If you want to feel even more anxious, Google ‘CRM implementation failure rate’, and you’ll be presented with project failure rates from credible sources ranging from 18% to almost 70%. It gets worse, though. In a Harvard Business Review article on CRM project failure by Scott Edinger, he says that when he asks executives if their CRM system is helping their business to grow, the failure rate is closer to a panic-inducing 90%. 

CRM project failure usually points to a lack of understanding of successful change management principles, poor project management, and inadequate planning. So, what can go wrong with your CRM implementation, and how do you learn from the mistakes of others? 

Mistake 1: Failing to define failure

Yes, that sounds a bit deep! But if you don’t define ‘failure’ for your business, how will you measure success? The outcome of any technology project should be an ROI for stakeholders that will justify both your hard work, the disruption to organisational BAU, and the investment in time and money. A CRM implementation is no different.

What does failure look like for you? Is it running over budget or past deadline? Is it having data integrity issues or experiencing unforeseen technology limitations? A lack of user adoption? No improvement in customer happiness? Or will you judge it by how it has enabled business growth?  

Without clearly set and specific goals, the terms failure and success are arbitrary. And the business ROI is incalculable.  

Recommendations: Determine what factors define CRM failure and success for your business. Benchmark where you are at pre-project so you can set realistic post-project KPIs, and set up ways to measure and record changes to calculate ROI for your CRM implementation fairly and accurately.   

Mistake 2: Letting scope creep get out of control

While thinking and refining your CRM software's functionality and processes on the go may feel like a natural way of working, the uncontrolled addition of new tasks, features, or other deliverables, can cost you dearly. (Imagine changing the design of your new house when the builders have already started work.)  

The impact of unplanned changes to our CRM project is more than just increased consultancy and development fees. Scope creep can delay the entire implementation, so your go-live deadline or critical milestones are missed, resulting in budget blowouts, financial losses, project team exhaustion, and customer dissatisfaction - when there should be delight. 


While it’s accepted that it’s not always possible to capture all requirements upfront and that some scope change is common, scope creep can be mitigated by using Project Canvas (a project management tool which helps you define a project in a structured way) to test the value of proposed change requests. I.e., "Does this request for changed scope align with the purpose of this project and its measures of success?"  

Learn more about Project Canvas here

If yes, the scope and budget may flex - so ask your CRM partner to clarify additional costs and ask them to reset expectations around the impact on your go-live date.  

If the answer is no, put it on a list for later review. 

Mistake 3: Using your CRM for reporting and analytics, not as a business growth tool

There are any number of inspection and reporting tools which will help you make better-informed business decisions. Treating your CRM software as one of them – rather than a tool to win more business and increase revenue - means you will never achieve true value.  

While you can most definitely use your CRM solution to report on sales progress, improve the accuracy of sales forecasts, provide pipeline visibility, predict project delivery dates, and provide a wide range of other business intelligence, that’s all a distraction from the primary purpose of a CRM. Which is to improve the sales process for frontline sales professionals and managers so they can enable business growth. 

Recommendations: While the reporting capabilities undoubtedly add value for both sales and marketing (and bring joy to the heart of those who love stats), don’t lose sight of why you are implementing CRM software (i.e., to win more business). Make sure that your CRM strategy prioritises sales improvement. 

Mistake 4: Expecting your CRM software to be all things to all people

Despite all the AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) in the world, your CRM software can’t make decisions for you. Anticipating that your solution will make strategic decisions on customer segmentation or generate KPIs, initiatives or campaign plans will result in disappointment and failure to live up to your expectations.   

Likewise, expecting your CRM to serve too many masters (from your IT team, C-suite, sales, and marketing teams, through to finance) will dilute its impact and efficiency. Every stakeholder will have unique objectives, so balancing the would-likes with the operational must-haves can result in a solution that serves no one well or requires extensive and expensive customisation and integration.  

