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What is CRM? The Definitive Guide to Customer Relationship Management

By March 2, 2023 March 3rd, 2023 CCG Retail Marketing Blog

Our guide breaks down what CRM really is, how it can benefit your company and how you can build a business case to sell it to the C-suite.

What is CRM? The true definition.

CRM stands for customer relationship management. It has become a catch-all phrase that has been applied to everything from strategy to software. When properly executed, CRM can reap huge benefits for your company.

Why CRM is used. At its core, CRM is a proven approach that helps companies attract, retain and maximize the value of customers through the collection, assimilation and application of customer knowledge.

CRM also encompasses the strategies of initiatives you implement to change your company’s technology, people and processes to allow this transformation. Essentially it is a strategic approach that helps retailers and other businesses manage the customer relationship (or manage the trendier “customer experience”).

Effective CRM encompasses four elements, which we’ll review in more detail below.

CRM Software & Technology

applications and infrastructure

CRM Process

procedures and business rules

CRM Strategy

business goals and objectives

CRM Teams & Staffing

organizational structure, skills and incentives

How to Implement CRM: Two Fundamental Components

Certainly, one of the major drivers of the meteoric growth in CRM is the financial return it can bring. Better customer experiences correlate to increased customer retention and loyalty, which translates into increased top-line revenue and company profitability.

But to achieve success, CRM projects require a coordinated and disciplined approach. Without a strategic vision and supporting roadmap, CRM implementations can falter and all too easily become part of the 50% of failed implementations widely quoted by the research firm Gartner.

Customer relationship management is comprised of two fundamental components — philosophical and functional — that need to be developed and executed harmoniously for your CRM initiatives to be successful.

The Philosophical Component of CRM

The philosophical component of CRM relates to making customer knowledge and insights the foundation for your organization. It covers areas such as:

  • Strategy
  • Culture
  • Vision
  • Positioning
  • Loyalty program strategy and support
  • Processes
  • Staffing

This component also takes into consideration the internal infrastructure required to support your initiative. For example, if processes must change, will there be executive support to foster the change management required and prevent the initiative from losing momentum?

The Functional Component of CRM

The functional component refers to a host of marketing, operational, organizational and technological initiatives that make your CRM strategy run. The common thread is a 360-degree view of the customer via an integrated platform.

The insights gleaned from the data impact and drive:

  • Data management and governance
  • Direct marketing, including digital
  • Customer reporting
  • Customer data analytics
  • Customer research
  • Customer communications, particularly personalized offers and messaging

Why is CRM important for a company?

Once your company embraces customer relationship management, you’re on the path to becoming customer-centric — putting the customer first in both strategy and execution. Better yet, leveraging customer data and putting the customer at the center of your decision-making has been directly linked to significant growth and performance gains.

Other benefits that can be achieved through an effective CRM strategy include:

  • Gain internal efficiencies. By having a 360-degree view of the customer, the entire enterprise is using the same information to drive strategy and implement tactics. And reporting is consistent across business areas.
  • Ability to react in real-time. Most of today’s CRM solutions offer access to vital customer information anytime, anywhere through mobile portals and at-a-glance dashboards.
  • Improved proactivity. Having access to the full spectrum of customer data allows more efficient and quicker analysis of performance and business metrics, and allows much faster diagnosis of potential issues.
  • Enhanced opportunities for targeting. By tapping broad purchase trend data and pairing it with personalized activity, predictive analytics can pinpoint and identify which customers have the most potential. And customer-based marketing can be more effectively targeted by analyzing and interpreting customer behavior.
  • Better understanding of channel influence. Customer interactions today take place across myriad channels and devices, and are taking an increasingly longer time to consider their options before purchasing. Between reading website reviews, watching product videos, asking for recommendations on Facebook and reading blog articles to research their purchase, the number of potential paths a customer may take toward eventually purchasing your merchandise is multiplying. CRM software can now map out this purchase journey across channels to provide valuable information on what actually influences purchase decisions so you can focus on which channels drive the best return.
  • Increase effectiveness of customer loyalty programs. Loyal customers are an asset, and increasing customer lifetime value (CLV) significantly impacts your bottom line. Tracking customer habits and purchase behavior can help you design more effective loyalty programs through more relevant benefits and targeted communications.

Case Studies

See real-life examples of how CCG has helped retailers develop successful CRM initiatives.

Despite the potential payback, CRM is not a panacea. Implementing a CRM initiative will not magically turn your company into a powerhouse that sells billions of widgets to millions of loyal customers who tell everyone how much they love your company and its widgets. It is a long-term commitment that evolves and matures over time.

