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Gartner has projected that the customer relationship management (CRM) software market will continue to grow through 2017, and countless other studies have noted the increasing importance of CRM software.

At the same time, industry publications consistently note that because of CRM software’s complexity, a majority of implementation initiatives will fail to deliver return on investment, Failure rates have been reported as high as 70 percent, depending on which publication or report you read. Low end-user adoption, inadequate planning, and lack of a clear, communicated vision are the most cited reasons for failure.

How then can an organization justify putting resources into CRM software if research shows that implementation is prone to failure?

Organizations can start by recognizing CRM’s enormous potential. As business models have changed from transaction-focused to customer-centric over the last few years, it has become clear that fostering long-term relationships and nurturing them with one-to-one interactions builds customer loyalty.

This focus on the customer has made CRM software the most important tool for any business. While the most frequent users of CRM are in sales, marketing and customer service, it’s equally important for any employee who has contact with customers to know how best to maximize the software. A CRM system holds all the information a company needs to truly understand its customers—including basic profile information, a record of interactions, and customer wants and needs. CRM software can track and organize that valuable data and put it into an actionable format.

In order to benefit from all that CRM offers, organizations need to make an effort to understand the factors that contribute to failure, and use that knowledge to determine their own implementation approaches.

Dozens of clients have asked me the same question: Why is my CRM system not delivering increased productivity? My answer always begins with CRM’s two biggest pain points: data collection and data analysis.

Over the past four and a half years, during my time as head of account management (and now portfolio management), dozens of clients have asked me the same question: Why is my CRM system not delivering increased productivity? My answer always begins with CRM’s two biggest pain points: data collection and data analysis.

In order to foster and grow customer relationships, organizations must set up protocols to collect the appropriate data and teach employees how to use it. Department heads need to work together to communicate the initiative’s value across the company and provide training and support resources, which are critical.

For example, one sales person may learn on a call exactly what she needs to know to make the customer happy. But if the customer calls back and is connected with another rep who either doesn’t know the information has been collected or doesn’t know how to interpret it, it’s essentially useless.

Teaching employees how to collect and use data is only part of the process. Organizations also need to focus their efforts on changing the existing culture within business units.

In a recent blog post, Gartner research vice president and distinguished analyst Michael Maoz noted the importance of approach to an implementation’s success:

“The great companies that we are seeing are reaching outside of IT, and bringing employees, customers and partners into the picture at an early stage, and continually as systems and processes evolve. And they are agreeing, sometimes insisting, on being measured by successful outcomes as determined by the end-user rather than the technical success of the project,” writes Maoz.

The underlying culture within a business is the most important factor for successful implementation and adoption of CRM. There are many steps organizations can take to transform it, all of which require time and sustained efforts.

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