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5 Key Steps to a Successful CRM Implementation


Investing in customer relationship management (CRM) software can enable intelligent engagement and help you grow your business, but it requires more than just a monetary investment –– it’s also an investment of time and resources. All too often, however, organizations overlook that last piece of the puzzle, and that’s where most CRM initiatives fail. 

While there are some scenarios in which a CRM can be implemented straight out of the box, for most organizations, that’s not the case. That’s because every business has a unique set of processes, systems, teams and goals, and a CRM must be tailored to adapt to that structure and support the desired outcomes. When a CRM fails to meet the need, typically because it hasn’t been properly implemented, it leads to abandonment and a zero return on the investment. 

How do you avoid this fate? How can you ensure your CRM implementation is successful and you get the most out of the investment? Here are five techniques you can leverage to avoid the common pitfalls associated with failed CRM implementations: 

  1. Develop a CRM blueprint

Developing a CRM blueprint will help you pinpoint potential challenges before they become issues, align the team around a shared vision, and ultimately set your organization up to achieve your CRM goals. A good blueprint will clearly define the following: 

  • Create a vision – What is your CRM vision? How does it align with the strategic goals of your company? Defining the vision should be a team effort with all stakeholders contributing to what they want to achieve as a result of this implementation. Ultimately, however, these goals must support your overall business strategy, and having a clearly defined vision will help keep everyone aligned and working towards the same goals.
  • Define guidelines – Clearly document guidelines on how the CRM features will be implemented from a technical design standpoint. For example, one of your guiding principles should be to leverage out-of-the-box CRM capabilities through configuration versus customization. A lack of clear guidelines could result in ad-hoc customization of the platform and no protocol around when to use out-of-the-box capabilities versus writing customized code.
  • Consider integrations – How will your CRM be integrated with the rest of the systems within your organization? This will be a key design consideration if you are using a cloud-based CRM such as Salesforce and integrating with your internal systems. Are they interoperable? If information cannot be easily shared between various systems and it can quickly lead to disorder and a “spaghetti” of systems.
  • Establish a clear program roadmap – A program roadmap will serve as a timeline for CRM capability rollouts to each business group. This should be communicated to all stakeholders to eliminate surprises and support adoption.
  • Consider an implementation partner – The right implementation partner, particularly one who understands your industry, can alleviate much of the burden and downtime associated with implementing a CRM. They should also be able to provide strategic counsel on developing a blueprint that will best support your organization’s strategic goals and delivers business outcomes. 
  1. Secure stakeholder buy-in and identify an ambassador

Before launching a CRM initiative, identify an ambassador within your organization who will lead the initiative and champion adoption of the CRM platform across the various stakeholders within the organizations. In many cases, this will be someone on the leadership team who communicates the vision and works to gain stakeholder buy-in. 

  1. Create a transition and change management plan

Many companies make the mistake of waiting to develop a transition and change management plan until the end of the CRM implementation which results in user adoption issues. Prior to adoption, a best practice is to identify key stakeholders within each department or team to be a part of the steering committee or project team. Gather their ideas and feedback at the start of the process and continuously throughout. These key stakeholders will also serve as evangelists. When all voices are taken into account, it helps drive the adoption up during the roll-out phase.

During the implementation phase, invest time in creating a training plan and supporting materials. Keep in mind, training is not a one-and-done instance. It will be something that will need to be revisited, particularly as updates and feature enhancements are rolled out. Training is critical to overall adoption and must be a priority. 

  1. Iterate delivery capabilities

When implementing your CRM, it’s important to be nimble. An iterative and agile methodology is favorable to an “all-in-at-once” or “big-bang” approach when executing your CRM program. This is where many organizations run into issues as it can lead to failure to launch as a result of trying to achieve perfection or trying to implement too much at once. What works today may not work tomorrow, and a phased approach positions you to iterate and perfect as you go. This is also where your internal ambassador can guide the CRM team to make realistic scoping and roadmap decisions. 

  1. Foster collaboration between business and IT

If your CRM initiative is simply viewed as an IT project, then you’ve already failed.  A CRM will touch nearly every nuance of your business and serve as the foundation for supporting business goals and outcomes, and so it must be a company-wide initiative, not something that falls squarely on the IT department’s shoulders.  
Your CRM can deliver tremendous value to your business with the right planning and implementation. Research has shown that ROI for businesses with a properly integrated CRM solution can range from approximately $2.50 to $5.60 on every dollar invested. More importantly, however, CRM is at the bedrock of digital transformation and delivering a transformative stakeholder experience –– something businesses can’t afford not to do into today’s competitive landscape.