Elements of CRM Success

To be successful, your CRM initiative must have the following elements in place:

  • Senior leadership commitment to change strategy.
    CRM will touch every aspect of the organization, requiring strategic accountability by the C-suite rather than ownership by a specific functional area. Having support at the top level helps reset enterprise-wide key performance indicators (KPIs), as well as address rewards, responsibilities and questions at all levels of the organization. In addition, having senior leadership lead the effort shifts the focus of the business and orients everyone to improving the customer experience.
  • Focus on earning and growing customer lifetime value (CLV).
    When retailers abandon the idea of earning customers’ loyalty, it results in failing to identify, engage and reward high-value customers. Leading retailers are refining strategies and tactics to earn and grow CLV.
  • Develop customer-level insight and understanding.
    Most retailers — even those who believe they are customer-centric — rely on obsolete, institutional knowledge, intuition and averages when discussing customers. Organizations must develop the commitment to set aside “what we think we know,” and replace it with a current, accurate and data-driven understanding of their customers. Successful retailers can identify high-value customers and understand what, when, where and how they are buying.
  • Customer insight is embedded in core processes.
    Customers must be at the center of decision-making. Applying customer insight can’t be optional or left at the discretion of individual managers. Each major decision process must incorporate customer insights and use consistent customer metrics.
  • Insight-led collaboration.
    Successful CRM efforts lead to working collaboratively, based on shared customer insights and understanding versus working separately. That results in improved customer value — one more reason it’s important to replace traditional store- and brand-centric thinking with a customer-centric approach.
  • Relevant, targeted marketing.
    Traditionally, the marketing and advertising teams have optimized marketing plans based on the lowest cost per thousand (CPM) for reaching a broadly defined audience with the desired frequency of contacts. But by using granular shopper data and behavior-based targeted marketing, ROI can be sharpened.
  • Core CRM components.
    As mentioned previously, any CRM implementation needs to consider these four core components: technology (applications and infrastructure), strategy (business goals and objectives), process (procedures and business rules) and people (organizational structure, skills, and incentives). In the section below, we will dive into these four core components of CRM.

CRM Software and Technology

Technology — encompassing applications and infrastructure — falls under the functional component of CRM, but there is no doubt that successful customer management requires a 360-degree view of the customer. And to do that, it typically requires an investment in software. But all too often, technology overshadows the other areas of customer relationship marketing.

In fact, Gartner predicts that the CRM software market will grow more than 14% through 2025.3 And that’s just the software solution portion of the equation. It doesn’t include the digital technologies needed to drive growth and improve the customer experience.

A CRM technology roadmap should have the following characteristics:

  • Supports 360-degree view of the customer.
  • Utilizes comprehensive end-to-end system integrations of all customer-related platforms with tight integration to enterprise CRM, MA and other legacy ERP systems.
  • Ongoing updates are made as business evolves.

But before you invest in CRM software and its associated bolt-ons, you need to ensure that your strategy is in place and that the business fundamentals have been covered.

Case Studies

See how the right CRM technology helped these companies achieve their customer relationship goals.

CRM Process

To be successful, customer management requires access to customer data, as well as cross-functional support of the business plan. Getting the data into the hands of the business users and ensuring that it’s incorporated into decision-making requires supporting business processes, including procedures and business rules.

To be successful, ensure that:

  • Defined, integrated processes exist across the enterprise. Documentation of current state and future state is key.
  • Processes cross functional areas and are coordinated between marketing, advertising, digital, store ops, customer service, IT/IS, merchandising, finance and e-commerce.
  • Processes are integrated into all strategic planning and future-state discussions, and maintain customers as the dominant focus.
  • Data management and governance is in place. Business users must have confidence in data integrity.

CRM Teams and Staffing

Resources, or people, are a major part of the functional component of customer relationship management. This includes not only your actual team members and their skillsets, but also the related organizational structure and incentives.

When focused on customer management, organizations need to be aligned for maximum impact on customer engagement. Both CRM and digital have disrupted the traditional retail environment, and new roles and skillsets are required. Plus, teams and departments must be cross-functional to ensure a smooth customer journey.

Retailers must be able to adapt at scale to remain competitive. This makes recruiting and retaining the right talent vital. Other important factors include:

  • A top-down commitment. Senior management needs to continue to oversee the efforts and ensure that the focus stays on the customer.
  • An assigned owner for the CRM roadmap or business plan. This person ensures that the plan is continually updated and reflects current state.
  • Using customer metrics to measure performance.
  • Connecting budgets to customer satisfaction goals.
  • Using analysts in functional areas to discover and analyze insights from consumer data.

