Nailing sales end-user buy-in has been a long-standing challenge for organizations that decide to implement a CRM system. Here, how to gain compliance and what to watch for.
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Failed CRM implementations aren't new; incompatibilities between people, processes, and technologies have always been a concern. But even after a decade of industry advice about helping employees to help themselves, C-level executives, working to gain insight into customers, better performance from employees, and smoother business operations, continue to run head-on into end-user buy-in rejection.
The story is classic: A business decides to upgrade its CRM capabilities with a new suite of applications. It performs due diligence, finds the best system to suit its needs, and lays out the money for implementation and customization. Six months or a year later, however, some employees are still working with spreadsheets or on paper or by abacus. They will not use the expensive new CRM suite.
The faulty dynamic between the IT department and customer-facing workers doesn't really exist anymore, but there's a continuing need to convince everybody that they're all on the same team. "There's a misperception that CRM is about technology, and that it will do everything for you," says Greg Anderson, senior director of product for FrontRange Solutions, maker of GoldMine and HEAT.
"Companies forget to strategize, to figure out what their processes and their customers need."
If customer-facing workers is too broad a description to consider, insert the sales team in its place. The intractability of salespeople is an old stereotype in business writing, and as with most stereotypes there's a grain of truth to it. Salespeople are go-getters, driven to perform and compete. Much like hunters who stalk and kill their own food, sales folk who earn a commission tend to be highly individualistic. They want things their own way so that they can succeed on their own terms. This causes conflict with management, because the sellers don't want to slow down and report on how they're doing, or try a new way of selling if their current method appears to be working. The company needs its salespeople to be productive, but it also needs them to be accountable and measurable. So, much of the advice presented here can apply to any worker, but it was written with the salesperson in mind.
Jeff Schumacher, a partner in McKinsey & Company's sales and marketing practice, warns that implementations "will continue to fail" if adoption continues to be a challenge. The failure to adopt can occur even when expense isn't much of an issue (say, a new function added to an existing system, or an investment in SaaS). Management still suffers the waste of time and money--and does not get what it wants. The question is, if the benefits of CRM are so obvious, why do workers give it a miss? Well, perhaps those benefits aren't as obvious to end users as industry gurus think.
The Past Is Present
The problem isn't necessarily the fault of any one actor, but it is largely due to mistrust. "In the late 1990s," Schumacher says, "people were solving business problems with technology, using Y2K as a forcing mechanism to upgrade their computer systems. The CRM implementations were overpromised and underdelivered. Users commonly became gun shy of IT initiatives--they didn't believe in the value."
Jack Confrey, vice president of sales and marketing for watchmaker Citizen Systems, has seen this disbelief crop up in sales organizations and describes "three typical reactions" salespeople have when they hear there will be a new CRM implementation. "One--if it ain't broke, don't fix it" If they're able to sell effectively, salespeople aren't interested in changing the way they work. "Two--oh great, I'm giving more information to management for them to bother me with" As much as salespeople might distrust IT, they often distrust their superiors even more. Privacy and a free hand are important to the sales cultures of many businesses. "Three--the IT guys will train us for 27 hours. Meanwhile, I won't sell anything." Time and effort are involved in learning new applications and the business processes that go with them--and that's time that could be spent actually selling.
So how, amidst this negativity, can a manager encourage people to use the new CRM tools? One important technique, according to Schumacher, is to speak to two deep emotional triggers--perhaps the main motivators of businesspeople everywhere. "People invest [in new systems] from two things: Greed and fear," Schumacher says. "IT got the [Y2K] investment because of fear. Now we're seeing deliverables on the greed side." Surprisingly, greed can take encouragement. "Risk can push--Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is a must-do," Schumacher says, referring to a case in which adoption of new practices isn't optional. "Greed has to pull."
The reason greed must entice users to adopt new processes is simple: inertia. Everyone wants to make more money, but everyone is not motivated enough to actually go out of her way to do something about it. "Users must understand the value, and that's also the best way to get pull," Schumacher says. "You must show them the value to themselves, not to the company. Tell them how the solution will make them more money." Ease of use and the potential for more income make a winning combination. But don't expect complete and immediate buy-in. "No matter how much you build the team, there's always a group that feels a solution is being imposed upon them," FrontRange's Anderson says. These individuals, as well as those who are merely apathetic, will take some coaxing.
Management must consider the needs of its workforce and the elements it wants from the implementation. The people who use the tools are the ones who will determine their ultimate place in the organization. "Talk to your team to see what they want or need," Anderson says. "Give your people the right tool. If they're almost always in the office, giving them BlackBerry support for CRM and other job functions is a waste."
Resistance from the sales team is to be expected. "Salespeople are very protective of their customers; many have the mindset of 'they're mine, not the company's,'" Confrey says. "In other jobs, I've seen salespeople send in their customer databases with the email addresses stripped out." It is an extreme example, but it can happen--as can desertion, when sellers get so fed up with the new way of doing things that they seek a job elsewhere.
One method Anderson suggests is another appeal to greed. "Start by giving a bonus for using the system." Each entry logged through the CRM system can earn a small direct bonus or a higher percent of commissions--for a time. "Then turn it around by penalizing people for not using it." Once the agents have become used to the new way of doing things, you can safely discard the old without risking inefficiency or grumbling.
Plan for Success
There's a phrase to describe poor planning, especially in business initiatives: ready, fire, aim. It was most common during the dotcom boom, when companies would try to get an idea to market as fast as possible to gain mindshare, then fine-tune it once feedback started rolling in. It can also apply here, to a CRM rollout in which user needs are not considered first. "The CRM guy is trying to make IT happy when pitching the new system; meanwhile, sales is sweating over what they'll need to learn," Confrey says. "Create the need before making the implementation." Emphasize that it's not about management control, and it's not about data entry, Confrey says, and the sales team will be put at ease.
