CRM Implementation: Lessons learned from over 100 CRM projects

Written by
Neal Venter

A CRM is a system for managing relationships with a business’s customers. For B2B businesses, this involves tracking leads and customers across long sales cycles and through upgrade paths. For B2C businesses, this could include tracking buying behaviour, website activity, or maintaining a central list of lead and customer information.

CRM Implementation is all the steps required to successfully migrate your business onto a CRM system, including migration, installation, integration, customisation, user training, and the management of all accompanying business process changes.

While the benefits of having a CRM in your business are clear, it’s not always easy when it gets to the implementation stage. It can be tricky to get it right, so make sure you keep reading to find out how to implement a CRM the right way.

Choosing the right CRM

The first step in the CRM implementation stage is choosing the right CRM. There are several different CRM systems to choose from, and they’re not all created equally. It’s important to evaluate which one will be the right choice for your business needs.

Imagine you're evaluating your organisation’s CRM needs, and you're trying to choose between two similar CRM products.

CRM A is the first choice:

  • Features XYZ
  • Price: $70 per user

CRM B is the second choice:

  • Features XYZ
  • Price $80 per user

Most people would choose the less expensive option. However, less expensive CRM products may have hidden costs that aren’t included in the sticker price. Some commonly overlooked items can include implementation time, customisable options for sales managers, and ease of use.

It’s important to dive into the details of the CRM rather than taking the information at face value. Some CRMs might have better features than others or features that are more relevant to the business’ needs and goals.

The challenges of CRM implementation

You might be wondering: “if a CRM is so crucial, why doesn’t every business have one?” Well, a CRM is not always easy to implement. Challenges are often faced, which is why between 18% and 69% of CRM implementation projects fail

The main reasons for these failures include:

  • Flawed CRM vendor evaluation and choice
  • Incomplete communication and planning
  • Lack of effective change management
  • Inadequate training for salespeople leading to low tool adoption rates

Why do so many organisations struggle, and oftentimes fail, with their CRM implementation initiatives?

It might come down to a lack of flexibility. You need to be able to communicate with your team that you can set up a new system to meet the business’ needs. However, the processes in which they use the new system are likely to change from what they are doing today. 

While your colleagues may view this as a negative, it can actually be a major positive. People can often be hesitant to change, and with a whole new system to learn, your team members may push back asking for the same processes, click paths, and tool usage they're familiar with from the old system. 

Committing blindly to preserve those features can hurt your organisation and your ability to deliver the implementation. Past activities could be antiquated and in need of an update.

The new system you're implementing may present opportunities for automation or a more efficient process, which will ultimately improve the overall performance of the organisation.

Successful change management isn't just updating to a new system, but also updating processes usage at the same time.

Managing a CRM Implementation

Regardless of size or scope, most CRM implementation projects demand balancing several variables for your business: defining an informational architecture, working alongside and training sales or consulting managers’ teams, instituting clear processes for maintenance and integration with existing systems, tracking changes to processes, and so on.

These variables can intersect in complex ways to make or break your ability to implement a new system. 

It’s imperative for you to set up teams following a project management methodology in order to successfully implement a CRM. Below are the main CRM implementation stages that your team will go through.

Stages of CRM implementation

Planning Stage:

  • Scope - Scope refers to a clearly defined set of goals, agreed upon in collaboration with your supervisory committee, implementation team, and all other stakeholders in the business. Consider working with your colleagues to build a journey map of their leads’ progression from entering the CRM implementation to full functionality. 

  • Keep a running log of implementation tasks - Keep track of tasks in a shared document or project management software. Tasks should be divided into categories, such as automation, lead status tracking, etc. 

  • Time estimates - Along with the log, defining a time estimate for each task will allow you to estimate the time required for the project as a whole and plan ahead for potential bottlenecks and other obstacles.

  • Build a risk management plan - Think of the possible ways in which individual tasks could be missed or executed incorrectly, and build a plan in case any item gets derailed.

  • Priority Ranking - Each task should be ranked by priority so that the most important tasks are successfully completed on time. Tasks can be grouped together to avoid sacrificing too much time on granular documentation.

Development Stage

  • Communication plan - Set up frequent meetings to communicate your progress with key stakeholders. The supervisory committee and implementation team should agree on a communication format beyond just updating emails. 

Consider holding weekly reflection meetings to discuss weekly progress, successes, challenges, roadblocks, and the impact of all these factors on the client’s experience.

In general, meeting with your team once a week is a good starting point. But based on the size and complexity of your project, you may require a higher or lower frequency of meetings

Regardless of your meeting format and frequency, you should create an agenda beforehand and communicate it to the meeting's attendees. You could also develop a shared document that's accessible and editable to all stakeholders on both sides so that they can add items to the agenda and keep track of previous meeting minutes.  

