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Why Do Most CRM Implementations Fail?

By Peter Flory

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System Implementation Failures

Once the system has been purchased then the real problems start to arise. System implementations are NEVER easy and free of complications. Some of what follows will not make pleasant reading but all the reasons described are real and the examples given are drawn from real-life case histories. New systems implementations are complex, confusing and painful, and PAINFUL sums up the major reasons why projects fail; Politics, Arrogance, Incompetence, Nearsightedness, Fear, Unfamiliarity and Lethargy.


Internal organisational politics, in-fighting and empire building is responsible for many system failures. Some people never agree, they are fiercely protective their own patch (“my” customers, “my” data), they don’t want to lose status and reduce their headcount, they don’t want other people to have what they have, the list goes on.

One example of a failed, or at least challenged, project was where one department refused to let other departments have access to “their” customers. They were allowed to get away with it because of the high status of the director in charge of the department and a “single supporter view” was never achieved. Another case was where a CRM system was implemented to solve pressing problems in one particular department and when it was rolled out to other departments it was found that the entire system table structure was inappropriate for the rest of the organisation, but the first department shouted loudest and got the system in first.


This is where certain people think they know best and/or bully the rest of the staff into accepting their views. One example was where the staff chose System X but the Director choose System Y because it was “more whizzy, more clever, more modern looking” and bullied the staff into accepting it. Half of the staff refused to use the system. Another similar case concerns a Chief Executive who chose a system for his staff but it did not have much of the functionality required by the staff. When concerns were pointed out to him his response was “It’s a good system, make it work”. They didn’t, they created workarounds in Access and Excel.


Examples abound of people being out of their depth and making huge mistakes in selection especially but also in implementation. One case concerns a project manager whose previous experience was in insurance, he knew nothing of the NfP sector resulting in an implementation which was chaotic with one crisis after another.

Another case concerns the organisation which had three CRM systems in 5 years. The first 2 implementations were led by trustees with little or no knowledge of IT and little or no knowledge of the day to day processes of the charity. The first system they selected just didn’t work and the second was found upon implementation to be lacking in essential functionality. For the third (successful) system, a third trustee acted as a proper project sponsor and left all the detailed work to the staff and an independent consultant.

Another case concerns a chief executive who wanted to sue his CRM supplier because the system was late, over budget and didn’t have all the functionality he expected. Unfortunately he hadn’t produced a detailed requirements specification and so legally didn't have leg to stand on.


CRM is an organisation-wide operation. Too many people only consider its effect on their own little part of the organisation and do not see the “big picture”. Consequently, they do things like only entering data needed by their department and ignoring other information they might possess that could be of interest to other people in the organisation.

One example of nearsightedness concerns a charity where the Events department found that the CRM system was much more cumbersome and slower to use than their previous spreadsheet, so they continued to use their spreadsheet. The result was no single supporter view. In another NfP organisation,one  department refused to change their working methods and they hired extra staff to handle the “extra” workload the system put on them. In fact these staff were printing and filing documents that would never be looked at.


This is a big, big problem which generally manifests itself in terms of non-cooperation resulting in a delayed or over-budget project. Staff are “too busy” to do testing or to attend training. They are asked to do something and they do it reluctantly or half-heartedly if at all. In one extreme case, staff at a large organisation were so paranoid at the thought of changes to the way that they did things that they insisted on modifications to the system that ended up costing the organisation a six figure sum.


There are two aspects to unfamiliarity. One is moving from a system that has been used for many years to something that is new and different. This is related to Fear above. The second is not being familiar with the full functionality of the system being implemented. There are numerous examples of consultants being asked to help an organisation to choose a new system “because it doesn’t do X or it doesn’t do Y” only to find that upon investigation, it does do X and Y. They just didn’t know about it or hadn’t kept up with the latest version of their software.


This can have disastrous effects during testing if shortcuts are taken because problems often manifest themselves during live operations. This may seem a little unkind because all staff and management in NfP organisations have their “day jobs” to do as well as helping to implement a new system. However, they must find time somehow to carry out their project responsibilities or failure will be the result. One example of this was where the staff of one organisation were asked to do one hour’s testing per day for a month. They didn’t, they asked the project manager to do it for them. The result was a system that did not meet their expectations and was eventually abandoned.


Selecting and implementing CRM systems is a hugely complex task fraught with difficulties at every stage. It will take longer than you expect, it will cost more than you expect and you will never be the same afterwards. Hopefully, avoiding some of the mistakes made by others as outlined above will increase your chances of success. Good luck!!

About the author

Peter Flory
Dr Peter Flory is an independent IT consultant to the voluntary sector and a research fellow at Brunel University. He can be contacted on 0118 986 6623 or e-mail: [email protected]


Line, Monitor, Patch, Software, Spreadsheet

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Published: 24th July 2012

Copyright © 2012 Peter Flory

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