Who Cares About CRM Adoption by the Sales Force?

A number of years ago we were talking to a Director of Sales Operations about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Sales Force Automation (SFA) software when he said:

“CRM is basically a prison … no one is tunneling to get in.”

We still remember the statement after all these years. He was lamenting about how hard it was to drive adoption of the software, especially by the sales team. He took the brunt of many of their complaints and he may have been having a bad day – not sure.

Nevertheless, getting high adoption of SFA software is particularly hard, regardless of the industry or nature of the sales team. Call or contact center software usually has much higher adoption than its SFA brethren. In general, call center reps are captive, heavily monitored, and often follow standard operating procedures. Sellers, however, usually self-allocate their time, can be harder to track, and often don’t like following rules or prescribed processes – not all of them, but many.

Our Point-Of-View

Our Point of View is that if you think you can just implement SFA software and the sales team will automatically adopt it, you are delusional at best. SFA is almost antithetical to how many sellers think and without a clear strategy around unlocking the value around it, for both managers and sellers, it will fail. We’ve seen how the movie ends … and it’s not good.

THE CHALLENGE – If a sales professional leaves a company, he or she will usually think of their former customers as theirs vs. their prior company.

It’s their book-of-business, their relationships, their efforts. The company, on the other hand, would like to be able to swap-out the seller and have everything stay the same. It doesn’t usually work that way, unless the company’s brand and offerings are so strong that it’s not really about the seller – any will do.

In general, adoption of an SFA tool forces the seller to input contacts and information that they might see as their own – may not want to share. Also, the amount of information that is asked to be collected can be overwhelming to enter and maintain, and a lot of it is not used to drive meaningful actions for either the company or the seller.

There are few things that will compromise adoption more than asking for lots of data and not visibly doing anything with it.

Another challenge is driving enough value for the sales team from the SFA solution (e.g., the classic “what’s in it for me” or WIIFM). If sellers only get “beat up” for putting data into the SFA system, strong adoption will be challenging, unless the sellers are a bunch of masochists.

Companies must provide sellers with a reason to log into the system – maybe its feeds from a news source on trigger events or a mash-up of social data and account information or a digital toolbox to easily create a customized proposals or presentations.

The Opportunity

User-centered design is all the rage today and it seems to be warranted. Apple and others have shown the power of creating devices and software that is inviting, empowering and often has a ‘wow’ factor.

The principles of user-centered design can apply to an SFA implementation as well.

  1. Researching your customers (sales managers and reps) needs
  2. Creating prototypes to solicit input and iterations
  3. Testing solutions (SFA) with actual customers  (sales managers and reps) in real situations

The design process is especially powerful when you include internal customers in pre-implementation workshops to brainstorm and ideate on how to make the solution more valuable to the organization and users. These workshops can focus on how to best use SFA at different stages of the sales process:

  • Planning – how does the tool enable the sales teams to develop account strategies and plans and quickly gain alignment on these strategies from the core and extended account team
  • Qualification – how well does the tool enable a consistent qualification discussion between the sales team and management
  • Proposing – how does the tool help to both reduce the time sales spends developing proposals, while improving the relevancy and customization of them
  • Negotiating – does the tool help to provide insight into negotiation “trades”, while streamlining approvals and contract creation
  • Forecasting – are the sales teams and management making decisions based on a “single version of the truth” or from separate Excel spreadsheets
  • Account Management – does the tool provide “ticklers” and triggers to better monitor and manage key events and an account management cadence

Story / Best Practice

Earlier this year, we were walking down the hallway at a client site when one of the sellers came up to us and said that they really liked the recently installed SFA system. We tried not to look shocked.

Given that most sellers tolerate an SFA system at best, with a few despising it, we had to ask him why. He said that he felt more in control of his pipeline and business. We asked him to tell us more.

He said that “before SFA, I used to create random notes and Word documents about my deals, but now I just have one place I go to.” He also said that he liked the news feeds that were linked to his specific accounts – the system became his window on what was going on at his accounts – a new executive joins, M&A rumors, another product launch.

He said a couple of others things, but the gist was around two key themes we’ve heard before.

  1. A single place to manage one’s pipeline and accounts
  2. A single place to get news and insights into one’s book-of-business

Our Conclusion

In a nutshell, there isn’t a Silver Bullet for improving adoption of SFA, but a few guiding principles should help to give it a fighting chance.

  • Start with the users and the selling process – enable these better and you will improve adoption
  • Measure, monitor and track adoption statistics – who is using it and why – strengthen the ‘case for change’ with results from real sellers pursuing real deals – find internal champions
  • Sales leadership and management must lead by example – don’t be a hypocrite – lead from the front

Most executives and Boards live and die by the financials. They need reliable and valid numbers to run the business and optimally allocate capital and resources.

If sales is to transform for the better, obtaining high adoption of SFA is critical. If the analytics from the SFA system are seen as credible and complete, it helps to provide the crucial evidence needed to re-allocate capital to improve the sales organization. Anecdotes and “water is wet” stories can only take you so far.

Download This Point of View Whitepaper in PDF Form: Symmetrics Group Point of View – Who Cares About CRM Adoption by the Sales Force

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