No matter how much money a company spends implementing a CRM system that brims with promise, it will never realize those benefits unless the users have bought into the systems and the changes it will bring about. Considering most people loath change, getting that buy-in is no easy task.
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In most companies, few CRM system users are actually involved in the decision to adopt new software, but are directly responsible for making it work. A CRM installation should result in long-term cost savings, dramatic increases in effectiveness, and readily observable improvements in customer service. But companies will only realize those gains if their user staff embraces the CRM system. Knowing the potential of the new system often is not enough to sell users on it. The reason? A change in software is no mere shift in administrative or technical operations. It potentially represents a company-wide modification in how business is done. So the targets of change--those who have to learn the new software and work with it daily--may experience insecurity, misunderstanding, or anxiety.
It is confounding to CRM managers, but even when users know and understand that a change will be for the better, there are still many reasons people are resistant to the changes a CRM system brings about. Those include comfort with the current way business is done, lack of obvious upper-management support and communication, concern that the time to master the new system will negatively affect current performance levels, and insufficient training that leaves users feeling unprepared to tackle the new system. The major shortcoming of most CRM managers is failing to squarely focus on the issue of resistance from whatever source it springs. No amount of flowcharting, budgeting, or monitoring will see managers through to a successful implementation unless they pay vigilant homage to these underlying, inevitable human-resistance issues. But it is possible to get user buy-in without prolonged disruption--and without a lot of pain and gnashing of teeth.
The Human Element Is Critical
Although resistance to change has been part of human nature since Homo erectus first walked upright, it is a predictable and, ideally, a welcome phenomenon. An effective change manager anticipates resistance at the outset of a change campaign, because it is a sign that the change process is unfolding.
Bill Ringle is one person who is not surprised by resistance to new software installations. As managing director of starComm Development Inc., a rapid application development firm based in Philadelphia, Ringle has managed more than 45 projects to improve work-group productivity and communications. "We actually expect that our clients' staffs will resist new software installations," he says.
In one recent implementation in a manufacturing plant, starComm's strategy was to use three sequential project prototypes in order to gather feedback after each prototype was installed, incorporate the best ideas for the next phase, and gain a critical mass of user buy-in for the software. The first project prototype was put in place for 50 users in the customer-service department.
As expected, one of the users balked early on. "During the project planning phase, one of the schedulers was blatantly closed-minded about how the software should allocate time to tasks to ensure on-time service delivery to customers," Ringle says. "We found out that his approach was based on how the scheduling was done at the last place he worked." He was convinced his way was best, even though starComm's decision on how to allocate time took into account two dozen interviews of management and staff on how work was performed, common problems encountered, and an analysis of resources and methods. But such procedures were not sufficient for that employee.
"The scheduler identified two fields missing from his job screen that weren't designed to incorporate meaningful data until the next prototype," Ringle explains. "He used this as an excuse to dismiss the system as ‘unworkable' even as operating efficiencies became widely observable."
The user's opposition could have undermined the burgeoning success of the fledgling system. So to reduce his resistance to the system, starComm added the fields and allowed the scheduler and his staff to manually enter the data until the next prototype delivery. "Quite often, it's the small things that make a big difference with user acceptance," Ringle says.
The fact is, managers should be wary when they get little resistance to what should be a challenging undertaking, because people likely are masking their true reactions and feelings. In the absence of resistance, it is difficult to achieve an accurate account of how well the implementation is proceeding and where future problems may arise.
One way to encourage users to reveal their true reactions to a new system is to acknowledge in advance what they might be feeling. Some people form irrational if fleeting attachments to the way they have been operating. Others regard change as a subtle form of performance appraisal. In other words, the way they have been working now represents a barrier to enhanced profitability and productivity.
When communicating with users about the changes a CRM application will bring about, managers should acknowledge them for their "sacrifice" and commiserate with them for enduring the hardship of changing over. Even when a manager does not intellectually or emotionally agree with his staff's viewpoint, he should validate their feelings. It will prove to be a most helpful gesture in inducing them, Ringle says.