CRM Strategy

What is the primary objective of the CRM process? Strategy includes business goals and objectives, and falls under the philosophical component of CRM. It directly relates to making customer knowledge and insights the foundation for your organization. As you build your strategy for managing different customer segments and becoming more customer-centric, you need to assure that it’s in line with, first, the company positioning, and then its culture and vision.

Once you have these elements in place, you can begin to determine how your CRM strategy will support them. For example, if you’re a value-based retailer, you will want to consider how you’re providing value to your customer at every stage of their journey. If you’re a customer-service-based retailer, you’ll want to focus on how you’re interacting with customers at every point of their purchase journey.

As you can see, the ideal strategy includes a defined, integrated approach to ensure an optimal customer experience that stretches across the organization, as well as customer journeys that are tracked and measured based on the level of engagement and conversion.

Building a customer-centric strategy includes:

  • Senior management viewing customer-centricity as the primary focus for the enterprise and aligning the organization around customer insights.
  • Development of a detailed business plan based on customer understanding and insights.
  • Collecting all available customer data and tracking customer behavior, providing the organization with a 360-degree view of the customer.
  • Having the entire organization focused on creating a differentiated customer experience and operationalizing it throughout marketing, customer care, digital, e-commerce touchpoints, and marketing/advertising campaigns.
  • Coordinating touchpoints across functions to improve customer experience.
  • Using customer metrics to measure performance across the retailer’s channels.
  • Basing business decisions on data and insights derived from data.
  • Using advanced modeling and algorithms to predict customer behavior and drive customer metrics.
  • Delivering relevant, personalized communications to customers.
  • Having an enterprise-wide dashboard with CSI, LTV, NPS and other customer-related metrics in place.

How to Create a Solid Business Case for CRM, Step-by-Step

A solid business case not only avoids stumbling blocks, but its end goal is to win that all-important executive buy-in. Done properly, it will also:

  • Identify CRM objectives
  • Help prioritize allocation of resources
  • Demonstrate why your CRM effort will be a strategic winner, quantifying benefits at a detailed level and providing specifics about how the program will achieve those benefits
  • Define ownership
  • Define actionable strategies and tactics
  • Provide an understandable, singular and shared CRM vision
  • Provide measurable accountability with specific standards for consistent measurement across business units and departments
  • Justify funding and set a plan in motion to secure that funding as well as adequate resources
  • Map out a CRM implementation plan
  • Serve as a reference tool to guide ongoing efforts
  • Remind stakeholders of the value and vision of CRM, keeping everyone on track toward the company’s long- and short-term goals
  • Provide your company with a sustainable competitive edge

The process of building a solid business case can be daunting. But the result will be a blueprint that can pay you back in spades and provide lasting value.

Whether you have an established CRM program and are looking to build a case for taking it to the next level or you’re embarking on your initial CRM journey, knowing how to build a compelling business case will help you better position your request with senior management, especially your CFO and CEO.

The key elements you’ll rely on to form your case include:

  • Financial and strategic goals and expectations
  • Short- and long-term benefits and risks
  • Recommendations for implementation
  • Measurements used to monitor, evaluate and refine the program

Detailed below are the six overall steps you’ll follow to incorporate these elements into a winning business case.

Six steps to building a CRM business case: Analyze situation; identify opportunities; quantify benefits; calculate costs; assess risk; make recommendations

1. Analyze the Situation

The first step in building a case for anything — and especially CRM — is to realistically assess where your company is today.

This assessment should include:

  • Your industry. What are the market trends? What’s the consumer mindset? What do the analysts say?
  • Your competition. What are they doing in terms of marketing, pricing and service? What are their customers saying? How do you compare?
  • Your company’s preparedness. Do you have a committed C-level position responsible for customer-centric initiatives? How well do departments work together? Have other initiatives with cross-functional teams been successful?
  • Your company’s CRM level of development. How well do you know your customers? How sophisticated is your CRM strategy? How integrated are your systems? Do you have a 360-degree view of the customer?

Where the first two listed assessments involve fairly straightforward investigative research and competitive analysis, the second two require more in-depth reflection and discovery of your company’s strengths and skill sets. There are fairly clear indicators of where a company sits on its CRM evolution by the following five stages:

Stage 1: Awareness. If your company finds it difficult to acknowledge customers are even out there, it’s likely a Stage 1 company. Such organizations tend to be product-centric, to perform ad hoc marketing and sales initiatives, to be highly siloed across departments and services, and to be challenged with identifying their customers.

