Many factors can make a CRM implementation fail, such as a lack of commitment from top-level executives and poor coordination among departments, but one very important reason is often overlooked: the quality of the company’s customer data, speakers said at the CRM Conference South America 2001 here last week.

CRM systems gather customer data from a variety of applications and databases, so that users can access and analyze that data to improve their company’s customer service and better design their sales and marketing strategies. But customer data is often dispersed among disparate databases and applications throughout a company, preventing a company from getting an accurate profile of their customers. For example, the billing department may have customer data in a system that isn’t used by the marketing department, and vice versa.

Thus, a company’s customer data may be outdated, incorrect or formatted in a way that makes it impossible for other systems to access it and use it, said Rick Field, one of the keynote speakers at the event, and consultant at Acxiom Corp., a company based in Little Rock, Arkansas, that makes data-cleansing software. Companies often assume incorrectly that the customer-related data the CRM system will use is in good shape, which leads to the failure of many projects and consequently a loss of money and time, he said.

Most other speakers at the conference echoed Field’s concerns. “The cleansing and qualification of the existing databases should be a primary concern,” said Luis Cudmani, partner of Ordo