Why CRM Implementation Is So Political

If CRM systems are just IT systems, why are the projects so political? It's the people, processes and policies that are affected. Here are five warning signs that mudslinging may begin, as well as some tips for reaching across the aisles.

By David Taber
Thu, August 02, 2012

CIO — IT systems don't typically show all that many symptoms of politics. They consist mostly of engineering and consistent rules. An accounting or ERP or integration system may be in place for a decade or more. It's hard to imagine a heated meeting about inventory allocation or accounting rules (other than Silicon Valley's infamous options-backdating issues).

Not so with CRM system implementation. These projects have lots of meetings. In fact, I'm going to assert that not having heated meetings is an almost a sure indication of future project problems.

Why? The surface reason—that flashy egos are involved—hides five more profound reasons.

1. Fundamentally, CRM systems are about optimizing revenue. This topic is important to every stockholding executive. Ideally, revenue or profit optimization should be important to every VP and her team. In too many cases, though, sales exclusively owns the revenue agenda. In these situations, the chief revenue officer tends to push every other function to the side in the CRM system, leading to classic sub-optimization. This can result in a system that's easy to use for sales, but is a pain for partners, is sketchy for ecommerce customers, makes marketing programs less effective, slows down product distribution or impedes customer support—all of which can lower customer satisfaction and revenue.

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2. Relationships can be complicated. If a CRM system is true to its name, it should leverage and improve the customer relationship over time. If there really is a customer relationship to maintain over time, then it is rare for the sales folks to actually make the most "touches," since marketing and customer service are likely to be connecting with the customers more often than sales. The customer conversations that yield revenue are going to be with sales folks, though, and they tend to be fairly territorial about owning the relationship. Innocent issues such as record ownership and read permissions can lead to endless fun.

3. The more mature the CRM system, the broader its span of integration. It's quite normal for a CRM system to be able to see records from the website to the ecommerce system, from accounting to distribution, from licensing to warranty and from marketing to support. Just seeing those records can cause political noise—just like they can in a data warehouse—but in the CRM a good portion of those records also need to be written to. In highly compartmentalized organizations, the idea of writing across the silos can inspire a lot of passion.

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