Focus Speaks: Driving Sales and Marketing Teams’ Adoption of CRM

Updated: December 01, 2009

"CRM is a crucial element of success and getting the sales team to use it has always been a huge challenge," responded Focus Expert Craig Klein. "Depending on the business and their prospecting model, if you can put new leads in the CRM [system] so that salespeople have to use the [system] to get the leads, that's about the best carrot I've found." Mr. Klein adds that when a business can identify other information crucial to successful salespeople, that information can be put into the CRM system as well, "to act like a magnet" to draw users in. Examples include information on current order status and up-to-date sales numbers.

Even more critical than forcing access to needed information through a CRM solution is leadership from marketing and senior management, according to Mr. Klein. "In the end however, I find that the most common missing ingredient is strong leadership on the issue. If the boss won't come out and say ‘we're doing this, it's a requirement and here's why,' then salespeople will continue to resist," Mr. Klein said.

Focus Expert Jeff Ogden agreed. "As [a] VP of Sales, I had one simple rule. If the statement by sales did not match what was in the CRM system, [whatever sales said] did not happen. I did not care what my salesperson said. We had 100% adoption quickly. No need for complex rules. Just make it clear - no data [as provided by the CRM system], no help from management," Mr. Ogden added.

This threat of lack of support "from above" must be tempered and accompanied by appropriate "carrots" from leaders as well, according to Focus Expert Michael Hanna. "How do you drive adoption? You don't. You inspire adoption! The seeds of end user adoption are planted long before implementation. The secret is to create a sense of ownership and positive anticipation leading up to deployment."

"To create a sense of ownership, [senior, marketing and sales management should] create a committee (whether formal or informal) that is to actively participate in shaping the process or technology being deployed. This team should have at least one representative from each role being affected [and guided] to provide input at pre-established milestones. Be sure to listen carefully and value their input. Give them a sense of ownership. Only the true owner of a project can offer a sense of ownership to selected others," Mr. Hanna added.

This is a critical link in the process of getting users to encourage adoption among other users. "If you do this well, [those with a sense of ownership] will advocate the new process to their peers well before implementation. You will have actually affected the culture, which will not be easily changed," Hanna asserted.

Simon Gantley, another Focus Expert, agreed with Mr. Hanna about the importance of fostering ownership of any chosen CRM or SFA solution among the salespeople expected to use it. "You can beat and bribe [users] into using anything, but user adoption is so much easier if they perceive it as "their" system - something that was clearly designed to address their specific needs and which provides clear value to the individual sales/support/marketing staff, not just their managers."

Focus community contributors added that credible metrics are essential to accurate assessment of that "clear value." Mr. Hanna, for example, offered the following specific guidelines intended to drive CRM/SFA adoption:

1. Establish metrics to measure adoption and the expected results of adoption.

2. Use the metrics you established.

3. Acknowledge those who are adopting well and highlight their positive results to their peers.

4. Point out those who are not adopting well.

5. Managers, hold your team members accountable. Manage beyond metrics. Interact with each member.

6. Executives, hold your managers accountable to holding their team members accountable.

It's also "critical to get a couple of the star performers in the loop," said Focus Expert M Scott Schaffernoth. "You want people who are great sales people, who know the power of a correctly implemented system for their performance and who will be vocal in championing all the 'goodies' that the system will provide the sales folks. Have them involved in planning meeting and don't be afraid to ask what is important to them when it comes to the proposed system" or changes to it, Mr. Schaffernoth said.

Another critical element of driving adoption successfully is initial and repeat subsequent training. "I continue to be surprised by how many organizations roll out major SFA and CRM initiatives without properly (or effectively) training the sales force and management," said Focus contributor Robert Bilotti. "My firm's last two projects were to develop training for CRM's that had rolled out over a year ago, and either the company never trained the staff or the training was so poor that they needed to do it again." Mr. Bilotti added an important tip: "[R]arely can you simply rely on the vendor's training."

Mr. Schaffernoth concurred. "Sales-based organizations with a sales team should have on their calendars recurring sale meetings. One of the items that should be on the agenda for EVERY [such] meeting is tips and tricks/new features/etc. of the system. This helps to cement in users' minds that the system is an integral part of the sales culture in the organization and that the firm is committed to the system evolving and being the best it can be - and that [the organization] wants its people knowing how to best use their tools."

In addition to training, it's important to measure the results of your CRM and/or SFA efforts. "Remember, garbage in, garbage out," added Focus Expert Melissa McCready. "If you cannot measure it, then why are you doing it? If users do not like the tool and do not use it, it's a wash for everyone."

To avoid such an outcome, it is critical to remember that salespeople tend to focus on making more sales, not choosing any particular tools to do so. "Salespeople will generally use whatever tools help them win more deals and make more money," said Focus contributor Heidi Tucker. "If the CRM system saves them time, connects them to decision-makers, and yields more sales, they will use it. It's pretty simple. For example, it the CRM system offers succinct, meaningful business insight about their prospects (key contacts and their bios, news alerts and buying triggers, competitive intelligence, insightful sales questions about their prospects' business issues, etc.), salespeople will use it rather than waste time surfing the Net for [that information]," Ms. Tucker added.

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