In the case of soothing the concerns of the manufacturing company's resistant scheduler, Ringle worked with the head of customer service, the scheduler's direct supervisor, and the scheduler to clarify both the project requirements and the users' expectations at each stage of the prototype delivery. "But a second maneuver that played a significant part in resolving this hurdle was bringing in another scheduler to validate and legitimatize the resistant scheduler's concerns," Ringle says. "The second scheduler also helped us by challenging invalid objections when they arose."
Often it is that one person who believes in the system, even though he may sometimes challenge aspects of it, that is the linchpin to winning over the unconvinced. "In my experience, gaining buy-in is a step-by-step process," Ringle says. "However, once you establish a given level of credibility among the group, advocates emerge who guide the change process inside the client organization. Building strong, open relationships with these advocates typically advances the probability of success by a quantum leap."
The CRM implementation team's relationships with advocates are vital, but just as important are managers' support for their users--especially geographically dispersed sales reps. Managers who oversee people in disparate locations may find that each person feels as if he is incurring the change alone. In that case managers must be more supportive and available than otherwise. People who experience an ordeal together, and solidify and employ team momentum, generally are better able to cope with its rigors than those who go through it alone.
How can managers close the distance? strive to have all members meet at the outset of an implementation. If such a meeting is not feasible, managers should develop some sense of unity and cohesiveness via conference calls, videoconferencing, and online conferencing. Those can be viable substitutes for the face-to-face meetings and certainly better than no such communication. And online conferencing can have a bonus benefit of increasing users comfort with using a CRM application. As more people spend more time online, they become "more adept, confident, and fluent in their abilities to initiate and maintain relationships, work schedules, and to communicate using such media," says Jaclyn Kostner, Ph.D., a Denver-based management guru and author of Knights of the Tele-Round Table.
Another crucial element to raising the comfort level among users is the full and complete backing of top officers. Their willingness to impart vital messages to staff through in-person meetings, and online, video, and closed-circuit presentations can help convey the importance of the software change to users. Upper management can cultivate the appeal of the CRM system by citing examples of others who have successfully used CRM and by discussing their own familiarity with and enthusiasm for it. Additionally, top managers can show their support for users by walking the floor and delivering on-the-spot encouragement as appropriate and can give users the opportunity to offer immediate feedback. That is what management guru Tom Peters calls MBWA, management by walking around. "Ninety-eight percent of CRM is total B.S., unless [managers are] willing to do the heavy lifting in the organization," Peters has been known to say.
Another prudent and proven way to show genuine support for users is to provide them with timely and potent training. Typically only about 10 percent of the budget for new software implementation is allocated specifically for enabling targets of change to acquire the know-how to become proficient users. So group and one-on-one training and transition support reach their most critical levels when 90 percent of the resources allocated for the change have been expended. In one industry after another, the critical transition phase is shortchanged and underappreciated.
Additionally, CRM managers routinely expect an implementation to succeed while providing instruction too quickly. Those managers often fail to consider outside pressures users may be facing. Consider, for example, how employees might respond when asked to learn and master new, critical software while maintaining an otherwise full daily workload.
The fact is that planning and budgeting for training is as important as planning and budgeting for any other part of a CRM implementation. Managers must create a comprehensive training program and schedule at the outset of a CRM project. The training strategy should include: who is responsible for creating the training content and materials, and what those materials will be; who will be trained, when and how often during the implementation they will be trained; who will conduct the training, an external firm or company managers who have been trained to do so; and whether internal trainers need to be trained. Someone on the project team must then be responsible for implementing or overseeing the training.
Build Commitment, Reduce Resistance
Validating users' feelings, providing extra support, demonstrating management commitment, and providing adequate training are all excellent ways to gain user support for a new CRM application. But none of those will be truly effective unless they are implemented at the outset of the transition to the new system. Commitment and resistance are two sides of the same coin, according to Daryl Conner, president of ODR Inc., a consulting and management training firm in Atlanta, and author of Managing at the Speed of Change. If managers do not do all they can to ensure commitment early in the installation campaign, resistance is sure to surface and create problems more taxing than the efforts needed at the outset to increase commitment.
