Is your CRM implementation a success? Only if you raise more money

Our department launched a new customer relationship management (CRM) system this fall, following a 20-month implementation. We finished on time and under budget. Our data migrated successfully and is probably cleaner than it’s ever been. We developed or improved many business processes in order to leverage the power of the new tool. We’ll be able to track activity like never before. There are some lingering issues, which we’ll deal with eventually.

But was it a success?

An oft-quoted statistic has it that about one-third of all CRM projects fail. This stat is based on an average of a dozen analyst reports which have come up with failure rates ranging from 18% to 69%. (1)

Even at the low end of that wide range, CRM projects are clearly risky. Many go off the rails in terms of time, budget, front-line adoption, and promised functionality that never materializes.

So yes, our implementation was a success in that it avoided the problems that have felled so many others. Our implementation is a technical success. Whether it is an actual success is too early to say.

Such a large investment must lead to revenue growth. Our CRM must enable us to raise more money, and facilitate alignment of private support with the public mission. CRM is a tool for the development team to embrace and use effectively, it’s a tool to integrate early-stage engagement with development. It is not a tool for merely carrying out administrative tasks and reporting on them.

When CRM implementations are measured against this higher bar, the average failure rate is probably much higher than one-third. (2)

If you have not yet started down the path of finding your CRM solution, your first step will be to define your goals and must-haves. I suggest you put revenue growth and alignment with mission right at the top. Everything else flows from there.


  1. What to do when your CRM project fails,” CIO Magazine, September 18, 2017
  2. Why CRM Projects Fail and How to Make Them More Successful,” Harvard Business Review, December 20, 2018

What your CRM vendor won’t do for you

Launching a new system is an exciting but daunting prospect. Exciting because the new generation of software can drive frontline performance like never before. Daunting because no amount of prior consulting and investigating can prepare you for what an implementation is really like.

After using Banner Advancement for nearly 20 years, in September we became the first university in Canada to go live with Ellucian’s CRM Advance. I mention this only because I know you’ll ask. A successful implementation depends on you, regardless of the product or the vendor you choose.

Success requires an equal partnership of client and vendor. Being a partner means doing some heavy lifting on your end. Unfortunately, the sales-oriented conversations leading up to signing a contract might not make it clear what that entails. Some things are so far out of a vendor’s scope that they won’t come up for discussion. Other things the vendor will do, but you might be able to do them better.

A few examples:

Business process development and improvement: Newer systems can be configured to support your processes. If you’re migrating from an old system, chances are your existing processes were developed with the limitations of that system in mind. Doing process work prior to kickoff or in parallel with the implementation can help transform the business. A new system may incorporate aspects of best practice, but not necessarily your best practice. We contracted with a consultant to facilitate extensive consultation and process workshops. A lot of work, but worth it.

Change management: A CRM implementation may be the single largest and most disruptive technology project your department will ever take on. It will affect almost everyone. Our frontline staff had minimal exposure to our old system, but are expected to work in CRM every day. If the project team had done its work in the shadows for a year and a half and then sprung a new system on people, the implementation would have been a failure. We recognized we did not have change management expertise in-house, so again we contracted externally. (The same consultant who performed our process facilitation, incidentally, but for you they could be separate.) Again – worth it!

Data cleanup and validation: Data migration from one system to another will go much smoother if integrity issues have been detected and cleaned. A vendor’s migration tool will map data from a field in your old system to the proper field in the new system, a process complicated by integrity issues. If some logic steps are required before loading (say, using rules to decide which constituent type code to apply to a record), your vendor may offer transformation services. These scripts are time-consuming to develop and require debugging after each data pass, which means they’re expensive. The vendor can do a lot for you, if you’ve got budget, but you may choose to transform and load some data elements yourself. In any case, the vendor is not ultimately responsible for the quality of your data — you are.

Reporting: CRMs do offer some reporting capabilities, but take a hard look at what you’re getting before leaving your existing reporting tools behind. We opted to rebuild our in-house data mart and reconfigure existing reports to draw from that. It would have taken us much longer to start from scratch with new tools in CRM. Providing frontline staff with reports without having to leave CRM is something to look forward to – just not yet.

Not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.

Anticipating the full scope for your team will help you set a realistic timeframe and staff complement for the project — and budget appropriately.