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On CRM: How To Save A Failed Salesforce Implementation

By June 15, 2020No Comments

(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Over the years my firm has been asked to resurrect many failed customer relationship management applications. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Salesforce or any number of their competitors. The reasons are always the same and what I’ve learned is that finding out those reasons why a CRM implementation failed will determine the best course of action for rescuing it…or perhaps not all.

Even the best CRM systems are difficult to implement. They take discipline and regular, consistent effort. They require a good administrator and a project team made up of dedicated, positive employees and a competent outside consultant. Most importantly, every project needs to have management fully behind it. I’ve found that if people are blaming things on the CRM system it’s almost always not the CRM that’s the cause of their problems. In almost all the cases it’s operator error. It’s like giving a soccer player a baseball bat and telling him to hit a home run. Wrong person. Wrong tool.

If this sounds familiar then that’s good news. Because now you can move forward to reverse the mess, and a great place to start is by reading Melanie Fellay’s piece on SalesforceBen, a support and resource site for the popular CRM platform. Her recommendations are really not Salesforce specific. They apply to any CRM system.

Fellay is now the CEO of Spekit, a provider of digital training tools based in Denver. Before that she was the Head of Business Operations at another company that was struggling with their Salesforce system. She saved it from failure. How? By doing the kinds of things we should all be doing before we implement a CRM system.

She spent a considerable amount of time reading about Salesforce and general CRM implementations. She put a stop to all usage, reviewed her company’s sales processes and then leaned on a few external tools to analyze the data in the system as it related to those processes. She identified a team of internal champions and gave them the authority to help her re-boot the platform. She asked the team to break down the project into smaller pieces and tackled each one at a time.

“This new Salesforce implementation was going to be a challenge and require buy-in from end-users across the board to truly be successful,” she wrote. “My hope was that delivering on some of these small wins early on would demonstrate to these key end-users that my objective was truly to make their lives easier not harder…which in return would help me gain their “champion” support – and it did.”

She also implemented a complete data cleaning overhaul and then set about on a refreshed approach to training and documentation. Ultimately, she conquered “The Beast” as she called it. But there are two things that she inferred in her tale that deserve greater attention.

The first is her title. Melanie is now a CEO but even at her prior company she was a senior executive. I don’t recommend that the top person in an organization get so deeply involved in a CRM rescue. But it remains vital that this type of a project is run by a very senior manager in a company. Someone who is tasked with getting the job done and has a strong enough personality to deflect all the usual complaints and pushback and instead stay focused on achieving an objective. That person should have the team of champions report to him or her and give them the power to do what they need to do in order to achieve their agreed-on deliverables. In every CRM implementation that I’ve been involved – new or rescued – it’s always the senior management person that makes the difference between success and failure.

The second important thing to note is commitment. Melanie said that her team was considering replacing Salesforce with a homegrown solution. “That solution didn’t make sense to me,” she wrote. “Even though I was new to Salesforce, I stared at the Salesforce tower under construction in the heart of San Francisco every day from our office windows…so my gut told me that a homegrown CRM couldn’t possibly compete.”

She was right to resist that temptation. Replacing her existing system would not have solved the problem because – I’m convinced – her users would likely fail with any CRM system. Replacing a great system like Salesforce with any one of its competitors would be like replacing a BMW for a Mercedes. They’re both excellent vehicles that will get you to where you’re going fast and safe. Melanie rightly determined that Salesforce wasn’t the problem. It was the way it was implemented. Given the amount of money invested in it so far, it would’ve been a waste of resources to start fresh with something new, especially when knowing that Salesforce can do the trick in the long run. So she stuck to her guns. Good for her.

Failed CRM systems are rarely due to the software. It’s almost always due to the implementation. Before you throw your system out the door, take a hard look in the mirror. With the right approach and the right people involved, your CRM system can be resurrected from the dead and put to good use. It may make much more sense to invest your resources in doing that, rather than starting from scratch with something else. It certainly did for Melanie.

In fact, she learned so much from that experience she left to launch Spekit to address some of these problems. Good for her.

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