After over two decades of designing, building, and deploying Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”) and Customer Engagement (“CE”) systems, I’ve found recurring themes on what makes some projects more successful than others.  For this blog, I’ll use the newer term Customer Engagement (“CE”) to refer to any CRM or CE system you might implement. The graphic below illustrates some simple ideas that have helped drive success in CE projects throughout my career.  This blog will focus on explaining the blue triangles in the center.  A subsequent blog will describe the outer green circle.

customer engagement success


Strong Leadership

Any CE project will require an organization to change, grow and refine business processes that interact with Customers.  To help manage and steer these changes, it is critical to have strong executive involvement and leadership in the project.  This could take the form of a Steering Committee in a larger Enterprise project or a single individual in a smaller project.

Consider a CE project focused on Sales Force Automation. Some characteristics of a successful project would be that the top sales role in the company would be actively involved in the project’s scope, direction, and outcomes. For example, roles like VP of Sales, Chief Revenue Officer, or even the CEO. They would check into the project regularly (weekly) to provide management support and help determine the appropriate scope for features, and business process flows.  Makes sense, right?

You would be surprised that many CE projects are delegated to staff with a hard time getting traction. For example, Sales Managers, Developers, or even the Receptionist – yes, believe it or not, the Receptionist. These staff members do not have the authority or influence to make lasting and impactful business changes.  The project may be moving forward with the best of intentions. However, without ongoing involvement from the top, they will struggle, have expensive re-work, or outright fail.


Business Fit

No two businesses are the same … PERIOD!  It doesn’t matter if the two businesses in question are in the same vertical industry and sell to the same customers. The business will have unique characteristics around how they market, sell, and support their customers.  Yes, there will be some similarities; however, each business has a unique personality on how things flow, what metrics are measured, how their employees are treated, and how they approach CE.

I have had many discussions with clients who want to use the software “out of the box.”  This may have been advisable 15 or 20 years ago, when systems were rigid and expensive to customize and maintain. Modern cloud CE software is built to be extremely flexible and configurable.

Configure, NOT Customize.  Configurations are modifications that administrators can make to fields, screens, flows, and other system behaviors via admin interfaces in the CE platform.  Configurations are typically 100% supported by the CE platform and would upgrade seamlessly without expensive rework.

On the other hand, customizations are modifications that require developers to write code.  While there are best practices about writing code, systems with custom code will always be more expensive to administer, maintain and upgrade than configured systems.  Customizations are critical for some CE implementations; however, consider the business value vs. cost before writing too much code.

Business Fit refers to how well the CE system helps automate your business processes, enable productivity for your user, and engage with your Customers.  Good Business Fit is a critical factor in a successful CE project.  It would be nice if you could just buy a standard CE system and roll it out; in reality, that is kind of like thinking that you can still fit into your high school clothes.  If you are like me, they just don’t fit – trying to stuff yourself into your old Jeans is just awkward, depressing, and even embarrassing.


User Adoption

User Adoption might seem like a no-brainer; it is surprising how many projects neglect it.  Work to encourage User Adoption starts at the beginning of the project and continues throughout testing, deployment, and even ongoing operations.

Getting good User Adoption doesn’t mean all users need to be involved, just representative Subject Matter Experts (“SME”) who have been chosen to represent the needs of a collection of users.  Typically SMEs would be chosen who are good with people, have a solid understanding of the project’s goals or outcomes, are willing to learn, and could be considered Power Users.  Think of the people who will be the trainers for other Users.  Think of the people who will be “goodwill ambassadors” for the project and help drive momentum and excitement.  Those people would make good SMEs.

Your SMEs should be actual system users (for example, a Sales Person or Customer Service Agent) who report to Leadership (for Example, Sales VP or Steering Committee) running the project.  They should not be surrogates who work in a different division or department and will not use the software daily.

Great User Adoption is the wind in your CE project’s sails.  Without User Adoption, you might build a great boat and have a good captain; however, you will not make it to your destination without the wind.



Strong Leadership, Business Fit, and User Adoption are the 3 keys to a successful CE Implementation project.  When one of these keys is absent or misaligned, the project misses the mark. This costs more to deploy and doesn’t deliver. When these keys are present and aligned, the outcomes can be dramatic. This results in engaged employees and customers, decreased operational costs, and increased revenue.  Wishing you all the best with your Customer Engagement project – I hope this helps.


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