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An Executive's Guide to CRM Software

SFA Software Implementation Pitfalls


A recent study estimated that less than forty percent of all Sales Force Automation software implementations are successful. A resounding and ominous statistic that has not steadily improved with the maturation of CRM and SFA software.

Think about it. Why is it that CRM and SFA software systems advance, mature and over time become much more powerful and reliable and during the same time SFA software implementations continue their unimpressive implementation success rate?

Any executive worth his or her salt should undertake such a software deployment fully armed, knowledgeable and with a clearly defined strategy for victory. The most important and easiest pitfall to avoid is purchasing the wrong tool for the job. No CRM system, no matter how popular, fits every company. No commercial off the shelf (COTS) or canned software solution provides a perfect software feature set that exactly matches a businesses needs. Recognize these absolutes and map the most vital software selection pre-requisites to your software selection procurement process. Determine the best fit solution based upon a variety of factors, not a single factor such as market share, functionality or price.

Select the best fit vendor based upon a collection of relevant and weighted criteria, not simply on features or price. Company specific criteria become especially important if specific business pains are driving the company to SFA. Also look beyond the software to include selection criteria related to implementation and training. For example, the training deployment method may be a key feature responsible for a successful implementation. If the sales force is decentralized or remote, then vendor training must be capable of being delivered without face to face instruction and user involvement. In these cases, online training, computer based tutorials and self paced training programs may be critical and the difference between a trained sales staff and a sales team that rejects the software.

Even in today’s informed age, a majority of businesses do not include the sales force in the software selection process resulting in selection of an inappropriate system. Let the sales force participate and drive the selection process and develop the software pre-requisite feature list. Early and broad sales force participation will facilitate user adoption later down the road.

Failure to include culture and communication channels in the decision can also doom a CRM system installation. A related factor that routinely spells failure more than any other is not obtaining executive sponsorship for the proposed solution. Not only must key management advocate the system, they must publicly transmit this to employees on a continual basis. Corporate culture is normally exemplified by the CEO or executive team. All SFA software implementations require active executive sponsorship and frequent communication in order to win the user adoption challenge.

As is often the case in smaller companies, SFA implementations tend to be bundled into one complete project. This is a recipe for catastrophe. The opposite however holds true for wild victory; breaking the entire project into small discrete phases with set goals and time frames facilitates success. As an average, each implementation stage should take no longer than three months to deploy.

SFA vendors bombard potential clients with software benefits in a misguided effort to drive the decision process according to the vendors capabilities. A majority of businesses embarking on an SFA solution make the fatal mistake of implementing too many features too quickly. Avoid this pitfall by having sales personnel narrow these to a top ten list. Decide on the features that the sales force champions.

Although it again seems evident, not having a detailed implementation plan invites failure. However, many wildly successful sales departments are famous for a seat of the pants management style, and typically do not carefully plan their Sales Force Automation deployment. Not charting a specific project plan with resource allocation, identified dependencies, work breakdown structures and the like dramatically increases the probability of an implementation disaster. Work with your selected software vendor to develop a comprehensive project plan. Most successful implementations are divided into small, manageable stages, while a majority of failed projects take the big bang method. Identify the few essential features necessary for the first phase of SFA deployment and limit your scope to only those.

Horror stories of entities undertaking an SFA solution without a single sales end-user having a representative on the implementation team abound. Build a representative team by incorporating key members of sales personnel, management and the software vendor. A team which includes all stakeholders is vital for victory.

Project teams often fail to define the right metrics for achieving their stated objectives. Unclear metrics are the basis for morphing a win installation into a loss. Ensure you take the appropriate measures for your company and relative to your industry. This is particularly true for vertical industries. Even when sales managers may have clear objectives, oftentimes no measures are taken of the pre-project goals. Without a baseline for comparison purposes, success cannot be clearly demonstrated. Associate projected aspirations wherever possible with quantifiable, tangible baseline and target metrics.

