[IMGCAP(1)]"We hate our CRM system. It's terrible. No one is using it. We need a better one."

"Can you recommend a CRM system that is more user-friendly?"

"Our CRM system? It's nothing more than a glorified Rolodex!"

Sound familiar? It should. I hear these complaints all the time -- both from clients and non-clients. Their complaints about their CRM (that's customer relationship management) systems are not only untrue, but misleading. I'm tired of hearing them. I'm bored of the excuses. I'm sick of the whining.

Because today's CRM systems are mature. And most are excellent. Whether you go higher end (Salesforce.com, Oracle, SAP), mid-range (Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Sage CRM, GoldMine) or lower end (Zoho, Nimble, Highrise, Insight.ly), you'll find that these products, and a hundred others that I'm not even mentioning, are robust, well-designed and easy to use. They have features for sales and opportunity management, marketing, calendaring and e-mail. They can be integrated with other systems. They can talk to social media outlets. They can be accessed from your iPhone. They are all powerful tools.

So why do so many companies struggle to find value from their CRM system? There's something that Salesforce.com and the other industry leaders can't tell you. It's this: The problem with your CRM system isn't usually about your CRM system. It's about you. It's the way it's been set up. It's the way it's been implemented. It's the way it's managed. Wake up. Stop your finger-pointing. Enough with the whining. Look in the mirror. If you want your CRM system to succeed, then take a deep breath and do these three things.

1. Focus on the reports. Each year I get calls from about a half dozen sales managers and they all essentially say the same thing: "I'm starting at a new company. At my last job I used Salesforce.com (or something else similar). I'm not saying it's the best but it's what I know. Come out to my company, set up and configure the system and make sure I'm getting my three reports that I use to manage my sales group. That's all I care about. Just those three reports."

Despite what the marketers at Microsoft, Sage and Salesforce.com say, a CRM system is nothing more than a database, wherever it's located. Good sales managers know this. They know that to manage their group of five or 50 salespeople, they need to track what they're doing. They need reports on their pipeline, open quotes, new opportunities, recent activities and lost sales. The other bells and whistles are nice. But without these reports, their CRM system would be worthless.

Forget all the bells and whistles. Instead, make sure you have a few key reports coming from your system. They should be automatically delivered to your inbox every week or every day. You should be managing your people based on this data. They should be trained to do nothing but make sure they're doing the data entry necessary so that you're getting these reports. What are these reports? Do you really have to ask? Does a pilot ask for directions? Does George Clooney ask what to say to an attractive girl? If you're a sales manager and you don't know the answer to that question, then that's an issue in of itself.

2. Invest in an administrator. The best CRM administrator I've ever met is also the most unlikely. Her name is "Kathy" and she works for a health care client of ours. She speaks softly, often brings in cupcakes for her officemates, and loves to talk about her grown children and baseball. She has a kindly face and a grandmotherly manner. Except when it comes to the company's Salesforce.com system. The slightest mention of this topic turns this quiet administrator into a hell-raiser. And thank God for that.

Kathy works in the company's sales department providing administrative support. And for the past seven years she's been the administrator of their CRM system. Sweet and loving most of the time, Kathy becomes a fierce and vicious defender of her data when it comes to her system. She owns it. She knows the system backwards and forwards. She is responsible for the data in the system. She is the go-to person for any Salesforce.com question. The system is her baby. She takes full responsibility for its success.

To succeed, you need someone like Kathy. Hire that person or re-organize to create time for that person. This should not be an IT person, either - they are not suited for this task. And learning today's CRM systems isn't that difficult. A good super-user can pick it up with some training and effort. Just give them the time and support. Authorize them to wipe your salespeople's noses and change your service staff's diapers. Make it part of their job description and give them the pride of system ownership. Every successful CRM system has a strong administrator behind it. And a senior manager or owner willing to make that investment.

3. Embrace it or suffer. At one client, a salesperson complained because it took "too many mouse-clicks" to enter in a new opportunity. And you know what his manager said? "Don't care." At that same client, I overheard an older salesperson complain that the system was a waste of his time and he wouldn't be using it. I haven't seen that guy around recently. This is a company whose management has embraced their CRM system. And they are succeeding with it.

Not at "Plastic Research Corp.," another client of mine. At Plastic Research, management invested in a big Salesforce.com system only to have it fail miserably after six months. Why? Because a salesperson in Singapore preferred sending in his activity reports on a spreadsheet as before, and no one called him on it. And another salesperson who had an excellent relationship with one of the company's biggest customers decided he wasn't going to use the system altogether. And they let him get away with it. Result: CRM failure.

The most successful CRM systems are at companies where the system is the culture. Do what's necessary to help your people adapt. Give them training and support. But in return, require them to use the system.

In all likelihood, your CRM system is fine. You probably don't need to invest in something else. Just do the three things I recommend above. All of them. And watch the results. It may not be politically correct for your vendor to recommend this. But I can. I've seen it. And it works.

Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsized businesses.

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