The ‘Holy Grail’ of CRM?

21 May 2015

By: David Hart

E AND H / Events / Professional Membership Sector

At an event we delivered last week it was suggested that a successful CRM project is the ‘holy grail’ for Membership organisations.  Why should this be the case?  After all, there are plenty of systems suppliers out there who claim to be able to provide CRM for the sector, and we know all the fundamentals now about how to deliver successful projects – don’t we?  Or perhaps it’s the concept of CRM itself – do we really know what we are trying to achieve?

In our work with organisations we’ve seen several CRM projects, some successful, others perhaps not as successful, and it might be useful to share some thoughts and observations around what gives the best opportunity of actually achieving that ‘holy grail’ outcome.

So, what do we know about CRM projects?

Firstly, we know they usually involve the implementation of a new IT system, and IT projects are notorious for their high failure rate.  However, the reasons for failure are well-known and with the appropriate expertise and the right approach the risks can be minimised.  Then there are the suppliers – several experienced CRM system suppliers provide solutions for the sector and all (or at least most) know how to implement them. However, the reality is that the supplier will deliver a system that works in accordance with an agreed functional specification – but they won’t be able to deliver your CRM objectives for you.

Secondly we know that CRM is more about people and culture than it is about technology, which is why just procuring a system from an IT supplier won’t deliver CRM.  CRM is about a different approach to your members or customers – aiming to improve relationships and services through better use of information and data.  However, improvement involves change, and change doesn’t happen until people do things differently.  A core component of any successful CRM project is people and culture change – improving skills, knowledge and capability, and often changing attitudes and behaviours to enable a new way of working.  CRM is cross-cutting.  A CRM focus puts the member or customer in the centre, rather than our organisational structures, management or processes.  To be successful we may need to take a radically different view of how we do things, perhaps with significant organisational implications.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we know that there needs to be a clear understanding of what the organisation expects from CRM (you will note that I’m saying these in reverse order – probably because many organisations implementing CRM start by looking for an IT system, which is a fatal mistake and the cause of many failed projects).  What problem are we trying to solve through CRM?  What are our strategic objectives and what benefits do we need to realise from CRM?  Implementing CRM is a significant undertaking and it needs to be clearly aligned within wider organisational strategy and business planning, with a commonly understood and accepted set of objectives.

The other key factor we need to recognise is that the organisational environment into which we are implementing this CRM is complex.  Our organisations are constantly changing – strategies and plans change, external factors and environment changes influence our priorities and investment decisions, staff change (especially CEOs!) and the needs and aspirations of our members and customers change.  Even in a relatively stable environment there are a myriad of things going on – formal and informal – around people, process and culture that may impact our project.  To be successful we need to see CRM within a whole organisation systems context.  Otherwise, implementing CRM is likely to have unintended consequences, and factors external to the project may impact its success.

When you look at all these things together I suppose it isn’t surprising that a successful CRM project is often seen as being as elusive as the Holy Grail.  However, this needn’t necessarily be the case and with the right expertise, the adoption modern management tools and techniques, and the right approach, significant benefits can be realised from a successful CRM implementation.  Critical areas any organisation embarking on CRM needs to get right include:

  • Aligning strategy, the top team and then the wider organisation around what we are doing and why – confirming and articulating the objectives and the benefits needed to demonstrate success. This high-level strategic work must be organisation-wide – and is best achieved from an interactive approach that includes the use of soft-systems methods (such as benefits dependency mapping) to engage all the key players. The outcome provides a framework that will guide the whole project.
  • Adopt a structured, robust and appropriate approach to initiation, governance, procurement, contracts etc. – choosing suppliers who will take a collaborative approach and work with you. Define and plan what needs to be delivered – the people/cultural aspects as much as the technical areas – ensuring plans, timescales and budget are aligned, realistic and sufficient.
  • Invest in enabling your best people to be involved in the project.
  • Adopt delivery management approaches, methods and controls that are appropriate for your organisation and the context – don’t just adopt the current fashion (PRINCE2, Agile etc… all have their place but none are a panacea).
  • Bring in appropriate expertise to help identify and manage the technical challenges (CRM system suppliers alone are often unable to do this effectively).
  • Keep the organisation engaged and involved throughout.
  • Plan for the implementation in the post-project world. Make sure you understand how CRM will be used and what difference it will make. The organisation must be capable of taking on the new systems and ways of working to allow the project team to disband. Change performance measures to reflect and reinforce the new CRM approach.
  • Celebrate success!

If you want to know more email us – – or visit our website.

We will be presenting at the Memberwise ‘Harnessing the Web 2015’ conference in London on 4th November.  Hopefully we’ll see you there.