Stage 2: Focus. Companies in this stage have begun acknowledging customers and seeking ways to determine which ones are most profitable. They tend to have good communication and processes, but are siloed by functional area, so they lack an enterprise-wide customer view.

Stage 3: Satisfaction. These companies are measuring satisfaction and attempting to meet or beat competitors. Frequently, companies at this stage tie satisfaction levels to internal compensation models.

Stage 4: Value. These organizations have begun looking at how they deliver value to particular customers. They know why their customers buy, and they differentiate how they treat customers based on specific needs that drive satisfaction and competitive advantage for each segment. Here, an enterprise-wide customer view exists, but may not be fully leveraged.

Stage 5: Loyalty. These companies enjoy repeat business and heightened customer demand, and proactively manage margins. They can reduce costs for things deemed unimportant by customers, and can demand premium prices for products and services perceived as vital. They don’t just gather data. They actually use it to understand and predict customer behavior.

2. Identify Opportunities and Benefits

CRM is a business initiative that will require significant company resources to develop, implement and support. So your business case will need to show that there is a payoff for the company.

In general terms, customer-centric companies have proved to be 60% more profitable than those not focused on the customer.4 In addition, multiple studies and sources over the years have shown that retailers with successful customer-centric initiatives can enjoy an average 5% lift in revenue and a 7% increase in market share. Plus, identifying top customers and optimizing those relationships could increase sales as much as 17%.5

What’s more, the customer database that’s a key component of any CRM initiative allows companies to fully leverage data across the organization, increasing its effectiveness in both marketing and operations.

CRM helps businesses achieve the following objectives:

  • Identify and better understand key customer segments
  • Retain more customers
  • Grow the value of existing customers
  • Aid in product development
  • Facilitate selection of new store or branch locations
  • Respond to market and competitor pressure
  • Find and capture best customer look-alikes
  • Decrease marketing and operational costs
  • Make decisions quickly with easier access to more reliable information

3. Financial Justification Part 1: Quantify Opportunities and Benefits

Once you’ve identified your particular needs and opportunities, the next step is to quantify what that means to the bottom line. This may be the most critically important part of your business plan — and the hardest to pin down.

For example, quantifying the additional revenue from a “saved” customer may simply be a matter of analyzing the data you currently have. However, quantifying the impact of quick response to market and competitor pressure may not be as cut-and-dried.

But the ability to remove a “dud” product from your shelves faster, or understanding that a product will blow off the shelves in Chicago but languish in Los Angeles, can add up to substantial savings … because you won’t overproduce or overbuy product, and you’ll stop shipping it to Los Angeles, resulting in cost savings.

You’ll need to detail the key metrics you’ll use to place value on the benefits and measure your return on investment (ROI), justifying the costs of CRM. It may be helpful to group the financial justification into the following common CRM metric areas:

  1. Incremental revenue, such as through better product mix, increased cross-selling, etc.
  2. Cost reduction, such as from reduced marketing cost and increased operational efficiencies.
  3. Improved profitability, such as from targeted promotions, higher value-based pricing and increased customer retention.
  4. Lost opportunity costs, such as in our Chicago/Los Angeles product example above.

These metrics will likely be the single most scrutinized aspect of your business case, so the numbers used should be well researched and supported. This is particularly tricky because companies often don’t have baseline data for key metrics. Plus, soft or intangible benefits are hard to quantify.

In many cases, the data and information do exist within the walls of your company. It’s simply a matter of understanding where to find them, whom to ask, and how to slice and dice. In the event the data has not been collected, industry benchmarks will help establish a credible valuation. An outside firm that has expertise in your industry can not only fill in the blanks — with experience in gathering, analyzing and quantifying the benefits CRM offers your company — but can also uncover those benefits and opportunities your exploration did not.

4. Financial Justification Part 2: Calculate Costs

Full-scale CRM programs typically cost hundreds of thousands — even millions — of dollars, in addition to considerable time and human capital investments. And your business plan will need to pass muster with the CFO and with non-financial types who will be charged with implementing the customer database and CRM program. This is precisely why a careful evaluation and estimation of costs — and the ROI — is key to gaining buy-in. Following are some common costs to consider.

