5 Powerful Lessons from Failed CRM Implementations

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CRM software manages an organization’s customer relationships, including all communication, account history, contact information, and more. It helps sales teams stay informed and updated with all touchpoints and paints a quick narrative for the history of the account. These tools are crucial to the overall growth and success of companies. 

CRM systems are powerful tools – which means they’re expensive. Enterprise CRM software can cost upwards of $130 per user.

With CRM software being so critical to your business’s bottom line – as well as being such an extremely costly and complex investment – a successful CRM implementation plan is essential.

7 Signs of a Failed CRM Implementation

I’ve managed many CRM implementations throughout my career – and learned many lessons along the way. I can also confidently predict when a software implementation is destined to fail – or already has.

In fact, Salesforce research states that one-third of CRM implementation projects fail. But there are early symptoms to watch for to know if your customer relationship management implementation project has gone off the rails.

Here are a few signs that your CRM implementation plan is failing – or already has:

  1. Unused Features: Many complex CRM features and customizations that you paid big money for remain underused or not used at all.
  2. Low User Productivity & Proficiency: Doing anything on your CRM takes too long and is complicated – from entering a new record or delivering a quote – causing your users to feel frustrated.
  3. Lack of Data Migration: The data and customer information from the existing CRM architecture is not available in the new system, causing users to revert to legacy software or spreadsheets.
  4. Poor Sales Data Quality: Duplicate, inaccurate or missing sales lead/opportunity records are found throughout your new CRM.
  5. Internal Resistance to Change: User resistance to the sales workflow changes – ie. refusal to use the new CRM. You can remedy this implementation challenge by understanding the most common root causes of resistance to change.
  6. No Unified CRM Experience: Confusion across different teams and poorly connected user experiences across your organization’s CRM dashboards – and overall bad integration across company departments – ie. account managers, customer success managers, and marketing managers all see different views with using your CRM.
  7. Dip in Overall Sales Performance: CRM ticket backlogs, broken SLAs, and declining digital adoption among your users.

All of these signs point to failed CRM implementation, and subsequent loss in overall productivity across your organization.

What's the average failure rate of CRM implementation plans?

The estimated rate of CRM implementation failure ranges from 30% to 70% across data from major analysts and research firms such as Gartner, Forrester, and more.

You read that right, reputable data suggests that 7 out of every 10 CRM implementation projects fail.


Most of the obstacles in the way of a successful CRM implementation are driven by ‘people issues’ according to Forrester Research. Out of which, nearly half are due to slow user adoption. These failure reasons reflect the failure signs I mentioned earlier for identifying a failed CRM implementation in your organization.


Thankfully, if caught early, it’s possible to fix these gaps in your implementation process and find real ROI from your CRM investment.

The roadmap to success? Well-researched and documented implementation planning, a people-focused change management strategy, and solid end-user training by leveraging innovative digital adoption platforms for better CRM user adoption and proficiency.

7-Step Plan for Successful CRM Implementation in 2022

There are many ways your CRM implementation can go wrong – and when it does, users get frustrated and blame the tool.

That’s not only unfair, it’s also counterproductive. This frustration leads to sales users abandoning the newly implemented CRM altogether.

To avoid tumbling down this rabbit hole, here is a 7-step plan with tips for decision-makers to follow when implementing a new CRM system:

1. Define the Reasons for Migrating to a New CRM

What are the reasons for making a switch? What are your organization’s goals for moving to a new CRM? This could be the need for more sales automation, better integration with existing systems, or many other reasons.

Answering these questions not only will help you identify what system you’ll eventually go with, but will also provide answers to your employee’s questions when you announce the change. This will help ease resistance to the change – as you’ll be able to show how a new CRM will benefit the eventual everyday users of the platform.

2. Spend Only Where It Matters

According to a study by Inside CRM, 65% of CRM users choose usability over functionality. A Hubspot report revealed that 54% of organizations never invest in a CRM at all due to budget reasons.

That’s why it’s crucial to keep your CRM as narrow-focused (and cost-effective) as possible, especially in the first phase of implementation.

During this period, always prioritize user experience, as well as investing only in the most business-critical CRM features that your business needs. To narrow down the list of most important CRM experiences, ask the end-users who will be using your future CRM the most. Using survey and feedback tools to gather what their biggest needs are – and what features would provide them with the most benefits.

Based on the feedback, start rolling out features that will benefit end-users the most – from managing accounts, contact,s leads, and opportunities, as well as the for users to access their CRM data on their mobile devices.