Recommendations: To understand failure from this perspective, you need to understand what a successful approach to CRM design and implementation looks like. And you do this by defining your commercial strategy (encompassing sales, marketing, and service) at the outset. In short, the system follows the strategy. Not the CRM strategy follows system capabilities and disparate stakeholder wish lists!  

Mistake 5: Treating the user experience and adoption as afterthoughts

According to CIOReview, low user adoption is the leading cause of most CRM project failures. When users resist change, there are usually three reasons. 

  1. Poor or no organisational change management (OCM) – your users aren’t taken on the transformation journey and resist new ways of working. There’s little love for the new CRM and even fear of job losses or being shown up as not tech-savvy and, therefore, dispensable.   
  1. Insufficient access to training and knowledge resources – a lack of confidence in how to use a new CRM can drive users to find workarounds, and fall back on old systems and tools, even the dreaded spreadsheet. 
  1. A poorly designed user experience (UX) – non-intuitive workflows and processes, poor system integration and layouts – make a CRM harder and less friendly to use. So, users simply don’t use it well, if at all.  

Recommendations: We discuss the importance of OCM in depth in another blog (see here) and the negative impact of not using it to drive change adoption. But what you’ll want to know right now is that Prosci, a globally acclaimed leader in change management, reports that projects with excellent change management are six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management, five times more likely to stay on or ahead of schedule, and two times more likely to stay on or under budget.  

Your CRM software partner or vendor support package should include a training plan, including internal super-users to share knowledge and help teammates. Likewise, access to online training, refresher courses, and documentation is essential to speed up adoption and onboard new starters more quickly and cost-effectively. 

And then there’s UX. Look to the deceptively simple and effective everyday apps used for banking, shopping and more for the gold benchmark of user-experience. A well-designed CRM provides the users more than the right fields, shortcuts, or features. It also arranges them onscreen in a way that makes it easy for them to learn and use. And another bonus is that good UX also reduces training time. 

Mistake 6: Lack of stakeholder investment (and we don’t mean just money)

The process of designing and implementing a new CRM is a major business project. But when it’s not a top-down transformation initiative endorsed by the highest C-levels, it’s harder for the rest of the business to see the value in getting behind it.  

So often, they don’t.  

Recommendations: Appoint an executive project sponsor. An engaged executive project sponsor plays a significant role in not only signing off the financials, but generating enthusiasm in the wider business – from C-level to sales or support person – for the value and benefits the new CRM will bring. In addition, executive sponsors can also step in when there’s a roadblock to navigate or overcome. 

Mistake 7: Choosing the wrong CRM software solution or partner

Put it bluntly; you can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear. Every CRM solution is unique in its limitations, capabilities and business benefits it offers. While any solution will eventually work if you throw enough time, effort, and money at it, that’s not an ideal strategy when you have an ROI in mind. 

And if your partner doesn’t have a track record for successful cloud CRM implementations in your industry, do you want to add to the project risk profile by using an untested expert?

Recommendations: Research, review, and research some more.  

Make sure you understand the key features and functions you need so you right-size your shortlist rather than look at every random solution thrown up by Google. Check out the industry-revered Gartner Magic Quadrant for the world’s leading CRM products and use that as your starting point.  

And ask CRM potential partners for case studies, references, and industry awards. Plus, make sure you like and trust them and that their culture is aligned with yours, so you know you can work with them. Check out support offerings, project management and OCM capabilities, and if you’ll have access to real people in your time zone and business environment.  

Don’t fail to plan

While other people’s mistakes may make you raise your eyebrows in disbelief, remember that these same issues are experienced time and time again. However, you’re not bound to follow in their footsteps, and we hope you won’t.  

The value a successfully implemented CRM can contribute to your success knows no bounds and will ensure that you compete effectively and proactively in increasingly tough times. While the fear of failure is understandable, it’s much scarier standing still.   

As a general all-around overachiever, John Wooden said, “Failure isn't fatal, but failure to change might be.”  

Great outcomes start with great conversations


Great outcomes start with great conversations

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