Incremental Revenue

  • Strategy and consulting
  • Current and future state analysis, and gap assessments
  • Systems evaluation and data-flow documentation
  • Backend system upgrades/installation, particularly to integrate customer data for a 360-degree view
  • Customer demographic/psychographic data
  • Development of personas and customer journeys
  • CRM initiative rollout
  • Design, set-up, management and maintenance
  • Creative communications
  • Customer-facing systems (e.g., POS, e-commerce)

Cost Reduction

  • Training
  • Data management/governance
  • Change management
  • Systems integration
  • Additional personnel
  • Process documentation
  • Systems development and/or implementation

5. Assess and Manage Risk

Doing your homework is critical to managing risk so you can avoid delays, lowered ROI and increased costs. Fortunately, the main risks tend to be execution risks and fall into these general areas: people, processes, change management and funding.


The different skillsets each employee brings to the table, i.e., breadth of knowledge, are often the very thing that makes your company a standout among its peers. But this is exactly what can lead to risk in a CRM initiative.

Each individual tasked with participating in the initiative and gleaning insights from customer data should be trained for the specific tasks he or she will be performing. And training should continue as new processes and strategies are created.

A caveat: Great caution should be taken when setting expectations for individuals. Be realistic and know the limitations of your in-house team. Many organizations turn to a third party to augment their “bench strength.”

Case Study

Loyalty Marketing Experts Key to Retailer’s Success


The processes for the individual functional areas — marketing, customer service, merchandising, operations, digital and ecommerce — are typically siloed. But CRM requires more cross-functional processes. To minimize risk, every business process must be looked at holistically, from end to end, to understand how the data flow and customer touchpoints cross areas. A seamless customer experience is the key to successful CRM implementation.

Change Management

Change management also plays a large role in the launch of a CRM initiative. Different stakeholders have vested interests in seeing their roles and responsibilities change — or not. Change management issues must be addressed and ownership must be assigned to ensure buy-in.


Many CRM projects end up underfunded. Often, this arises from the misguided notion of “try before you buy” to see if CRM will work for the organization. Your business case must include cost, benefits and value calculations that show CRM’s pro forma impact over several years if you want to win buy-in and adequate funding to do CRM correctly.


Any CRM software, technology or tools purchased and leveraged must be carefully evaluated to ensure it is scalable, flexible and robust enough to meet both current and future needs. A thorough examination of risks will include a review of internal systems, skillsets and resources to determine not only the type of technology to use, but also the type of support needed to maintain, update and leverage the systems properly and to their fullest potential. Often, an outside resource is the best option to conduct such a technology assessment.

6. Make Recommendations

You’ve explained why your company needs CRM, how much your company will gain, what it will cost and the risks to consider. Now you must detail the CRM infrastructure and how you’ll actually implement the key elements of CRM. To do so, recommendations are needed for each of the following areas:

  • Customer Data Collection Program – how you’ll learn about the customer
  • Customer Communications Matrix – how you’ll build relationships with the customer
  • Recommended Technology Solutions – how you’ll collect, manage and distribute customer information
  • Key Milestones – how you’ll divide each phase of implementation, plus costs and timeline

Each recommendation should include goals, challenges and opportunities, solutions, tactics and timelines.

Customer Data Collection: How you’ll learn about the customer.

What you recommend here will depend on your available channels, customer touchpoints and technical capabilities. Both offline and online data need to be tracked and stored in a usable format, including unstructured data from social networks.

Data collection initiatives need to consider all payment forms as well as all customer touchpoints, including but not limited to the following:

  • POS
  • SMS
  • Social media
  • Website
  • Landing pages
  • Email
  • Programmatic

You’ll want to ensure that your data collection tactics protect customers’ privacy, do not slow down or impede the sales process, and provide enough value to incent customers to offer personal information. If your data collection effort includes a loyalty program, it should include both an initial data capture strategy and an ongoing data capture strategy, i.e., giving customers reasons (benefits) to keep shopping or banking with you while providing transactional, attitudinal and behavioral clues about themselves.

Customer Communications Matrix: How you’ll build relationships with the customer.

Just as the 360-degree view of the customer is critical to developing your CRM strategy, your customer communications are key to building and growing customer relationships.

Your communication plans will be driven by the customer knowledge gleaned from your customer data and should also take into account your ability and intention to manipulate data using analysis, modeling and segmentation. Your recommendation should include frequency, channels, and key messages and objectives. You should also address opportunities for personalization, behavior-based triggers and lifecycle management.

Ideally, your communications will provide the opportunity for customer feedback, too, such as through readership surveys and two-way communication, including actively monitoring social media channels.

