The successful introduction of a CRM system does not automatically mean that the CRM system itself is successful. By taking a holistic approach that involves far more than the technology employed, both can succeed.

CRM systems are often introduced as a result of inconsistencies in sales figures. Task forces from the sales and marketing departments are then formed in order to determine the causes and develop possible solutions. In the course of their investigations, these teams often find out that the required information is not available in the appropriate form or is distributed across several sources, making a thorough analysis problematic or even impossible. In many companies this is usually the moment when the need for a CRM system becomes apparent. Such systems, consolidate all information from marketing and sales, meaning that it can be evaluated in the required form at any time.

However, extensive preparations – from budget approval, picking the project team, to the selection of a suitable solution and the right implementation partner – are necessary before a CRM system can be introduced. In most cases, the success initially falls short of expectations, despite the considerable effort involved. Why is this and what do companies need to bear in mind so that the investment in a CRM system leads more quickly to reliable results? This article explains the most important aspects.

No noticeable success despite the introduction of CRM

Above all, the introduction of a CRM system is not the same as the introduction of a holistic CRM approach as described below by Georg Kästle, CIO and Chief Enterprise Architect of the Wieland Group:


While a CRM system only comprises the technical solution and its implementation in the company, a holistic CRM approach takes into account many other aspects that go far beyond technology, ranging from strategic planning to change management in the company. However, most companies lack this holistic approach, so that the successful introduction of the system does not automatically lead to successful CRM implementation, where customers enjoy a seamless customer experience in the sense of a “customer zipper”.

The C in CRM – the customer at the center

Customer relationship management involves more than just collecting customer data. It is rather about making the right decisions on the basis of this data, classifying customers and defining appropriate action plans tailored to the various customer groups. For example, it is important to clarify who is responsible for looking after the individual customers. Furthermore, it is necessary to determine what the various customer groups expect from the company. These are just some of the questions that companies need to clarify in advance in order to define a holistic CRM approach.

Change management – there’s more to change than just a system

Especially companies that are still in the very early stages of introducing a holistic CRM approach must expect changes in the organizational structure, the workforce and even the business model. But even companies that already have an existing CRM approach must regularly align it with important sales factors of the business environment and adapt it if necessary.

If a company does not actively promote or accompany these changes, employees may not accept the changes or could implement them differently than planned. It is also possible that the changes might not have the desired effect and will have to be adjusted. In the context of a holistic CRM approach, it may also be necessary to restructure the existing business model or even develop additional ones. This can involve changes for the entire company but also for customers and suppliers.

The overall picture is decisive

Of course, the primary goal of introducing a CRM system is to optimize sales processes. In companies without a CRM system, these processes are usually unstructured and not systematically supported.  However, in the long term, it is important to consider and check not only the sales processes but also all processes affecting the customer.

If sales and marketing are completely transparent, but the process-related and technical interfaces to the areas of service provision are still inefficient and error-prone, the CRM system will not deliver the expected results. Predecessor and successor processes must therefore be taken into account when defining the sales processes. On the one hand, this ensures the necessary input for the sales process. On the other hand, the process output must provide the subsequent areas with all the necessary information. Ultimately, this is the only way to ensure a consistently optimal customer experience.

Strategic planning pays off

If you look at the implementation process in different companies, it can be seen that there is no universally applicable approach or process for successfully implementing customer relationship management. However, one thing is certain: Merely implementing a system, will not enable a company to exploit the full potential of this solution.

A company must ask itself which fields of action are available. Here it is necessary to examine the aspects mentioned, such as organization, end-to-end processes and the business model and, if necessary, to define coordinated actions within the framework of a project portfolio that must cover all facets of a CRM process. The integration of sales and marketing with each other, but also with subsequent processes, must be examined and adapted in such a way that efficient customer relationship management becomes possible. It is particularly important to focus on the customer at this point as well. This involves clarifying what expectations the customer has of the company and what touchpoints there are. Based on this, it is possible to derive the fields of action for internal reorganization and, if necessary, adjustments to the IT architecture. In the end, this makes it possible to create exactly the customer experience that the customer expects and that sets the company apart from the competition. Ultimately, this is where the foundation is laid for effective, company-wide customer relationship management.

It is perfectly acceptable to start by introducing a CRM system, because sales and marketing need a system-supported process. When choosing a system, it is important to take a strategic look ahead to ensure that the chosen solution also meets the future requirements of the company and does not at some point lead to limitations in the further development of the customer experience. Choosing a modular solution, e.g. from the SAP CX portfolio, can help here. This makes it possible to start with a small solution that can then be expanded flexibly.

If a company is unable to do this, choosing a competent implementation partner is of paramount importance, as their support will enable both the initial introduction of the solution and its long-term further development. It is here in particular that a competent partner can provide valuable input based on the experience gained from previous projects and decisive support for the success of the CRM implementation.

The fact that a holistic CRM approach is a strategic issue with a long-term impact must also be reflected in the project setup. In other words, the project must have the unconditional backing of the top management and be staffed with motivated employees from the relevant areas.

However, the effort always pays off: Companies that are intent on a holistic CRM approach will be able to fully exploit the potential of the solution in the long term and benefit from the transparency gained and the increased efficiency.

SAP S/4: Study on Transformation

The study "Expectations on S/4HANA in 2022" by techconsult and CamelotITLab shows possible painpoints in any migration and how they can be avoided. With data from 200 companies in Germany.

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