Why B2B CRM Systems Fail

By David Sims
08/09/2013
Credit: fotographic1980 via Freestockimages.net

In a May 2013 research brief, Aberdeen Group leads off, “’Know thy Customer’ is a universally acknowledged practice in the business-to-business (B2B) space.” But it says enterprises and small companies alike fail to consistently maintain an accurate database of, and strategic insight into, their prospects and customers.

It concludes that 40 percent of respondents to its research survey have sales reps who spend more than 20 percent of their time looking for sales intelligence rather than selling. Seven percent of companies reported their reps spent more than half of their time researching. Part of this problem owes to ineffective customer relationship management (CRM) data.

One unfortunate reality is that B2B CRM systems don’t always meet expectations.

One unfortunate reality is that B2B CRM systems don’t always meet expectations. “Nearly 80 percent of companies polled in a new Big Data study find CRM ineffective at helping find external company information,” says another study. Gartner Group research, meanwhile, concludes that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of CRM implementations -- B2B and B2C -- fail in terms of not meeting expectations.

Tech Trends Journal spoke with some CRM experts, who gave four general reasons why companies end up dissatisfied with their B2B CRM systems.

1. Companies put CRM on top of bad processes.

“The biggest problem is that they focus on functions and features, rather than starting with process,” Jim Berkowitz, CRM technology coach at CRMmastery.com, said of organizations. “What’s working and not working is process, not the CRM. They immediately jump in with technology, and that’s not the place to start. Technology’s an enablement to process improvement, it’s not the solution itself.”

Berkowitz says before a company goes looking to add a CRM platform, it should sort out its sales processes first. Only then can the company go out and get the technology that matches its needs. If you’re on the wrong road you don’t need a faster car, you need to alter your route; a faster car only enables you to go wrong more quickly.

When Berkowitz is called in to consult a company, the first thing he usually does is have the client take a fact-finding process survey. Only after he reviews the results with the company does he talk about buying CRM tools -- whether it should get this Salesforce.com product or that Oracle one, etc.

Other experts echoed the mistake of starting a CRM initiative with technology. “Technology gets too much credit and blame for CRM success and failure,” Bob Thompson, noted B2B CRM expert at CRMGuru.com, said. “Systems are necessary but don’t drive success all by themselves... Assuming the system selected is a reasonably good fit, that’s at best 20 percent of what’s needed to succeed.”

2. Companies aren’t sure what to do with CRM.

“From my experience, the top contributing factor to CRM software deployments that fail to realize their stated objectives or deliver payback is a lacking strategy, or many times, no strategy at all,” Chuck Schaeffer, CEO of Vantive Media, told Tech Trends Journal.

CRM software, Schaeffer says, “enables CRM strategy.” He uses the acronym “SMART” (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound) to describe a good CRM model. It is also “directly linked to the company’s most pressing business strategies.”

Indeed, Aberdeen Group’s research brief concludes that “companies have traditionally been willing to invest in static data subscriptions that provide reasonable demographic and firmographic content, but only the [best organizations] recognized the optimal value in adding behavioral and news-worthy trigger events to the stream of information arriving in their sales teams’ hands and collected by the CRM.”

In order for CRM to help the company advance its sales and business growth goals or objectives, the organization has to determine those goals or objectives and figure out how the CRM system will be integrated to help achieve them.

“Starting a CRM software implementation without a measurable strategy is a lot like boarding the wrong train,” Schaeffer described. “You can try running down the corridor in the other direction, but it’s really a futile effort.”

Schaeffer says when there is no organization-wide strategy for sales and marketing, the CRM platform becomes something used for individual or departmental goals. And the differences between individual goals and the company’s strategic goals are substantial.

3. Companies don’t spend time researching platforms.

Doing your homework, puzzling out your CRM strategy and priorities -- including measurable success metrics -- and reviewing internal processes of the sales and marketing teams before splashing on a system significantly raises the chances of money being spent wisely. Still, there are some general points to keep in mind for CRM purchases.

“Companies should buy technology that fits their size and functionality requirements,” Thompson advised. “Look for vendors that are already active in the industry vertical or subvertical, they will be tuned to customer requirements without a lot of customization.

“Don’t buy a product just because it comes from a big-name vendor,” he continued. “If you’re serving a particular niche or if you have unique needs, there could very well be a (cheaper) product much more suitable.”

“Understand your infrastructure,” Berkowitz said. “For example, Microsoft has a manufacturing solution. If you’re using Microsoft elsewhere, it’s a no-brainer. Why would you choose an Oracle product?”

And consider key supply chain partners. “If you have a key supplier, if you want some level of integration, you want your system to be able to play nicely with them,” Berkowitz notes. He says this also applies to drawing data from all internal sources into one CRM system.

4. Companies skip proper setup, training, and ongoing care.

Give a Ferrari to someone who doesn’t know how to drive and you might as well have given him a Ford Pinto, and if one doesn’t regularly service a Ferrari, it becomes just as undriveable.

CRM’s like a giant database, Berkowitz said, which needs to be configured to objectives. “A lot of vendors say, ‘We can do that,’ but you have to configure it” as your own, he said. “Companies have always taken a feature approach with their other (IT) systems, and they approach CRM the same way.”

Each company has its own idiosyncratic needs and processes. The chances are good that the platform will eventually be able to do pretty much everything you need it to do, but getting it there is an active process, not passive -- think of the feedback loop.

Said Berkowitz: “I’ve had large companies come to me and say, 'I have this CRM product, and our sales organization is unhappy with it.' I’ll look at the details and processes, and tell them everything they can do with that system, but they can’t stick with it because there's too much negativity with it.” Berkowitz said this is because they hadn’t made the necessary small adjustments along the way to keep stakeholders productive with the system.

If you’re not maintaining and fine-tuning your CRM platform, “people simply stop using it,” he warned. “They’ve had 16 months of misery and just want [out]. What makes CRM unique is the need for dynamic and ongoing change.”

Berkowitz described this as the “state of continuous enhancement.”

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