Case Study

Driving direct mail success and ROI with data-based knowledge.

Recommended Technology Solutions: How you’ll collect, manage and distribute customer information.

Your customer data is vital to your CRM strategy, helping you decide whom to talk to and when, as well as providing insights or relevant targeted content. So a customer database must be the foundation on which your CRM program is built.

What you recommend here will depend on whether you currently have a CRM platform, how reliable and complete the data is, and how you intend to start (or continue) to collect data. It will need to address your company’s current IT infrastructure, skillsets and resources. And it should take into account your ability and intention to manipulate data using analysis, modeling and segmentation.

A partner is invariably needed here to help you better assess your company’s situation and help align your needs and objectives to the best-of-breed solutions. A partner can either provide you with a cloud-based outsourced solution or help you bring a hosted platform in-house. A partner can also continue to manage and maintain the solution, as well as provide ongoing data analysis, strategy and consulting, if appropriate.

Key Milestones: How you’ll divide each phase of implementation, plus costs and timeline.

With the plan in place, the last item to address is the speed at which you intend to implement each of the recommendations. Many companies push the launch and implementation too quickly and don’t take into account the time needed to procure hardware/software, train users, align departments, change processes and so on.

It makes good business sense to tie important milestones to company objectives where possible (such as the rollout of a loyalty program before the holidays to help make projected revenues). But be sure adequate time is given to do it correctly. This is another area where risk can increase if not managed correctly.

Another consideration is where your company is on the CRM evolution chart. This will provide clues as to whether milestones should be large leaps or small steps. For example, if your company is at Stage 2 (customer focus), small steps would be more manageable not only in terms of budgets, but also in terms of change management. Throw too much, too soon at employees, and you may experience significant bottlenecks.

CRM Metrics of Success

Measurable outcomes are now expected for most initiatives — whether a small one-off campaign or an organization-wide shift to customer-centricity. Indeed, follow-through measurement linked to specific tactical initiatives, processes and strategies is essential for ensuring your CRM initiative is achieving expected outcomes, heading off potential issues and uncovering opportunities for refinement.

Some typical metrics used include:

  • Customer retention. Increased customer loyalty can be demonstrated through repeat purchases over a given timeframe, increased product penetration, increased transaction size, and increased cross-selling and upselling.
  • Customer profitability. How profitable a customer is can be measured through increased revenue per customer, increased lifetime value and decreased cost to serve.
  • Market share. Measure your market penetration by comparing your organization’s performance against competitors.
  • Financial analysis. Measure tangible financial metrics of your CRM initiative, such as total cost of ownership, return on investment, net present value, internal rate of return and earnings per share.
  • Cost savings. Examples of how much your organization could save by leveraging customer information include reduced marketing costs, targeted promotions, better inventory control and savings through operational efficiencies.
  • Revenue and profit margins. Compare quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year changes.

While individual metrics will not deliver a complete picture of success, a comprehensive measurement strategy will enable you to better evaluate overall impact — impact that may garner additional support. And, ultimately, the metrics must be “owned” by someone to ensure accountability and follow-through.

Case Study

Data Analytics Improves Loyalty Program Performance

Stumbling Blocks to CRM Success

Back when CRM was the buzz and everyone was jumping on the customer-centric bandwagon, getting the green light for a CRM investment was much easier. Many believed it was a plug-and-play solution that could be quickly installed and produce results within weeks. But as the CRM movement marched on, leaving hundreds of failed implementations in its wake, it left marketers and industry analysts scratching their heads.

If customer loyalty is paramount, what went wrong?

Few organizations undertake the necessary legwork involved to make their CRM project a success. They fail to define the total cost of ownership or the benefits, and they don’t put in place the processes and economic tools needed to guide decision-making throughout the project’s lifecycle.

CCG’s own research has uncovered these top obstacles to CRM success:

  • Lack of C-level buy-in and support, depriving your initiative of a strong champion who can ensure your efforts are aligned with overall business strategies — and ensuring they have a seat at the power table.
  • No corporate-wide CRM strategy; failure to develop a shared management perspective of CRM opportunity and lack of centralized ownership (and thus buck-stops-here accountability) of the CRM initiative.
  • Lack of business objectives that are clearly defined and measurable.
  • Seeking the “big bang” by attempting to develop skills and infrastructure too quickly.
  • Little or no attention paid to employee skills and abilities; too great a focus on tools and hardware, not humanware.
  • Change in the organization not managed well, leading to functional barriers as well as philosophical roadblocks; everyone must see and understand where they will benefit.
  • Inappropriate sequencing plan for CRM investments (e.g., building technology before strategy or expectations).
  • Failure to understand which business processes must be optimized to support the strategies.
  • Program not in line with the brand position and customers’ expectations.
  • Quality of data not properly addressed.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the customer. Wherever the customer goes, we follow. Whatever the customer wants, we give. Whatever the customer expects, we deliver.