Securing commitment among targets early on wins "bodies and souls" whereas failing to do so may win "bodies but not souls," Conner says. So how come more CRM executives do not secure commitment early on? It can be a huge task and implementation can be exceedingly slow. Initially, the time and energy investment to ensure commitment is so high that managers might feel as if they are not getting anywhere. Also, some managers think that resistance simply will not be a significant factor later on in the campaign.
Conner contends that the way people are approached--rather than the change itself--is what causes resistance. Users will often say that the change itself was not so bad, but the way it was foisted upon them ruffled a lot of feathers.
To avoid that in her organization Kathy Galentine, head of information systems and material control for Greenville Technologies Inc., a Greenville, Ohio-based auto parts manufacturer, assembled a project team that included key players' information systems, material control, and production. The team set out to identify the kind of information presently being collected, versus the information they desired to have.
Galentine found that developing a strong project implementation team greatly impacted how smoothly the project went. Also the project implementation team early on sought to involve end users so they would have a strong stake in the outcome. "Without such involvement the installation of new software could easily be regarded as a burden imposed from above and engender resentment or outright resistance," she says. Changes perceived to be imposed externally, as opposed to internally derived, may encounter resistance as a result of ego related issues.
When users understand the full ramifications of CRM, resistance to new software is minimized. That is especially important because, in reality, CRM is the constant adaptation to the changing needs of the marketplace. Effective CRM is not merely the introduction of some new software, the design of a new Web site, or some single focus campaign. It is about aligning the company or department or division in manner that continuously serves customers efficiently, responds to requests, and is sensitive to special needs. And influencing users to want to embrace the changes that new CRM software will bring is integral to the long-term success of the system, the loyalty of the customers, and ultimately, the profitability of the company.
Jeff Davidson is a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based speaker and author of 31 books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Change Management.
Sidebar: DIFFERENT RATES, DIFFERENT FATES
Not everyone responds to change at the same rate. Everett Rogers, Ph.D., has examined how people respond to change in a variety of areas, among them acceptance of technological innovation. Rogers developed a diffusion of innovations model, which identifies four elements affecting the acceptance of new ideas. By understanding these four elements, managers will be better able get users to buy in to the change.
1. How people perceive the value of a change. This is largely determined by how it relates to what they have already been doing, how difficult or hard they perceive the change to be, whether they regard the change as an improvement over what is already being done, and what Rogers calls "trialability": Is there time, space, and openness for targets of change to get their feet wet, experiment, and become fully immersed in perfecting their skills? Rogers also found that the more visible the change, the greater the chance that it would be adopted, as visibility in and of itself is a form of continuous reinforcement.
2. How the ideas related to the change are communicated. If one colleague has already accepted a change, it will become much easier for the next person to do so, Rogers says. CRM executives should develop a core group comprised of individuals who demonstrate flexibility in embracing change. Once that group becomes adept at using new software, their personal influence among their peers can be the deciding factor in the majority, one by one, deciding to go along with the change.
3. Whether there is sufficient time to understand the new ideas and commit to them. Change managers per se need to have their plans examined and reexamined, and then time-loaded with more slack than is initially comfortable for everyone. Users should be pulled off the front lines where, at a comfortable pace, they have the opportunity to delve into the various facets of the new software, the ramifications of using it, and the support systems surrounding it. They need time, usually more time than companies are willing to allocate.
The true cost of proceeding this way, however, is virtually always less expensive than ramming through a new software change only to have it be partially adopted and accepted and marginally successful.
4. How people respond to change in general. Rogers established categories of innovativeness among targets of change: Innovators, representing 2.5 percent of the target, and early adopters, representing 13.5 percent of the population, are the two core groups. They can rally the early majority (34 percent), and ultimately, the late majority (34 percent). Laggards and resisters, (16 percent) will either begrudgingly follow along or leave.
A change becomes self-sustaining when between 15 percent and 20 percent of targets of change accept it. Early adopters become the key group because they have connections to both the innovators and the early majority. Managers who can identify the early adopters in their company and focus on ensuring their successful adoption of the new software may win the battle in the end.--J.D.