Why CRM Projects Succeed or Fail?

At the back-end of 2009 I signed the go-ahead for a CRM system that was going to integrate all my association’s systems, including membership, training, and CPD. By early 2013, when I was ready to leave, we were staggering towards a final conclusion. The project wasn’t a failure, but it had gone over budget, and suffered delays along the way – and still hadn’t won the trust of one or two staff.   We thought we’d done all the right things. We’d used a consultant to define our requirements, bring suppliers to the table, and marshal the contestants in the resulting beauty parade. We’d even read – without really understanding – the inches thick specification documents that landed on our desks with a thud. But, despite all the planning, and spending over a hundred grand, nobody was overjoyed with the result.  

Where had we gone wrong? I was about to find out as Allen Reid, director of client projects at Hart Square ran through the key findings of their study CRM Projects: Why do they succeed or fail? And right from the start one narrative response struck a chord. As one CEO put it, “We resourced it as if we expected the project to be like painting and decorating…..It turned out to be like plumbing, wiring, and putting on a new roof.” If only I’d known!
  Hart Square prides itself on its independent credentials and burning curiosity about what makes things work. So, in an effort to assist those who were “likely to be lumbered with installing a system”, and wanted to “avoid getting shouted at or fired”, Hart Square asked why, given that tech, vendors, and customers have all matured, is the failure rate still greater than in 2001? The simple answer may be that the level of ambition has increased. Organisations want to do more. But how do they avoid future errors? First, Hart Square asked 200 online respondents to tell them about their business, staff, functional areas; what system and how much they paid; how did they prepare; what time, resources and staff did they employ; and did they use consultants to advise them? Then they asked, did they review processes before-hand, and success afterwards? Spend versus budget, time before adoption, benefits, lessons learned, and any regrets were added to the mix.   The results were interesting. Spending varied enormously from eleven percent spending in the £5-10,000 price range to twenty-one percent with budgets in excess of £250k: the majority, or twenty-five percent, spending between £80 and £150,000. The only conclusion that could be drawn was that it was important to spend the right amount of money for the desired results.   Forty percent of respondents rated their experience as a success, thirty-five percent as a failure, and twenty percent as a limited success. Asked if they would choose the same supplier again, forty-six percent said yes, whilst thirty-nine percent gave a negative response.   It was notable that the rate of churn has increased, with systems being replaced every three to four years, compared with a ten to twelve year time lag in the past. Partly due to the constant updating of software, the desire to achieve more, and increased capability. Whist ‘packaged systems’ are staging a fight back, the top selections – dependent on use – are, number one, MS Dynamics, two Salesforce, and three ThankQ.   In general, most projects took one to two years to complete, with some as long as eight years in the pipeline. However, six to twelve month over-runs were a common occurrence, based on the initial delivery date promised. Where failures occurred, some were down to no single cause, but the majority – thirty-one percent – were attributed to the recreation of already inadequate systems and processes existing within the business. Other causes included a lack of clarity about strategy in twenty-nine percent of cases; twenty-four percent who reckoned they had failed to bring people – staff and members – along with them on the journey because of poor take-up, inadequate training, or simple overload; and a relatively modest sixteen percent that failed due to poor or missing technology.   Where organisations were left asking, “Where did all the money go?” the answers were often, budget overspend, conflict, or just misunderstanding!   Of Hart Square’s five key recommendations, there are three ‘do’s’ and one categorical ‘don’t’: do start with yourself, including strategy, processes, budgets, and resources; get help, this is only going to happen once every five – ten years; invest in change, and bring others with you; and do select your partner like choosing a life-partner! Don’t, for whatever reason, focus on technology!

Allen Reid, Hart Square

Nick Rosewall, smartimpact

Co-sponsors of the event, smartimpact, were on hand – in the form of Nick Rosewall – to take on that penultimate point, selecting partners. Critical of the typical ‘arms-length’ selection process, he advised getting to know suppliers up front, and spending quality time together. Given that the relationship might last for years it is, in his view, critically important for there to be synergy between partners based on an empathetic relationship.   The expectations of members and activists have never been more complex or diverse.  They expect more channels and organisations presume they can achieve more integration. Overall, a dedicated project manager adds about twenty-five percent to the likelihood of success. But what about consultant use?   Can we assume that correlation indicates causation? You’ll have to read the report to get the answer to that question.  But, what’s for sure is that installing a CRM system is about change management: leaving the whole project to the IT department will lead to failure! Written by Michael Hoare



Michael Hoare

Over twenty years experience managing and leading trade associations. I am a member and past president of the Institute of Association Management (IofAM); and former editor of Association News.