And, in general, you can expect customers to use several channels to interact with your brand.

For instance, in today’s world, nearly two-thirds of consumers do online research before making a purchase, and more than 45 million used voice technology in 2021 — up 120% from 2018.6 According to the Pew Research Center, 76% of all U.S. adults have used their smartphone to make an online purchase, 69% have used a desktop or laptop, and 28% have used a tablet.7 Plus, 108 million consumers are predicted to have made a purchase via social media by 2025, up 75% from 2019.6

All of this makes it imperative that your organization is able to engage all customers across multiple channels through multiple devices with excellent customer service. It is also crucial that companies harness all the data these channels can provide to enable a 360-degree perspective of each customer you connect with.

Why consider a CRM partner?

Addressing both the philosophical and functional components of customer relationship management is a significant undertaking for any enterprise. But for today’s retailers, it’s even more difficult because of strained resources, focus on short-term profits and an increasingly educated and fickle consumer.

A partner can show you where CRM has succeeded in a similar situation, keeping you focused on the opportunities. A partner can also identify additional obstacles and opportunities you don’t see, simply because you’re too close to the situation. Let us show you how we can partner with you to help build your customer-centric strategy and corresponding roadmap — and transition to a business focused on the customer.

Identify Opportunities

When we begin building a case for a client, our consultants do extensive interviewing to ferret out strengths and challenges in that client’s particular situation, oftentimes leading us to unique opportunities. For instance, the typical retailer is resistant to making changes on the “front lines,” despite this being the primary customer point of contact. Retailers resist because of issues related to turnover, training, time at the cash-wrap and so on.

Yet, in one case when we asked a department store’s managers what differentiates their company in the marketplace, they agreed that, “We’re a neighborhood department store where the employees really know and care about the customer.” It became apparent that there was a much stronger associate in this setting than we usually find. As a result of this research, we identified opportunities at the point of sale that previously would not have been entertained.

Leverage Experience

A carefully chosen partner brings specific experience in multiple disciplines that you may not have internally. One example is the ability to develop customer strategies based on your company, industry, market and what you currently know (or plan to learn) about your customers. A partner who has worked across industries and markets, and developed programs for companies large and small, sophisticated and antiquated, has the background to help you decipher what works and what makes the most sense for your scenario, budget and timelines.

A partner can help you set up your program in a way that makes sense for your current and future objectives. For instance, you may not currently have a social buying or voice-search strategy. But you can work with a partner experienced in these areas to begin testing these tactics.

A partner can also bring strategic insights to your data capture, analysis and reporting objectives, helping you really understand what data points are needed, how best to acquire them, and then how to segment, strategize and leverage all that data.

Moreover, by continuing the partnership, you can rely on those outside experts to continuously look for ways to make your CRM initiative work better for you, since they’ll have an in-depth knowledge of your needs, program, strategy and infrastructure.

Neutralize Politics, Gain Objectivity

There are very few companies today where you won’t find strong opinions about CRM since many CEOs say they don’t have a solid grasp of the returns from marketing and technology investments.

Partners can help bring objectivity while arming you with industry statistics and best practices. They can show what other industry players are doing, including your competitors. And they’re able to delve into your company and specifically show — based on your metrics, customers and objectives — what a CRM strategy can accomplish.

Partners can also help bring perspective to the technology options and best practices, and pair you with appropriate technology services and solutions. Through targeted, objective exploration and recommendations, a partner helps mitigate personal opinion and agendas, and brings consensus into focus.

Maintain Momentum

A partner can keep the initiative on track when your internal resources are already tapped. Experience has shown that any time a significant project is introduced — even if it will ultimately save resources — it is a challenge to get it implemented.

For example, an omnichannel marketing platform initiative requires a multi-departmental taskforce, encompassing finance, marketing, operations and IT. And invariably, something comes up in one of those departments to delay or stop the project. An outside resource, though, can keep the momentum going and ensure key milestones are met, shouldering a great deal of work your employees would otherwise have to bear.

