The 6 Most Important CRM Implementation Success Factors


  • A CRM implementation methodology built on research and lessons defines the optimal path to achieve targeted results in the shortest time and least cost. It avoids trial and error, reduces risk and brings focus to the steps that produce the outcomes that most matter and avoids wasting time with activities that don't.
  • You need to start with clear goals if you expect measurable outcomes. Only with the right goals can you engineer CRM software to achieve the most important business results.
  • Project success is maximized when the software implementation is managed with an adaptive framework that is flexible but steadfast on the 6 overarching critical success factors.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

One thing I’ve learned from three decades of Customer Relationship Management implementation experience is that there is no one size fits all deployment approach. Every client has specific objectives, a unique culture and their own constraints.

So, what's needed is flexibility for each operating environment while maintaining a relentless focus on what's most important.

But what is most important when implementing CRM software?

Well, research published in the CRM Benchmark Report and many years of implementation experience reveal a shortlist of factors that most contribute to an on-time, on-budget, on-quality deployment. Here are those success factors.

CRM Implementation Success

Start with User, Customer and Company Outcomes

The first thing to recognize is that enterprise software implemented in a technology vacuum almost always disappoints business users and under delivers business benefits. It also puts the CRM program at risk.

Naively believing technology by itself will improve business performance is a fool's errand. Installing CRM software by itself isn't going to improve business outcomes any more than putting a new engine in your car will make you a better driver.

So, the smarter approach is to identify the most important user, customer and business outcomes and then engineer the application to achieve them. And this is most effective when designing user goals that directly align with the company's business goals.

First focus on user goals to achieve user adoption. Gaining broad and enthusiastic user adoption is a prerequisite to success and all downstream business benefits.

Our implementation methodology uses a proprietary approach we call User First. We make the user our North star and design the application to achieve what's most important to them, what they identify as their performance, productivity and personal goals, or what we sometimes call their WIFFMs (what's in it for me.) We also apply user-centered design to make the system simpler and easier to use and follow up with user adoption best practices.

If you are unsure how to determine the most influential user benefits, consider a one-day Design Thinking workshop. This exercise will facilitate users and managers to identify and agree on the most important outcomes and how to achieve the most successful user adoption.

Well begun is half done. Once you get users on board you are in prime position to engineer the technology to directly drive the company's business goals, which are likely to include increased customer acquisitions, customer share and customer retention – as these three goals most impact company revenue and profit objectives.


Apply a Proven Implementation Methodology

An implementation methodology is needed to bring prescriptive guidance that accelerates results and lowers risk. A good methodology will break up the big picture into small deployments that can be delivered quickly, show incremental successes and build on those progressive accomplishments.

There are many components and activities in a software implementation methodology. But the strength and value of the methodology will be most influenced by its methods, agility and program management.


Achieving business outcomes that matter doesn't occur by simply configuring software. Outcomes are the result of concerted efforts and prescriptive methods.

Methods are the blueprints that show how to achieve user, customer and business outcomes. Each method provides a road map with sequential and progressive steps to achieve a slated outcome. Each shows how to design, configure and apply the application with supporting processes to achieve specific and measurable business results.

They provide the implementation instruction to turn a strategic but nebulous and elusive goal into a measurable result. For example, if the targeted objective is increased customer share, a method may be an omni-channel customer engagement strategy or customer experience strategy. If the objective is to increase customer retention the method may be customer health scores, predictive customer churn or win back campaigns. Or if the goal is to improve sales lead conversions, the method may be a multi-step, optimized lead conversion loop.

Lead Management Loop

Playbooks are possibly the most effective grouping of methods. Playbooks catalogue Plays (another term for Methods) to show how to apply data, processes, and performance measurements to achieve prescribed goals. Without prescriptive methods or repeatable best practices project objectives are quite often little more than aspirational wish lists followed by best guess explorations.


Agile methods provide the most flexibility and adaptability to enterprise software implementations.

Agile is a set of governing principals. Scrum is the most popular Agile framework and particularly well suited to CRM implementations. Most know agile as a sprint-based method which applies an adaptive and iterative development or deployment process to give users greater control over the final solution. It works because users can vision short term goals, quickly iterate and affect the solution's progress and direction from one sprint cycle to the next.

Agile implementations replace an all-encompassing build phase with several short build iterations that support just in time requirements definitions. Work is performed in smaller increments which define requirements in real-time and demonstrate value to stakeholders more frequently.

Agile Sprints

Agile projects embrace adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery and continuous improvement – making them nimble and highly adaptive to change. A primary purpose of Agile is to deliver value to the business early and often, and thereby increase performance visibility and decrease risk.

However, Agile is not a panacea. It may not be appropriate for organizations unfamiliar and unable to learn agile methods in the needed timeframe, or where the company culture lacks collaboration and trust among IT and the business. Agile cannot compensate for mistrust, ineffective teams, and hidden agendas. Risk management, which is generally a part of program management, is the best tool for these types of hazards.

Program Management

The end goal of Program Management is to achieve forecasted implementation objectives – on time, on budget, and on value. To do that, program management must provide the oversight and controls to monitor, measure and report on the project's most important business performance objectives as well as the underlying critical success factors which at the minimum will include scope, time, budget and quality.

