the old days we would define completeness of CRM vision and strategy by how closely you aligned with the many modules (sales, marketing, service — and their subsets and subsystems). Thus, we wrongly reasoned, the more modules you supported the more you were aligned with CRM. Yes,this was the very early days.

    We later discovered that CRM is a strategy, and that you should build your own as you saw fit leveraging all the components that, by then, started to become independent of each other. You no longer had to buy and implement suites, just focus on what you needed. CRM was then defined by the strategy.

    As you very well point out, now CRM is a continuation of that strategy and a strengthening of the core concept by focusing on how well you deliver to clients and internal stakeholders – while keeping the focus on the client in a client-centric model.

    The better CRM implementations we have seen are those that use little or no new technology, instead choosing to redo their processes and leverage new or existing systems to improve them. I still remember when we gave out the fist CRM Excellence Award and we had three vendors complained because the winning company had not purchased any software to implement the winning solution.

    My BL: I like your definition becuase it addresses the modern day CRM solution, and it leaves it flexible enough to accommodate changes that “Social CRM” or whatever the next iteration maybe.

    Nicely done. Thanks.

  4. brianvellmure says:


    Thanks for your kind words.

    It is striking to me that you say “The better CRM implementations we have seen are those that use little or no new technology, instead choosing to redo their processes and leverage new or existing systems to improve them.”.

    What do you attribute that to?

    Could it be that the successful companies recognize technology for what it is (an enabler), or do you feel that technology actually inhibits success? I’d love to hear more about your thoughts.

    • Esteban Kolsky says:


      seriously, the best companies realize that technology is nothing but an enabler to doing things better, not the solution, therefore they move to create solutions that leverage technology at the right places – not use it as a solution.

      as for my thoughts on technology inhibiting success – the answer is maybe. it all goes back to how the person using technology feels about using it.and the role they feel it plays in providing the solution. if they feel technology is the answer, then yes- it inhibits success.

      i have never, that i know, recommended technology as the solution. actually, very often vendors would get upset when i recommended my clients to talk at other solutions that did not involve technology such as process work, or something like that. to me leveraging technology where needed is 20 times trickiers than figuring out the right solution – also 10 times shorter. which is why people do it that way – shorter, easier. besides, there are tons of cases studies for people choosing technology and getting results (some good, some great), whereas taking the road less traveled does not generate case studies that you can use to protect your decision.

      i never see technology as a solution, i see design and hard work as the solution, technology as an enabler to it.

  5. Ray Brown says:

    I think we are all “flogging a dead horse” with this constant redefining of CRM. CRM to most of the business world is software, pure and simple. Your definition works really well if you simply replace CRM with Customer Management. CRM software is one of the many tools required for good quality Customer Management. Others include staff training, culture development, analytics, social media etc etc. Who is it that is holding on to the CRM language for systems and processes. I suspect it is the CRM consultant community and not our customers (the market). Our endless efforts to “define or redifine’ shows that the “game is up” for CRM other than as an excellent term for a great type of software.

  6. brianvellmure says:


    To a certain extent, I concede that the conversation is a little stale. I’ve been having it for more than a decade. It surprises me that more people still have a fundamental belief that using technology (by itself) will help their business. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    This exercise and discussion is productive for the purpose of communicating how to be successful in transforming your business to improve the customer experience (regardless of the label you give the initiative).

    CRM Software is that: CRM Software

    Within this context, many people define contact managers and a whole slew of other technology as CRM software, which is a whole different conversation. A lady the other day referred to Google as her CRM….

    A CRM Initiative is more encompassing.

    I am absolutely open for more discussion surrounding proper terminology and a collective framework for those who are committed to improving their businesses through a more customer centric culture.

    However, if I understand you correctly, remove the word Relationship (the R in CRM) and then everything else shared makes sense? I am not finding the benefit there (especially in a time period when customers are increasingly more resistant to being “managed”)

    • Esteban Kolsky says:

      I could not agree more than management is the part that should be removed from the conversation altogether. if you can point me to a customer who wants to be “managed” i can point you to a failed business model.

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