Can CRM Work If It's Not Integrated?

As discussed earlier under "CRM Nirvana", the ideal CRM system is integrated both between the various customer functions and with the back-office systems so that customer-focused staffers can access all the information about customer interactions and all the information required to meet customer requests within a single interface. However, many companies find that piecemeal projects work very well. Why is that?

  • For one thing, almost all integrated approaches require custom work to link disparate systems. That makes them very expensive not just for the initial implementation but also for maintenance since the various pieces don't always evolve harmoniously together. It's very difficult to get a return on investment if you start with a large outlay.
  • Integrated approaches take a lot of time, partly because of the integration work (to get the various systems to talk to each other), but also because of the amount of coordination required to implement a larger-scope tool with many more stakeholders even when no integration is required. So integrated approaches require patience and are inherently riskier because they take more time.
  • Perhaps the thorniest problem of integrated CRM is, who will lead the monster? Can we find an appropriate executive sponsor? Turf battles can and do extinguish integrated CRM projects more readily than more modest approaches.
  • Finally, if you select a CRM suite to avoid having to do custom integration between the customer-focused functions (you would still have to do back-office integration, if required), you automatically restrict yourself to a much smaller set of vendors. What may sound like a great way to get to a short list usually translates into less than best-in-class functionality for any given function, an older architecture, and higher pricing. So you may end up without the leading-edge features that you want while paying a hefty price.

Therefore, it can be better to start with smaller, function-focused pieces. You can select best-in-class features for each of them separately, the selection process can be driven by a single business function, and the implementation process is a lot quicker. If the various customer functions are quite separate, staying with distinct, non-integrated pieces for CRM may be just fine in the long run. And if you need some integration you will likely find that only a small percentage of data and processes need to be truly integrated, and perhaps not through the most delicate and expensive simultaneous update scenarios. Many companies function happily with disconnected CRM modules and even find advantages to that route. Good CRM does not mean complete integration, although to be fair it probably requires some integration for the key areas.