FrontRange's Anderson agrees. "Make sure there's value for the end users. In nearly all cases where a CRM initiative didn't work right, it was implemented for management purposes." Management knows what it wants, but doesn't always consider the best way to get it from the workforce.
Implementations are often planned around what technologies are possible, which Schumacher rightly points out is not smart business. "To be a successful CRM manager, look at the business and what they will sign up for to solve problems, then deliver to that need." The winning implementation doesn't merely offer possibilities and long-term dreams; it considers what's important now and how to make it work for everybody involved. "Don't just plan to throw; plan to catch as well."
Anderson advises against going it alone; it's rarely the case that too many cooks spoil the CRM broth, and the money spent on consulting and customization will be made up through increased performance. Smaller businesses may understand their unique needs better than any outsider, but experts will have a better perspective on general business practice. "Many GoldMine customers and implementers spend a lot of time talking about what they're looking for, not what capabilities are available. Use an implementation partner--consulting is important, especially in SMBs."
Furthermore, Schumacher says, it's as important to look back at what you've done and are in the process of doing as it is to plan for the future. Observe the progress of the implementation, and be ready to adjust when the situation changes. Schumacher says, "You must have clear metrics. If you can measure it, you can manage it."
Aiming first is the core of SAP's approach to creating end-user buy-in, according to Bob Stutz, senior vice president of worldwide CRM product and strategy for SAP. "For a CRM solution provider, it is important to establish relationships with end users from the very beginning, looping them into the selection process to display how the solution makes their jobs easier, while also incorporating end-user feedback into the solution proposal," Stutz says. "Companies should begin an implementation by exposing end users to limited functionality, enabling IT staff to clearly define project parameters and devote the required attention to working with end users for a smooth transition."
Stutz advises that a successful project never truly ends. "The process of winning over end-users doesn't end with the project go-live," Stutz says. "Ongoing education programs teach end users about upgrades and productivity improvement, while ensuring against employees reverting back to preimplementation practices."
Three pilot program points
Pilot programs are a top recommendation of experienced implementers. "Don't bite off too much. Pick something you want to accomplish and go after that," Anderson says. "Hit one or two of the major pain points, then move on to the next one next quarter."
Proving value is another; when you can point to one group of users who have gotten measurable benefit from the new tools, the others will want access as well. "Something as simple as, 'Hey, Mr. Sales Guy, you can double your sales velocity and have more accurate commission data just by doing this--it's working for those folks on the other side of the building,' will stir up a lot of interest," Confrey advises. Just as Schumacher recommends, this will create pull.
A third benefit is the insight you gain from testing the system on a small subset of users. Rather than risking an all-or-nothing situation when you go live, you get to use an environment where you can see what works and what doesn't, making adjustments as you go.
An alternative to the standard pilot program is the staggered rollout. With this, you introduce a few new functions company-wide, and add more once the users have achieved a level of comfort. "It's typically easier to get buy-in with new add-ons, since you've proven the value in previous versions," Anderson says.
No one technique is guaranteed to work in every situation. But by considering the needs of users as well as management, going slow, and making CRM tools and processes something to be desired rather than imposed, a company stands a much better chance of success at achieving end-user buy-in. Doing so can mean the difference between wasted time and money, and a reenergized sales team.
Contact Senior Editor Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com
Get end-user buy-in: three critical ideas.
Yacov Wrocherinsky, a member of the Microsoft CRM Advisory Board, created Infinity after leaving IBM in 1987. His company provides technology solutions, implementation services, training, and support for contact management, SFA, and CRM. A partner with Sage Software, Infinity has won the Sage Business Partner of the Year award twice, in 2005 and 2006.
Training: Training is one of the most important means through which end users buy into the CRM system. The problem with training is that most companies do not do it correctly, which leads to poor use of the systems. Infinity Info Systems has developed a methodology for training that seeks to match the skill level of the individual participants with the course work.
Infinity starts by surveying the client employees to get a good feel for the skill set of the individuals and their competency with the software. Infinity has developed a 10-question survey that effectively determines skill level.
Employees are then grouped together by similar skill levels, enabling Infinity to tailor the training classes to the developmental needs of each group. People with the same skill levels tend to learn at a much quicker pace than they would in a mixed group.
Infinity will generally conduct a one-day class for initial training and then offer follow-up classes for refreshers or to teach more advanced concepts. By helping the client set a system of performance monitoring, Infinity can further tailor the follow-up classes to address any deficiencies or challenges the employees may have in working with the CRM system.
Management Buy-In: One of the key factors in the success of CRM implementations that Infinity has seen is strong management buy-in for the use of the system. Infinity encourages the management team to set the example for the rest of the group. The company does this by setting up specific training for the management that includes reporting, advanced tools, and methods to monitor and evaluate the use of the CRM system. When management cares about the CRM system and uses it on a day-to-day basis, the rest of the organization follows.
User Champions--Pilot Projects: With respect to rolling out a CRM system, Infinity has found that by starting with a smaller pilot project, it has a greater success rate. Pilot projects provide great usability feedback and user input so that the system can be tweaked to best fit the workflow in the organization. Pilot projects also help to establish realistic expectations and business goals for the CRM system.
When identifying people to participate in a pilot project, Infinity looks for user champions within the organization. These people are typically those who are respected and looked up to by other employees, whose input and opinions will influence others in the organization and whose skepticism (once overcome) will serve as a good sounding board for acceptance by the rest of the organization.
Infinity makes sure to have key people representing all functional areas of the business that will be using the CRM system. This way no group is left out, and all the employees get the sense that their opinions are important and were taken into account when the system was developed. --M.L.