CRM Center of Excellence Research Findings


  • A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Center of Excellence (CoE) leverages a core group of highly skilled resources to deliver increased CRM capabilities and value throughout the company. This specialized business unit applies deep technical skills, application insights and best practices to achieve a force multiplier performance impact across the company.
  • The goal is to shift from routine CRM software operation that delivers incremental improvements for a limited period to much higher utilization of the application software and drive increased user adoption, software utilization and technology ROI. Many times, that means advancing from operational mediocrity to Best-in-Class performance achievements.
  • Research shows adopters of CoE programs achieved a median ROI of 59 percent. However, those adopters that pursued the most significant cost reduction and revenue growth opportunities achieved a median ROI of 85 percent.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Sometimes our research findings create more questions.

That occurred with our last CRM Benchmarks survey. The data found that Best-in-Class leaders operated Centers of Excellence (CoE) at a much higher rate than their lower performing peers.

That disproportionately higher use so stood out that we wanted to know more.

For example, why and how did they use them and what were the benefits and payback?

So, we did a deeper follow-on survey for this topic.

The survey sought to identify how CoEs were designed, staffed and managed and how they contributed to user adoption, software utilization and ROI.

The survey results answered these questions and several others.

Research Results

We know from many years of implementing CRM CoEs that the objectives, challenges, staffing, competencies and payback shift with their evolution. CRM Center of Excellence Maturity Models provide a gauge to the incremental evolutional stages.

So, the survey started with questions to categorize respondents into one of four maturity model categories of Lagging, Efficient, Leading and Exceeding. The intent was to understand how these cohorts impacted other questions and findings.


CRM CoE Objectives

To understand the CoE purpose and goals, we started by measuring objectives.

CRM Center of Excellence Objectives

The top objective was getting more utilization out of the application. That makes sense as most companies use less than 25% of their CRM software capabilities. This goal is an opportunity for companies to get more payback from an existing investment.



Payback is the measure that determines whether the CoE is a nice to have or a must have.

Below are the CoE ROI results.

CRM Center of Excellence ROI

At a macro level, the median ROI was 59%. But the ROI became much more revealing when viewed by maturity model stage.

Somewhat surprisingly, 13% of respondents did not know or did not calculate the CoE ROI. Not so surprisingly, 91% of those respondents were in the Lagging cohort and 9% were in the Efficient cohort.

For those that did calculate ROI, the respondents in the Lagging category achieved a median ROI of 9%. For most companies, that’s an unimpressive payback that puts the CoEs continued existence at risk.

Respondents categorized in the Efficient cohort achieved a median ROI of 26%.

Respondents categorized in the Leading cohort achieved an ROI of 59%. That’s a whopping 2.6 times than the prior stages.

While only 14% of total respondents were designated in the Exceeding category, that group achieved a median ROI of 85%. That is an impressive ROI that not only validates the CoEs existence but makes this group indispensable.

Research shows that the top CRM Centers of Excellence achieved a median ROI of 85 percent.

Click to Tweet

CoE Core Competencies

CoEs focus on one or more core competencies. These are the specializations that drive the creation and sharing of application insights, repeatable assets and best practices within a given area of expertise.

Below are the survey results showing the frequency for the top core competencies.

CRM Center of Excellence Core Competencies

There was little surprise that software management topped the list. This focus area includes things like architecture planning, defining the application roadmap, lifecycle management, increasing adoption, using more capabilities and providing technology governance.

For global companies or companies with multiple application instances, this area expands to include things like the design and management of a master template, a common schema and reusable entities, objects and other components.

Comparing the core competencies by CoE maturity level and ROI revealed some interesting insights.

While innovation and change management scored the lowest overall, they were highly prevalent among the Leading CoEs and the CoEs with the highest ROI. That makes sense as the most mature groups often bypass incremental advancements and strive for more transformational achievements.

For example, CoE innovation is a transformational program that uses the Customer Relationship Management system to harvest customer and market data and identify product and market growth opportunities, industry disruption opportunities, improvements to products and services, and white space mapping. Similarly, change management services may not be required for small impact programs but are essential when pursuing any type of transformation.

Two other competencies stood out among the Exceeding cohorts. Improving the user experience (UX) and harvesting Customer Intelligence were disproportionately higher among the top ROI respondents.

On the other end of the spectrum, respondents that included user support as a top competency reported the lowest ROI. In fact, some in this cohort did not achieve a positive ROI. The data suggests something we know from our experience, and that is that some companies rename the help desk or user support group to a CoE in an effort to increase its prestige. Unfortunately, as the data shows, it's an increase in name only.

Finally, the core competency of application Specialty Tools is something we're seeing more of as software publishers release more purpose-built tools. These tools increase software flexibility and extensibility. They include things like low code/no code customization tools and integration tools. With very few exceptions, they don't yet include mature DevOps tools, but we suspect they may in the future.


CoE Team Size

CoE staff size is shown below.

CRM Center of Excellence Staff

As you might expect, staff size increased with each maturity level.

As you might not expect, we found that staff size did not directly correlate with the size of the company. Several large companies had smaller staff count while several midsize companies had more staff.

The CRM center of excellence operating model was a big factor in the number of staff. Staff size increases significantly if the CoE evolves from a centralized or hybrid operating model to a federated operating model.


CoE Challenges

Clearly understanding the challenges is a precursor to creating the actions that prevent, mitigate, or respond to obstacles that threaten the CoE success.

Below are the top cited challenges.

CRM Center of Excellence Challenges

Competing priorities was the most cited challenge. However, when correlating this challenge by maturity level, we found that it was pervasive for Lagging and Efficient respondents but much less prevalent for Leading and almost nonexistent for Exceeding.

We were surprised but pleased to see executive sponsorship ranked low. However, this challenge was more persistent with CoEs that scored lowest in ROI.

Failing to recognize or fully address any one of these challenges timely will deteriorate performance. You may want to consider the post, Why CRM Centers of Excellence Fail, to learn more about the risks and mitigating strategies.


The most successful CRM centers of excellence recognize that staff are not just users, they are internal customers, and that customers are not just accounts, they are the source for the biggest improvements. Successfully satisfying both groups is the ultimate key to success.

They also recognize that expanding software utilization and value is less about configuring new features and more about engineering better user, customer and business outcomes.

CRM technology is not a business solution but it is a tool that can be crafted into a solution. Different craftsmen use tools differently. Skilled artisans use tools to create works of art that are appreciated by their audience and stand the test of time. Lesser skilled artisans use the same tools, but the audience is unimpressed and the results are disappointing and fleeting. Technology alone does not create a solution any more than paint and canvas create a Picasso.