Failure Sucks, But Does It Have To?

Hey Folks--It's "elephant in the room" time. Imagine a representative from a CRM VENDOR discussing CRM FAILURES. Well. I recently saw this blog post from Michael Krigsman on "six ways CRM projects go wrong."

Now, I know this may come off defensive, but my comments apply to ALL CRM vendors, not just Oracle. As I perused the list, I couldn't find any failures related to technology. They all seemed related to people or process. Now, this isn't about finger pointing, or impugning customers. I love customers! And when they fail, WE fail.

Although I sit in the cheap seats, i.e., I haven't funded any multi-million dollar CRM initiatives lately, I kept wondering how to convert the perception of failure as something that ends and is never to be mentioned again (see Michael's reason #4), to something that one learns from and builds upon.

So to continue my tradition of speaking in platitudes, let me propose the following three tenets:

1) Try and get ahead of your failures while they're very very small.
2) Immediately assess what you can learn from those failures.
3) With more than 15 years of CRM deployments, seek out those vendors that have a track record both in learning from "misses" and in supporting MANY THOUSANDS of CRM successes at companies of all types and sizes.

Now let me digress briefly with an unpleasant (for me, anyway) analogy. I really don't like flying. Call it 'fear of dying' or 'fear of no control.' Whatever! I've spoken with quite a few commercial pilots over the years, and they reassure me that there are multiple failures on most every flight. We as passengers just don't know about them. Most of them are too miniscule to make a difference, and most of them are "caught" before they become LARGER failures. It's typically the mid-sized to colossal failures we hear about, and a significant percentage of those are due to human error.

What's the point? I'd propose that organizations consider the topic of FAILURE in five grades. On one end, FAILURE Grade 1 is a minor/miniscule failure. On the other end, FAILURE Grade 5 is a colossal failure A Grade 1 CRM FAILURE could be that a particular interim milestone was missed. Why? What can we learn from that? How can we prevent that from happening as we proceed through the project?

Individual organizations will need to define their own Grade 2 and Grade 3 failures. The opportunity is to keep those Grade 3 failures from escalating any further. Because honestly, a GRADE 5 failure may not be recoverable. It could result in a project being pulled, countless amounts of hours and dollars lost, and jobs lost. We don't want to go there.

In closing, I want to thank Michael for opening my eyes up to the world of "color," versus thinking of failure as both "black and white" and a dead end road that organizations can't learn from and avoid discussing like the plague.


Steve, Thank you for the kind comments. As you pointed out, the post discusses industry issues that affect all vendors, consultants, and system integrators. These issues have nothing whatsoever to do with technology; success is all about how various organizations collaborate during the business project that we call CRM. I really like your categorization of failures from low to high levels of severity. I think there is also some relation to the notion of project or organizational maturity with respect to implementing CRM. If you ever want to write a guest post on my blog, please let me know!

Posted by Michael Krigsman on March 10, 2010 at 12:26 PM PST #

Steve, how would you grade a CRM implementation that results in a negative ROI? Would that be a Grade 5 failure, or perhaps a Grade 10 failure? When independent analysts such as Gartner used to publish the percentages of CRM failures the range was from about 45 to over 60 percent. Then, a few years ago, they stopped publishing those stats. I doubt it is because there was a sudden turn around in the ROI performance of CRM systems. If we can stop the platitudes and the fiction about minor/miniscule failure and get back to what I believe is reality, I will agree with you. "I couldn't find any failures related to technology," either. I believe the vast majority of CRM failures are caused by the way the systems are implemented. They are being used to automate the customers’ business processes. Unfortunately most customers’ business processes are largely fictionalized rationalizations of how they think they do business, or worse, how they want to do business in the future. It’s the age old story of garbage in garbage out. That does not get the CRM developers, vendors and consultants off the hook. As an example, Oracle’s answer to failed sales processes is to provide users with a tutorial on how to determine their “Best Sales Practices.” Unfortunately, the research methodology they tout results in the aforementioned garbage. Of course, there are a multitude of outside consultants who gladly conduct best sales practices research using the flawed research methods recommended by Oracle. If that could fix for the problem, most failures would really be “low grade.” Why doesn’t Oracle have a fix for the problem? I think it is because they can’t believe that they don’t have that kind of expertise in house, and no one at the top will admit it.

Posted by Jacques Werth on March 10, 2010 at 01:49 PM PST #

Jacques—Thanks so much for putting the time and thought that you did into your response. Wow, you seem to have some passion on this subject. I’m going to keep my response fairly short.: 1) You wrote to me that if I could stop the “fiction about minor/miniscule failure and get back to what I believe is reality, I will agree with you.” Here’s a question for you. Who says the notion of minor/miniscule failure is “fiction?” If I had the view that there is only one extreme notion of failure I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. Furthermore, what you believe “reality” to be is of course your own subjective view of reality based on your own set of beliefs, which clearly differs from my set of beliefs. 2) I agree with you that I don’t think anyone gets to walk away from “failure” blame-free. As such I made it clear that my comments “apply to ALL CRM vendors, not just Oracle.” 3) It’s an over-simplification to state that “Oracle’s answer to failed sales processes is to provide users with a tutorial on how to determine their ‘Best Sales Practices.’” And I’m sure you know that. 4) I could keep going, but my two points in writing the original post were simple. It was to provide MY perspective that the six reasons Michael Krigsman cited in his original blog post for CRM failures all relate to people and/or processes. Furthermore, it was to provide my view that failure is not a black and white phenomenon, and that in many instances it can be “caught” before an entire initiative needs to be written off. Again, thank you for your comments!

Posted by Steve Diamond on March 11, 2010 at 07:25 AM PST #

Jacques, I share your frustration with the state of CRM failures across the industry and I have written endlessly about specific vendor issues on particular projects. However, Steve makes a deeply fundamental point that rises above partisan vendor politics or preferences. CRM failure is an industry-wide issue. It goes beyond Oracle or any other vendor. Since the entire industry shares this problem, it is wrong to conclude that lack of process expertise among vendors is the source of CRM failure. If you believe that conclusion, then it implies the entire industry lacks this expertise -- which I do not see as a valid argument to explain the root cause of CRM failure. In my view, the best way to reduce failure rates is for all parties -- vendors, system integrators, and customers -- to recognize that this is a shared problem. Steve did so in this post and I applaud him! On specific projects, of course, there are particular vendors involved that must take responsibility for their role in any failure. However, there is nothing in Steve's post that denies this. It is time to recognize that this problem is shared among ALL vendors in the industry. I feel so strongly supportive of Steve's view on this subject that I put this on my own blog as a guest post: The second paragraph of Steve's post is among the most important I have ever seen written about IT failures. I urge you to read and re-read those words. Michael Krigsman IT Project Failures blog

Posted by Michael Krigsman on March 11, 2010 at 08:04 AM PST #

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