CRM Adoption Needs Good Leadership as Much as Good IT

CRM adoption

Over 90% of companies with dedicated sales teams have licensed a CRM system, and yet far fewer of these companies believe their CRMs are strategic in their impact to the top and bottom lines.  Quora got double-digits responses to the question “Why do salespeople hate CRM?”  “Why do salespeople love CRM?” had not been posted as a question as of the time of this writing.

Why is it so challenging to get sales teams to use CRM systems?

Contrary to some other commentators on this topic, I don’t believe the problem of low CRM adoption is due mainly to the systems being overly complex, or salespeople having limited grasp of software generally.  Don’t get me wrong; some CRMs are no doubt too complex, designed by techies without sufficient input from real sales teams, etc.   There are over 300 different CRM systems in the market today, and no doubt some are poorly designed.

This is not the main driving problem though.  The top CRM systems (Salesforce, Dynamics, SAP, Oracle) have been designed with sales input, design thinking and user experience experts coming out their ears.  I find several of the top systems really elegant in their combination of simplicity and power.  It’s hard to imagine these systems being much simpler while still achieving their intended goal.

Neither is the tech IQ of sales staff the major problem.  Never before have salespeople had the level of technical skill that today’s sales professionals possess.

Salespeople are experts at what they do, and they know what tools help them do it best

Few professions have their compensation aligned so well as salespeople, so I don’t believe for a minute that the effort at learning a new system would be a hindrance for sales teams convinced that a new CRM was really going to boost their results.   Most sales people are willing to work hard, they are motivated to invest in anything that will put money in their own pocket, and smart enough to learn any tool that meets that criteria.  I believe the resistance to adoption and usage of CRMs often runs much deeper, and requires a commitment from the highest levels of leadership to resolve…

It all comes down to human nature.  (Good luck fighting that)

It may take a bit of time and education, but in the end I think we can count on smart people to figure out how to act in their best interest.  The question for leadership becomes this: is your company culture setup to ensure that your salespeople will believe that collaborating on a CRM platform is in their best interest?

Executive leadership, does your sales team suffer from significant churn?

It is possible that your salespeople’s resistance to using the CRM system has nothing to do with the system, and everything to do with their plans (or general expectations) that they will be leaving your company in the fairly near future.  When that happens, they know that if they have their own spreadsheets or outlook notes or big chief tablets, they can bring very valuable information along with them.  If it all exists in the CRM, THEY CAN’T.

Culture flag-bearers, does your sales team suffer from internal poaching?

It is possible that your salespeople’s reluctance to enter all their customer insights, predictions, and followup ideas has nothing to do with how (in)efficient those features have been designed, or whether they’re available on a mobile device, etc.  and everything to do with their fear that their colleagues will POACH those insights and steal sales from them in the future.

C-suite policy makers, does your sales team feel overwhelming near-term quota pressure?

The right approach to training – whatever that means in your organization – is worthless if your sales staff are unable to mentally engage due to short-term pressures.  Mandatory webinar training delivers ZERO benefits if your sales staff are all checking email and following up with customers on their 2nd screen during the session.  I’m a big believer in face-to-face training, (possibly even 1-on-1 uber-tailored training depending on the economics), but even those approaches can fail if their focus is so set on this month or quarter that they can’t spend mental energy envisioning a better way to operate long-term.

Data governors, is the bar so high on required data entry that it’s easier to enter none?

Sales is an uncertain business, particularly at the upper edge of the “funnel”.  A salesperson may not have a sense of which product(s)/service(s) a customer might be a fit for, or the scale or timetable of a likely transaction early in the process – right at the ideal moment when you’d like it captured in the CRM.   Consider the (infinite) flexibility they have on what they track about those early-stage/potential deals in their spreadsheets, and configure accordingly.  Consider also the new doors AI capabilities are opening to automatically fill in data gaps, etc.  Focus your sales team’s efforts on the things that they alone can provide.

Sales managers, do you micro-manage your sales teams from details in the CRM?

If salespeople sense that entering all their leads and all the data points they know about every customer and deal in the CRM will bring down waves of criticism and micro-management FAR beyond what they would deal with just tracking their prospects in an old-school manual way (even including getting into trouble for not using the CRM!)… again – they will act in their own best interests.  In this case, sadly, that self-interest will be completely opposite company-interest.

IT and Training have to do their part

Of course, the tech CRM implementation team have to do their job well!  Streamlining configurations, aligning terminology and workflow to your organization, accurately mapping and loading all the historical data they can get their hands on, developing an optimized training plan with consideration for different user personas and needs – all these aspects of the CRM launch are important.  A poorly designed CRM, or one which with insufficient training, will struggle for adoption even if all the intangible cultural strengths are in place.   We look at these aspects of a CRM implementation in our assessments

  • Platform selected
  • Design, Configuration & Customizations
  • Implementation
  • Historical data handling
  • Launch communications
  • Training approach & materials
  • Support model & operation

One critical piece of the puzzle often missed is making every effort to fill/infer data wherever possible to find the optimal balance of complete/accurate data with efficient data entry.  If salespeople and support staff see that the system does “everything it can” automatically, they’ll be more willing to enter the unique data points which truly add value to the organization’s view of each customer and opportunity.

CRM adoption success is more in the hands of Executive leadership than most leaders realize

These technical aspects aside, hopefully it is clear that many of the factors involved with CRM adoption – possibly a surprising number of factors to you? – are in the hands of executive leadership and not your CIO, system implementer or training team.  Of course, the technical complaints are FAR more acceptable as excuses than some of the human nature dynamics summarized above, so polls of sales teams often yield results which seem like everything would be perfect and that big investment the company made in the CRM would really deliver, if only a few things in the system were tweaked….  Don’t be misled that polls of this kind yield the real rationale behind your team’s reluctance.

But from my first-hand experience with multiple CRM launches, I can affirm that EVERY company enjoying high adoption of their CRM also shared these traits as an organization:

  • Churn was minimal.  Their sales teams were generally happy and envisioned their future career path staying with the organization
  • The approach was collaborative.  Internal poaching of deals was blocked, and entering notes about a lead INCREASED a rep’s chances of benefiting from a future sale
  • There was space for long-term thinking.  Near-term quotas, if present, were manageable and allowed sales staff to work a bit “on” their process not just “in” it
  • Required data entry, especially in the early stages of a lead, was kept to a minimum.  AI was leveraged where possible to fill in gaps and infer data
  • Sales managers resisted micro-managing on tidbits and details in the CRM, and instead coached for optimum overall long-term performance

Don’t fight human nature!  Or at least, don’t kid yourself that waging such a fight will be effective to any extent.  CRMs hold the promise of maximizing collaboration across an enterprise and putting the knowledge of the entire firm at the fingertips of each and every salesperson working there; they can be a key component of Monetizing IT…!  Of course, there are critical responsibilities for IT staff and vendors in making a CRM launch successful…

But to fully realize the vision and potential of a CRM, a major theme in our IT advice for C-suite leaders is that they must do its part to set the stage and nurture a culture in which the team will WANT to operate in a way that a CRM can empower.