We helped one client build a business case for CRM that included a pilot program. Despite lacking the resources to do it successfully, the client decided to implement the pilot using internal resources. The client experienced significant issues and launched the program six months behind the initial schedule. A year later, they approached us with concerns that their CRM strategy was not meeting financial expectations. They asked us to review it and make recommendations.

After an extensive review, we found that many of our original recommendations (many involving outsourcing) still made sense. After their experience and our review, the client finally saw the need for a partner to work with them throughout the continuum — planning, launch, rollout, and ongoing measurement and refinement.

Strengthen Weak Links

An effective partner brings best practices, benchmarks, case studies, experience and proven methodologies for making CRM initiatives work. Perhaps most important, the right partner brings experience proving to the powers-that-be that CRM works. Leverage this knowledge in the areas where it makes sense for you (i.e., boost your weak areas and supplement your strengths).

For example, if your IT department has limitations, you can bolster that with a technology solutions partner. If the financial people are not strong supporters of your CRM business case, you can bring in help to strengthen the financial section of the business case. If Operations is not backing the need for a CRM platform, a partner can illustrate how a fully leveraged solution positively affects Operations.

And last, a partner can be a way to get senior management’s attention. Often, a paid consultant finds it easier to move your case up the ladder.


Why is CRM important? Here are just a few reasons that we’ve covered:

  • The proliferation of channels — internet, text messaging, email, catalogs, mobile, social networks, stores, kiosks — has made the marketplace more competitive than ever by decreasing the impact of distance and increasing the amount of choice.
  • The smartening of consumers — gathering information to research, compare, discuss, negotiate and decide — has made them more demanding and more easily dissatisfied.
  • The sophistication of technology — new tools, new applications, more savvy users — has given other players the competitive edge.

In a nutshell, organizations that embrace CRM will push past these challenges to maximize the number and value of strong, loyal customer relationships. And in today’s highly competitive, constantly changing marketplace, it’s a crucial component of survival.

About Customer Communications Group, Inc.

Founded in 1977, Customer Communications Group, Inc. (CCG), pioneered the concept of customer-centric marketing and continues to prove its leadership position by delivering results that can increase sales 8% to 15% and generate 200% to 400% ROI.

As a full-service CRM agency, CCG delivers integrated, end-to-end customer marketing expertise. With a multi-functional team of customer relationship marketing and loyalty strategists, analysts and creatives, we offer strategic development and planning, database marketing and analysis, custom content, design and digital services, as well as CRM and loyalty program development and optimization, ROI measurement and more. As expert providers of retail marketing services and leaders in the field of retail loyalty marketing, we have developed, launched and managed innovative CRM initiatives for Fortune 2000 retail and financial services companies across the country.

CCG’s progressive programs support the upsell, cross-sell, acquisition, activation and retention efforts of our Fortune 2000 clients, including Comerica, Eddie Bauer, General Motors, Hancock Whitney Bank, IBM, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Payless ShoeSource, PETCO, Pier 1 Imports, Super Fresh, Synchrony Financial, Talbots, ULTA® Beauty and Wells Fargo.

For more information on how we can help you build a CRM business case or improve your existing CRM initiatives, schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our customer-centricity experts.

1 “Insights-Driven Businesses Set the Pace for Global Growth,” Brian Hopkins, Ted Schadler and James McCormick, Forrester, published Oct. 19, 2018,, accessed Jan. 16, 2023
2 “Changing the Paradigm on Customer Centricity,” KPMG LLP, 2017,
3 “Software Market Insights: Customer Relationship Management (CRM),” Gartner, published June 10, 2022,, accessed Jan. 16, 2023
4 “Customer-focused companies are 60% more profitable. How do your strategies line up?” Larisa Bedgood, Business2Community, updated Feb. 3, 2021,, accessed Jan. 16, 2023
5 “The True Meaning and Benefits of Customer-centricity Explained,”,, accessed Jan. 16, 2023
6 “60+ Online Shopping Statistics: Everything You Need to Know,” Omar, Digital Solutions, updated Dec. 15, 2022,, accessed Jan. 16, 2023
7 “For shopping, phones are common and influencers have become a factor — especially for young adults,” Michelle Faverio and Monica Anderson, Pew Research Center, posted Nov. 21, 2022,, accessed Jan. 16, 2023

Learn more about CCG  and our retail marketing expertise.

Sandra Gudat

Author Sandra Gudat

Sandra Gudat is CCG’s president & CEO. Considered a pioneer in the field of customer marketing, she has a diverse background in consulting, database marketing, advertising, retail and business management. She is a frequent speaker on customer loyalty marketing and developing customer-centric policies

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