How Executive Buy-In Effects CRM Acceptance

by Bill Harrison on May 29, 2009

Last week I wrote about the six reasons why CRM acceptance is still a problem. Today I'm going to dig into the first of those reasons, executive buy-in, in detail. We'll also look at some examples from UpCurve Cloud's client projects to illustrate my points.

First, let's consider why executive buy-in is so important. If a senior executive authorizes the purchase of a CRM system, shouldn't that be enough to lend weight to the project and insure its success? It turns out the answer is typically "no" and for four reasons.

  • Executive vision is not well understood. When an executive decides to purchase a CRM, she typically has a vision in her head about what the system will do for her business. But this vision is seldom captured and understood by the employees and vendors implementing the system. The result is misaligned objectives and disappointment with the final system.
  • Executive vision is not complete. Most executives purchasing CRM systems do not fully understand system capabilities. Why should they? Most executives are not CRM professionals and even if they have used CRM systems before only a few have been through a CRM deployment hands-on. So even when the executive articulates a clear vision for the system, it seldom contains the detail needed to be actionable -- and it is subject to change.
  • Project objectives change. CRM deployments involve the identification of business processes to be automated, gathering of system requirements, and design of a final solution. Throughout this process, new things are learned, requirements uncovered, and system capabilities discovered. As a result, the original vision of what the system will do often changes significantly from the start of the project to the end.
  • People do not take the project seriously if executives are not involved. Employees will take seriously those things that leaders take seriously. If an executive spends time actively involved in a CRM deployment, then the employees working on the project will take the project more seriously. If an executive signs the paperwork for a new system and then walks away until the deployment is complete, the chances that the system will actually meet expectations and solve real business problems is significantly reduced.

So, what should be done about these problems?

The best solution is for executives to actively participate in the system implementation. By rolling up their sleeves and spending time on the project, they can avoid nearly all of the pitfalls outlined above. But senior executives and business owners are busy people. What if they simply can't afford to spend the time required? Then they should do the following:

  • Articulate the importance of the project to the entire organization. This can be done during an employee meeting or in an email to employees. Either way it needs to be done repeatedly during system deployment so that the message is reinforced.
  • Delegate the responsibility for the project to a trusted lieutenant who is respected in the company. That lieutenant should have regular access to top executives to deliver status briefings and to resolve questions about system requirements and project priorities.
  • Publicize the status and results of the project throughout the organization. Employees are often reluctant to attach their full enthusiasm to a project until they understand the organizational and political implications of the project and until they understand the potential risks and rewards of their involvement. By publicizing a CRM deployment and highlighting the people involved in the success of the project, executives are signaling the critical importance of the project. That's not just good project management, its also good leadership.

On Monday I will write about an UpCurve Cloud client that experienced many of the issues outlined above and ultimately overcame them.

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Bill Harrison
VP of Products and Technology at UpCurve Cloud
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