3. Create a CRM Implementation Team

A CRM change management team provides your organization with a dedicated team including representations from different business functions. This team provides a centralized touchpoint that plans your implementation strategy, boosts company morale and buy-in from employees, and creates the employee training and onboarding strategy.

Your CRM implementation team should include:

  • Project Manager(s)
  • Application Analyst
  • Application Developer
  • QA Engineer
  • Account Manager
  • Sales Team Manager/Director
  • Marketing Manager/Director
  • Customer Success Manager/Director
  • Customer Support Manager/Director

This mix of backgrounds provides members on the implementation team that can create both a people and technical plan for migration. It also provides insights from different teams that will use the new CRM to get a wide range of opinions from those who will be using the tool.

Having representations across different departments will also encourage advocacy across your organization, as each department and business function will have one of their own in the decision-making process advocating for their needs.

4. Integrate Your CRM Data with Existing Systems

According to a Forbes report, sales representatives spend over 9.1% in spreadsheets housing customer data – instead of using their CRM tool properly (either because their CRM data is dirty or they lack the knowledge of how to access their CRM data.)

If you want an intuitive CRM workflow, be sure to properly integrate legacy systems and customer data with your new CRM. Leverage third-party apps to integrate with your CRM that give you additional features not available within your CRM. Examples include email marketing software, CPQ software, live chat platforms, and in-app training tools such as Whatfix.

5. Clean Your CRM Data Before Migration

The global research firm Experian revealed in a recent report that U.S. organizations believe 32% of their CRM data is inaccurate.

Your CRM is only as good as the data that you feed into it. Before you implement a new CRM, make sure that your data is accurate, complete, consistent, and free of redundancies. This is the best way to steer clear of future data quality problems within your new CRM – and ensure you’re starting out with a strong foundation to build your CRM data on for years to come.

6. Ease User Onboarding with a Humanized Change Management Process

It’s your leadership’s responsibility to make employees feel at home with their new CRM technology by answering the ‘why’ of the change.

Unfortunately, according to a study by Really Simple Systems, around 80% of senior executives consider ‘convincing employees to use new CRM technology’ as the biggest challenge. To combat this issue, recruit agents of change across your organization to build confidence in your new CRM and change management strategy, as well as to communicate the how and why behind the change.

7. Invest in CRM Training & Development for Your Employees

To find real ROI with your expensive CRM technology, organizations must also invest in employee training and development programs. This is especially the case for globally distributed enterprises, as each business unit will use the CRM differently.

Tailor your training programs to meet the needs of everyone – local sales reps, account-based managers, CRM admins, marketing managers, and more will all need tailored training programs. The differences could be as simple as different UI languages or as vast as entirely different application integrations, dashboards, and so forth.

Here, adopting a traditional approach to training your CRM users will not be sustainable. Instead, try to predict the typical CRM workflow (and related user experience gaps) in each business unit. What is each department’s most used CRM feature and what part of these workflows do these users usually drop-off at? Build your training plan to solve these specific issues.

Next, use a mix of macro and microlearning employee training software tools to incorporate learning in the flow of workThis ensures that training happens without disrupting the employees’ work and productivity. This occurs by harnessing contextual and in-app digital adoption platforms (DAP), classroom-style learning, LMS, and a variety of learning content types such as knowledge bases, audio recordings, videos tutorials, etc.

To unlock the true value of your CRM, you may use the following features of interactive digital adoption platforms:

  • Simple and real-time guided tours that help end-users understand how to create new lead or opportunity records, switch to Kanban view, view and edit reports etc
  • Whatfix’s contextual widgets (tool-tips and self-help) to pull-up the most relevant help content, in real-time, based on the user’s location in the CRM and historic behavioral data.
  • SCORM and xAPI compliance that allows it to integrate with legacy LMS to create structured in-app guides and training programs, at scale.

Trotec, an industry leader in laser technology, used Whatfix’s ability to create real-time interactive flows within its CRM to simplify training for users across the globe. This helped the company bring down its CRM training efforts by 60%, and lower its content creation time by 50%.

Create personalized learning & training flows for your enterprise CRM with Whatfix
The CRM Adoption Process Doesn’t End At Implementation

It is important to keep in mind that implementation is only the first of a series of steps in your CRM journey. As custodians of an enterprise CRM tool, you need to keep measuring the CRM adoption metrics that matter, via end-user feedback loops and big data analytics. This fosters continuous improvement in your CRM’s user experience.

For instance, Whatfix’s analytics feature can help you pinpoint what kind of in-demand training content is missing and how the user engages with various elements of your CRM such as what features are the most underutilized. This insight can help you re-engineer your CRM training tactics in order to convert reluctant users into power users.

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