Two aspects of SFA system installation are unusually influential in determining victory; user buy-in and meeting pre-determined objectives. Motivate and incent all users to adopt the software. Bond buy-in to a required daily activity for salespeople. Negative motivators can and often should also be utilized. For example, initiate a new policy preventing accounting from issuing a commission check unless the necessary client data is entered into the system. Recognize that if managers do not utilize the information from the system, user buy-in will drop off. Drive user acceptance from the top down.

Specifying a vague user adoption rate as a goal sets the project in one direction, failure. Acknowledge the fact that user adoption is often the most critical factor for a successful SFA deployment, and measure it and monitor it on a consistent schedule. Investigate user drop offs and make the changes necessary to raise utilization to acceptable levels. If the sales force will not or cannot use the software, the implementation is doomed to failure. Realize that all of the above seem obvious, but almost every entity fails to adequately incorporate them. With the odds stacked against victory, every detail becomes significant.

Lack of end-user adoption is a critical implementation factor but a corresponding executive crucial buy-in plays a major role also. Absence of continuous managerial or executive system involvement virtually guarantees failure. Even if every single salesperson embraces the solution, if the sales management team doesn’t utilize customer, quota, opportunity and sale information available in the SFA system, the user adoption rate will fall off.

Studies show that SFA installations which maximize the business processes of a sales department tend to be more successful than others. However, a crucial mistake many implementations make is the over-customization of the SFA system. Limit modifications to the software to the bare minimum and avoid them completely if at all possible in the first phase. Frequently, a planned change becomes unnecessary once the software is in use for a few months as user knowledge increases and ‘work arounds’ can be easily implemented.

Minor changes in the user interface can play a major role in pushing a project into the victory lap. Yet, even though most systems on the market today are flexible enough to easily accommodate this, many projects do not take advantage of these features. Make the decision on the amount of change required and get the entire sales force to sign off on it.

If the system building blocks which include prospect and client information contains errors and lack integrity, the system will not have any opportunity for success. To avoid transferring erroneous data, give ownership of a clean database to a specific individual or a group, and insist users sign off on the scrubbed information prior to beginning the new project.

Sales people are notorious for resisting change, and this escalates to rebellious levels if the amount of data required to enter a single prospect into the system takes longer than it did previous to system installation, unless clear improvements in other areas are touted. Workflow features are inherent in any quality SFA software. Mapping the workflow inappropriately and thus making the sales business processes more onerous sets the project up for defeat. A salesperson will not use the system if he or she was previously able to enter a lead in five minutes and now it takes ten or more. Like software customization, keep workflow definitions to an absolute minimum in the early implementation phases.

Again, evident but repeated too often in real life, lack of training is a critical pitfall when putting a Sales Force Automation solution into place. Equally important mistakes are not tailoring the methods of communicating software education and the duration of the training. Tied to lack of training is a lack of support when the software is in use. Almost every plan calls for both, but does not cover the correct time period for providing continued in-house support and new employee training. Both should extend into the post-implementation analysis period and well beyond.

Not planning for the dynamic nature of a Sales Force Automation deployment is a key reason many projects collapse. A detailed change management methodology must be developed as part of the implementation project plan. Since the major areas of budget overrun are time and money, every change in project scope requires amendment of estimated hours, including the time it takes to decide on the change. If a maximum turnaround estimate for modification decision is not included in the change methodology, scope creep can stutter the project into failure.

A surprising number of Sales Force Automation system installations neglect to take communication with the company’s existing accounting and inventory into consideration when planning the project. Whether an automated integration is necessary or not must be evaluated early in the investigation. In either case, developing a specific method of handling the data transfer is generally included as part of the project scope.

An amazing number of projects achieve recognized objectives, but fail to broadcast the achieved milestones, and end users view the project in a sort of limbo status. This can result in a plummeting user buy-in over a period of time and transforming a success into abject failure. Many small to mid-size SFA implementation project leaders assume all the other company personnel are aware the project is a win. However, if this is not stated or transmitted company-wide, other divisions will speculate.

Many software deployments do not include a post implementation review. Sales Force Automation system success hinges on the crucial six to twelve week stage after the go-live date. During this phase, the whole project should be assessed, users monitored, objectives measured and changes made as appropriate.


CRM Introduction Real World CRM Executives Guide to SFA Marketing Automation Customer Support