Bob Thompson - why CRM is not a technology project

6 min read
Vlad Kovalskiy
August 15, 2014
Last updated: July 5, 2019
Bob Thompson - why CRM is not a technology project
Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of - the world's largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His new book
Hooked on Customers reveals the habits of leading customer-centric firms. We talked to Bob about why so many CRM projects fail and what can be done about it.
What CRM mistakes do you see companies make most often, other than not having CRM at all?

Probably the most common mistake is the perception that CRM is a technology project. Thinking that a software implementation is all that’s needed is a source of many CRM failures, because behind the technology are people being asked to change how they do their jobs.

Another big mistake is not thinking about how everyone “wins.” CRM projects tend to be focused on company and management goals. The sales rep or service agent can feel there’s not enough benefit for them to get behind the initiative, thus undermining it. Customers can feel the same way, if a CRM project is designed to make them the “target” of an efficiency effort, rather than a beneficiary of an improved experience.

Finally, “having” CRM is not a black or white proposition. Every company has some kind of process to acquire new customers, sell to them, and service them. Executives shouldn’t think that once they’ve installed software or launched a project that they’ve “done” CRM. Instead, think of CRM as a journey where there’s always room for improvement.

CRM implementation often fails because of human factor, not technical shortcoming of a particular solution. Why is that and what can be done, because the technical part is actually getting better and better, especially with marketing automation?

CustomerThink partnered with Forrester Research in 2013 in a study of CRM project risk. The top three problem areas were business processes (44%), people (42%) and strategy/deployment (40%). Technology as 4th at 35%, which is still significant.

I agree that technology is getting easier to implement and use, in part due to the shift to cloud-based solutions. Human factors are more difficult because people and organizations tend to develop “ruts” in their behaviours. These habits are hard to break, even when new tools are implemented.

CRM can help with great customer service but simply buying software won't make your company customer centric. What are some non-tech tips you can share that help companies become fore customer focused?

Well, I wrote an entire book (Hooked on Customers) about this! In my research I identified five organization behaviours – habits – that drive customer-centric success. Briefly, they are:
  • Listen: Understand What Customers Value; Act on Their Feedback
  • Think: Make Smart, Fact-Based Decisions
  • Empower: Give Employees Resources and Authority to Serve Customers
  • Create: Produce New Value for Customers and the Company
  • Delight: Exceed Expectations; Be Remarkable!

CRM systems are getting more ‘social’ and they are now frequently integrated with other tools that companies use (intranets, enterprise social networks, document management, etc.). What other big changes do you see for CRM in the next five years?

I think predictive analytics will increasingly be integrated into CRM solutions. Predictive lead scoring is a huge opportunity, because it’s difficult for humans to know which of the dozens of signals mean that a lead is worth pursuing. I think we’ll see more usage of predictive analytics in the sales arena, to help coach reps on the right “playbook” to use for each situation. And in customer service, analytics can help advise agents how best to resolve an issue and when to offer (or avoid) an upsell.

Can you share your favourite online customer relationship management resources?

My community is a great resource. We have over 1700 contributing authors blogging about marketing, sales, customer service, customer experience, and more.

Thank you Bob!

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