  • Progress tracking - The progress tracker should be updated regularly: This document or tool should be updated after stakeholder meetings to reflect the current state of each task in the log. This way, everyone knows where the project stands: whether you’re ahead of schedule, on time, or falling behind schedule. Regardless of your status, you need to be able to track where your progress is with any given task.
  • Implementation timeline - A clear implementation timeline enhances project communication: This timeline should feature start and end dates for all tasks and major milestones for the project. It should be updated regularly to be in sync with the progress tracker. Ideally, this should be a visual that is accessible to all parties.
  • Sales enablement playbook -  The project manager and sales enablement lead should together determine the type of sales enablement content to be created, the specific kind of tool training required for the team, and the kind of reporting and tracking required. Other considerations are permissions, outreach strategy, competitive intelligence, and any other support needed for salespeople to succeed.
  • User adoption education plan - A user adoption plan ensures that your CRM is actually used: in order to ensure that each member of the team is comfortable with the CRM and uses it, you should set up tool training sessions and create a channel through which they can get tactical questions answered as they explore the tools. Plans could include contests or other incentives to encourage the appropriate use of the new CRM.

Evaluation Stage

  • Reporting playbook - The project manager should partner with sales managers, marketers, and other stakeholders to determine which metrics to evaluate regularly. These metrics can range from traditional quota-oriented metrics to team-based performance metrics, depending on your needs.
  • Evaluation period - Be thorough with your evaluation period after the implementation. After the implementation is technically completed, during the QA or quality assurance stage, your organisation should be given time to evaluate whether the finished product meets the expectations set during the initial phase of the project. Your pilot team of salespeople should test out the new CRM before rolling it out.

Five steps of a CRM implementation project

While the three main stages of implementing a CRM are crucial, they can be broken down even further into five steps: positioning, onboarding, executing, tracking, and offboarding. Each step has sub-tasks that need to be completed in order to ensure that the CRM is successfully implemented.

The five steps of CRM implementation


  • Define and document your SMART goals with the implementation.
  • Create a checklist of tasks that need to be completed.
  • Identify areas of customisation.
  • Define a clear timeline for the project.


  • Educate your organisation’s team members.
  • Solidify the reason why the CRM is being implemented.
  • Explain the changes and benefits that your organisation will experience.


  • Data migration.
  • General system set up.
  • Automation.
  • Content creation.
  • Business alignment.
  • Reporting functionality.
  • Integration.
  • Training.
  • Review the checklist and complete all tasks.
  • Review your timeline and ensure you meet your deadlines.


  • Track your progress according to your predefined timeline.
  • Conduct stakeholder meetings.
  • Communicate and update tasks and schedules.
  • Gather feedback about your team’s experience with the CRM.
  • Adjust the project tasks and timelines if needed.


  • Check in with your colleagues to ensure they understand the system and can train other team members.
  • Ensure that your team has unlimited access to whatever they need: documents, spreadsheets, and data.
  • Distribute training resources and education materials.
  • Ensure the correct user permissions are set within the system.
  • Ensure all KPIs, metrics, data, and SMART goals this system impacts are easily accessible and measurable.

Data Migration 

Data migration is a crucial part of the CRM implementation process. It can often be seen as a precarious process because there is a risk of losing data, and there’s also the risk of disrupting your business’ operations

Data migration can be compared to moving to a new premises. In order to make a successful changeover, the business will need to move all of its furniture and devices. It might seem like an inconvenience, and there’s always the risk of something going wrong: items can be lost or even broken during the move. At the end of the day though, moving the items is imperative.

If you have a data migration plan in place though, everything becomes much more structured and far easier to follow. Migrating data from your previous systems to your new CRM is crucial as it will ensure that their teams can report on effective sales strategies, avoid unnecessary effort, and improve sales velocity.

What does successful CRM implementation look like?

You might find that some people are resistant to change. Even if the company leadership is on board, your success will be entirely dependent on the sales team’s engagement with your plan

If they're content with their current methods, it'll be hard to get anything done. But, if you can get the sales team to make small changes and then show them the big results that come from those changes, then you’ll start to make progress. 

It might be having them install the email extension so they can see when their emails are opened. It might be introducing them to the concept of deals so they can track sales and forecast revenue. Whatever the case, there’s often a moment of realisation when your team members catch the vision of what you’re implementing, and that’s when bigger changes become possible.

It’s important to keep in mind that big changes take time, and every business will move at its own pace. The most important thing you can do is to be responsive to your colleagues' needs and to help them find small ways to move forward. And then, when that big realisation moment comes around, you’ll be well positioned to guide them through the bigger changes that come afterwards.

Successful CRM implementation is when your entire organisation is comfortable and happy with the system. If your team managers are able to train other team members on how to use the system and answer any questions they might have, your implementation has been a success.

Final Thoughts

Implementing a CRM can be a challenge. However, if it’s done correctly while following proper project management methodology, then the implementation process can be a success. Many CRM implementations fail because of a lack of communication and planning. Make sure to avoid this mistake and follow all the necessary procedures, no matter how insignificant they might seem.

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