3 Critical Components for Success with CRM Software

By Larry Caretsky
CEO, Commence Corporation

CRM software at the small business level is failing. Industry reports claim that there is as high as a 73 percent failure rate with the implementation and use of CRM among the small business community. Most people would find this alarming, but based on my experience in the industry it is not at all surprising.

CRM can automate the internal business processes that impact sales, marketing and customer service, but this assumes you have the processes in place to automate. Many do not. However, other factors are affecting the success rate of CRM in the small business community. I will be discussing them along with ways to ensure that you can realize the maximum value from the CRM solution you select for your business.

While we hear of a high failure rate with CRM software in the small to mid-sized sector, you rarely hear of a failed accounting system implementation. I wonder why that is. Perhaps if we dig a bit deeper and determine why the success rate of accounting software implementations is so good we can apply what is working in accounting to CRM software.

Three critical components must be in place to ensure the success of any software implementation. Let’s take a look at each one.

Mature Business Processes

When I talk about mature business processes, I am referring well-defined documented internal business processes that are followed and monitored by your staff and management. It’s interesting to note that the accounting department may be one of the only areas where this is already done for you. The federal government has outlined specific processes, procedures, and reporting that you must adhere to by law. If you do not your firm will be assessed a financially penalty for failure to do so. Unfortunately or fortunately, the government has not done this for sales, marketing, or customer service. You must do this yourself – and here lies the problem.

I have been engaged with dozens of companies over the years that simply do not have mature business processes in place. There is no process for tracking and following up on new leads or business opportunities, the sales process is not well defined, and the customer service department operates as a separate entity responding to e-mails and calls that the rest of the company is not even aware of. Some companies select a CRM solution hoping its implementation will address these business challenges, but lo and behold within 4 to 6 months they discover that nothing has changed, there is no measurable impact, and no one is using the product.

Mature People

The second component to your success with CRM software has to do with the maturity of your staff and management. If we look at the accounting department, we will learn that the staff is highly trained, degreed and often certified in the principles of accounting. Now you have mature well-documented business processes managed by a mature, professionally trained accounting staff. Sales and customer service is quite different. Sales people tend to come from all ‘walks of life’ from young people entering the field, to those making a career change, to others that have been selling for many years. The service staff is often quite similar.

You will also find that accounting solutions have been around for decades and designed to address specific guidelines and reporting. As such, they pretty much all work the same way. CRM solutions, particularly those that are cloud based, are new in comparison. They operate differently, and may not provide the mature functionality you need to automate your internal business processes. This makes the selection of the right company and product important.

Management Commitment

The third and perhaps an equally important component to the successful implementation and use of CRM software is management’s commitment to establishing internal business processes, training the staff, and informing everyone in the organization that the use of the system is a requirement of their job. This is imperative and plays an important role in your success or failure.

Your accounting software has been successful because you have a mature documented process in place, a well-trained staff, and management’s commitment to ensuring that procedures are followed and the system is utilized to address financial reporting requirements. This is the reason why there is such a high success rate with the implementation and use of accounting software.

If you agree with what I have indicated then it is clear that you need to follow the same process if you expect the implementation and utilization of CRM software to improve your business.

#1 – Get your internal processes for managing sales and customer service documented.

#2 – Assign an experienced sales and customer service representative to champion the implementation and use of the CRM system.

#3 – Make sure management is committed to this.

Your success depends on it.

Sales Q&A – How to manage customers calling at night?


Q.  Dave, how can a sales person have a life at night and not be reactive to customers calling at night – seven or eight per night?

A. This is really a time management issue. I have a hard time imagining why you would need to receive seven or eight calls every night from customers. I think the issue lies in your view of what the job of the sales person really is, and what strategy best brings success to the sales person.

A lot of sales people view themselves as merely extensions of the company’s customer service operations. In other words, they believe that the reason their customers do business with them is because they (the sales person) bend over backwards to respond to every whim of the customer. These sales people then inadvertently train their customers to call them with every problem and need they have. Many times, many of these calls and problems could and should have been better directed to the company’s customer service representatives.

This is a common trap that sales people, particularly new sales people, fall into. In an effort to fill up their days, to be seen as important to the customer, the sales person becomes the ultimate lap dog, dutifully chasing after every whim and responding to every request of the customer. That creates a huge list of “things to do” for the sales person, which makes him/her very busy and feeling needed.


However, it is a miserable and unwise way to define and go about your job. The sales person should be seen as a professional consultant to the customer. Someone who cares about the customer’s business, who creates and presents creative solutions to the customer’s deeper needs.

Questions and issues about back orders, invoice problems, delivery dates, pricing on routine orders, etc. are all more appropriately handled by an inside sales person or customer service representative.

A sales person does himself no good in the long term by attempting to handle every customer question or issue. If you train the customer to call you for every possible issue, think about what message you are sending to the customer. You are, in effect, say, “Sir, my company has no reliable people other than me. We have no effective systems. That’s why I have to handle every call. Without me, the company would be worthless.”

As a buyer of goods and services, from my perspective, I wonder how substantial a vendor’s business is, and how good a vendor’s sales person is, if I can’t get my routine issues taken care of by a customer service representative. If the sales person has to call back to handle every question, I really wonder about the value of that sales person and the reliability of that company.

So, the real issue is how you define your job. Are you a lapdog, responding to every whim of the customer, or are you a professional, capable and wiling to respond to the customer’s expressed needs?

Once you resolve your definition of the job and how you want to position yourself, then the answer to the question above becomes clearer. If you want to be the customer’s lap dog, then rejoice that you are getting seven or eight calls per night. Gives you something to do, keeps you busy, and makes you feel important.

However, if you view yourself as a professional, then you need to train your customers to take the routine issues to your customer service or inside sales group, and use the time with you for more substantial discussions of their needs and your solutions.

Retrain your customers. Give them your company’s 800 number and directions for what kinds of issues to take to the inside staff. Stop answering your phone after 5 PM. You deserve to have a life, too. But you must train your customers to respect that.

Expose yourself to the best practices of the best sales people. Learn how to do this job well. Consider the Kahle Way® Selling System course. Learn more here.

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