For most companies, managing scope and the inevitable scope creep is a challenge. That's in part because project scope is broad. Breaking it down into its 8 components makes it easier to manage.

Project Scope

For most software implementations, program management includes risk management, which is extremely helpful in avoiding surprises and achieving slated objectives within schedule and budget.

Every technology project brings with it a certain amount of risk. And every failed software project incurred a risk that was either not recognized or not addressed.

Risk management is the process of identifying, measuring, and prioritizing risks, implementing strategies to manage them, and creating plans to prevent, mitigate or respond to high likelihood or high impact risks that threaten project objectives.

While it is impossible to eliminate all risk or anticipate all the challenges that may occur during a CRM software implementation, risk management is one of the best tools available to reduce the likelihood that big problems will occur, and that concerns can be dealt with before they become crisis.

The below diagram shows risk management steps and the types of tools we employ in implementations to give our team and our stakeholders assurance that we are not going to be surprised with something that may suddenly or negatively change the course of the project.

Risk Management Process

Sponsorship and the Right Resources Count Big

Any company can figure out the resources they need for an implementation. What they sometimes don't figure out is how to assemble an effective team.

The short story here is that implementation resourcing should include a multi-disciplinary and cross functional team led by the business.

First identify the right roles, then determine the specific responsibilities and commitments needed for those roles to achieve slated outcomes, and then match those roles to the right people. This is different than the more common approach of finding resources with availability and designating them to roles.

We recommend you identify outcomes and then work backwards to get to the right people. It's also helpful to recognize that the right people are quite often the people with the least availability. That's not a coincidence, and perhaps why my dad used to say if you want something done, give it to a busy man.

The other factor is getting the right executive sponsor. All successful enterprise software deployments require executive sponsorship. A CRM software implementation is no exception. From the beginning and throughout the deployment, visible, vocal and frequent sponsorship and buy-in from senior management, business, Finance and IT executives are necessary to champion the vision and show the importance of the CRM program to the company.


Organizational Change Management

It's important to recognize that a new business system brings new processes, automation, information, roles, responsibilities and control, or oftentimes an actual or perceived loss of control. That's a lot of change, and the problem with change is that it causes anxiety for many users.

Change Management Statistic

While the change is endorsed by the few imposing the change it is not always so well accepted or is even contested by the many receiving the change.

To bridge that difference, a change management program can systemically shift individuals, teams or organizations from a current state to a defined future state while mitigating productivity loss during the transition, creating an environment for sustained change and realizing the benefits of change more quickly.

Some of the change events and artifacts we often use include a change readiness assessment, Comms Plan, business and technology impact analysis, learning and training tools, post go-live intermediation measures and value realization measurements.

Change Management Process

You can see in the above flow diagram how change management activities can be used to ensure resistance to change will not delay or derail project objectives.

A change management program can be the single greatest tool to determine whether user adoption is enthusiastic, sluggish or challenged.


Use a Center of Excellence to Scale Value and Payback

Most companies use less than 25% of their CRM system capabilities. That's a missed opportunity to get much more value from an existing investment.

One way to get more software utilization, ROI and benefits is to standup a CRM Center of Excellence (CoE).

A CoE leverages and scales scarce and high-demand technical skills to get more value from your technology. The intent is to centralize to achieve scale and a force multiplier performance effect by disseminating skills, insights, best practices, and services.

The goal of a Center of Excellence is to shift from routine CRM software operation that delivers incremental improvements to much higher utilization that drives increased user adoption and ROI. Many times, that means advancing from operational mediocrity to Best-in-Class performance achievements.

There is no one-size-fits-all CoE model, but there is a short list to choose from.

Center of Excellence Operating Models

CoEs are more than just a good idea. They are a profitable action. CRM Center of Excellence research found that the top CoEs pursued the most significant cost reduction and revenue growth opportunities and achieved an average ROI of 85%.



Everybody knows governance is needed to shepherd sophisticated technology projects. But not everybody knows what that means. Governance is really about 4 things.

  1. Transparency, which shares the measures that most clearly show project status and progress, and whether the project is on track
  2. Inspection, using a cadence to review the most essential measurements, vet progress and ensure understanding
  3. Adaptation, to implement change when results show variances from plan, or to steer the project toward an outcome or implement a course correction, and
  4. Accountability, which ensures each person knows and delivers their commitments

There are many tools and artifacts to support governance. They include things like roles and responsibilities documents, RACI schedules, RAID (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies) reports and steering committee reports. One tool that we routinely use is a success factors dashboard like the one shown below.

Governance Dashboard

See the CRM implementation success factors dashboard.

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Good governance avoids confusing activity with progress and separates the urgent from the important. It brings clear eyed rationalization when confronted with competing priorities. It provides critical analysis for emergency issues that seek to divert key resources from their planned roles and contributions.

Good governance is proactive to empower the steering committee and project team to view the project through the front windshield, and not just the rearview mirror, and is essential to steer the CRM project to a planned destination, and not just be along for the ride.