6 common membership CRM system misconceptions

19 July 2018 by Steve Sydee

In any membership CRM project, there is always a lot of work involved to take a system live, and keep it fit for purpose as your organisation develops. At smartimpact, we are often called in by organisations who have become disappointed with their current CRM partner, to do our project ‘rescue & relaunch’ service.


We find the same common causes time and again, usually caused by one or both of:

  • the client misunderstanding what their role will be
  • the supplier misunderstanding, or underplaying, what is involved

We thought we would list a few of the usual causes – hopefully you won’t recognise them as your system is a success, but if you do, please contact us and we will help you get back on track.

Misunderstanding #1: We can do our own membership CRM implementation in-house

What you need to know: Unless you are a specialist membership CRM implementation company, don’t even start to think this. Your organisation is good at what you do; this almost certainly does not give your colleagues the set of skills needed to put CRM systems in successfully.

CRM systems are powerful, flexible tools which can easily be over specified, poorly implemented, and badly managed. How many staff in your firm have experience of putting CRM systems in, so they can see the pitfalls and avoid them before they become major problems? How many of your staff understand how to create good levels of early user adoption and then keep that consistently high? Use an experience implementation team, either by working with a third-party firm, or by appointing a team of experienced contractors led by one of your own staff who has done this before.

Misunderstanding #2: The system has ‘best practice’ so we’ll use the out of the box function to begin with

What you need to know: Many software vendors claim they have tailored the system to match the needs of the membership sector. This has two obvious flaws.  

Firstly, are you a typical, average membership organisation? If you think you are then go and tell your exec team that you are the same as all the others, and see how much they agree with you. They might want to explain how they differentiate your organisation!

Secondly, if you implement the same system as any competition you have, you will always be behind them simply because they will have implemented it before you. How can you create a competitive edge when you are six months behind? Always aim to customise the CRM system to build on your areas of strength and improve on your areas of weakness.

Misunderstanding #3: We’ve selected the system and we’re paying for implementation services so our staff can get on with their day jobs until it is successfully installed. Let us know when it is ready.

What you need to know: This is almost certainly the biggest issue. Organisations underestimate how much effort they will need to put in and many suppliers do not adequately prepare them for this as making it sound like hard work may damage the sale. So organisations do not put enough time aside.

If your customer services staff need a system to help them provide excellent customer service, it stands to reason that they will have to spend time:

  1. Understanding what the new system could do for them
  2. Helping to refine what it actually should do so it supports your desired ways of working
  3. Test it so that it does what is required
  4. Adapt to it when it goes live as it will involve a new way of working and thus be unfamiliar at first

Of course, all this takes thinking time and doing time, so your organisation has to make it clear that at certain stages in the project, staff will need a reasonable percentage of their working week to focus on the system and thus will not be expected to perform their day jobs at 100% throughout the project. Build that into your plans and your budgets.

Misunderstanding #4: The data in our old system is a mess but we can outsource the data cleanse, or just migrate it as is, and clean it up later.

What you need to know: In almost every project, data cleansing starts too late, if at all, and receives inadequate budget. Start it right at the beginning of the project – while you are selecting the new system. Identify:

  • The data sources
  • Which data is the master source
  • How it will be combined
  • How you will handle duplicates
  • How you will implement an ongoing data quality regime

Cost this out and put it into the project budget. Implementing a great system, with poor data, will give you a poorly used system as users will not trust it.

And, as for migrating it as is and cleaning up later, it reminds me of my kids when they tidy their room by cramming everything from the floor into their cupboards, saying they’ll sort it out later. They never do so things get lost, broken or underused. The same will happen to your data.

Misunderstanding #5: Once the system is live, we’re done. So we haven’t earmarked a budget for regular improvement.

What you need to know: In most cases, organisations buy a new system to help them support a strategic direction for their business. CRM is always a Change Management project as much as an IT project. So, CRM systems should contain improved processes that help embed behaviour change.

Once the first phase system has gone in successfully, and helped embed the behavioural changes in your staff in line with that strategic direction, will you have delivered that complete business strategy? Is that all you need – or can you evolve and improve more from this stronger position? Should change stop, or can you now have continuous improvement? Successful organisations will strive for continuous improvement. To help cement that continuous change, it makes sense to keep improving the processes within the system, and so you should budget for ongoing phases to keep up the rate of improvement.

Misunderstanding #6: Our new system will mean our data will be so much more accurate – and our decision making so much more effective.

What you need to know: Unless you think about ongoing data maintenance; the tools to help you do this; and the budgets that these require, your newly-cleaned data will end up in a mess (again). Data is like entropy – left alone it will revert to chaos. And poor processes around data entry, de-duplication, and the simple fact that around 20% of the contacts in your database will change jobs or address each year, helps it on its way. Left poorly managed for a couple of years, half your data will be inaccurate and thus cannot be trusted in reports and decision making – but which half is it? You need a regime to make sure you can trust almost all of it, all of the time.


We see these issues all the time. Do you recognise any in your organisation? If you don’t, then hopefully you will have adequately planned for ongoing systems budgets, staff availability, data quality, and good project management – within the project and for the years after. These are foundations for an excellent long term solution. But if you find that certain parts of your system or project have not lived up to your expectations, please contact us at smartimpact – we specialise in helping organisations get the very best from their membership CRM systems, at whatever stage they are in their project lifecycle.