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3 Ways to Take the Risk Out of Buying a CRM System
Not every business needs the most advanced tools. Here's one do and two don'ts to keep in mind before you go software shopping.
Posted Oct 10, 2017
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At first, buying a CRM can seem like a no-brainer, cost-effective strategy. But once you extrapolate how long you plan on growing it, you begin to realize how much of an investment it truly is. Then, when you find out CRM projects fail at a rate of 30 to 60 percent, you might panic.

As tools become more advanced, they ultimately become more complicated. So how on earth can you reduce this risk and avoid going with tools no one will use—or figure out how to use?

Consider when the first VCR came out. Everyone had to have one. My father even worked overtime to buy one for our family TV. However, for what was at the time one of the most inventive pieces of technology, the VCR had an interesting flaw: Many people, including my parents, couldn’t figure out how to set the clock. Blink, blink, blink. Robert Proctor, professor of psychology at Purdue University, wrote, “In 1990, almost one-third of VCR owners reported that they had never set the clock on the machine.”

It’s no wonder, then, that when digital devices came along—like, years later, the TiVO, which could record a program right from a menu of shows—they were so much more attractive than VCRs. Sure, pausing live TV was great, but what’s more, you didn’t have to learn how to set the clock.

Joking aside, imagine how many more things are like this. A VCR clock is relatively uncomplicated compared to setting up auto-forwarding, deal funnels, metric reporting and more for a sales team using its brand-new CRM solution. Instead of struggling with those kinds of features, almost three-quarters of buyers are using manual methods to manage their customer relationships, according to a 2016 Software Advice report. An additional 5 percent are using nothing at all.

Even if one person on your team can figure out your CRM system, it’s only valuable if everyone in your organization uses it. And if a system is too difficult, that just isn’t likely.

So what can you do?

Do: Determine What Already Works

First, realize that while most people are shopping for a CRM, your employees may have already found a way to manage leads and follow-ups. Maybe they’re not doing it well, but they’ve solved the problem nonetheless, using Excel and their inboxes. Email and Excel are so ubiquitous that they have zero learning curve. Sales reps reach for them first because they help them immediately get back to what matters—closing deals.

Take the time most people spend trialing dozens of random CRM systems and getting lengthy pitches and use it instead to study what your sales team is already doing. Shadow them as they use their email inboxes to prospect and triage. Ask them to email you their lead spreadsheets and explain how they make it work. How are they organizing things? Folders? Tags? Power searches?

To make your CRM purchase a successful one, don’t worry about how well it competes against all the other CRMs. Worry about how well it competes with the lead managing and follow-up solutions your sales team already reaches for.

Don’t: Rip and Replace

Second, as you ask 10 of your reps how they manage their tasks for the day, you’ll probably hear 10 different answers. Make your goal not to try to replace the workflows that already feel natural, but augment them to give your users the extra power they need.

Once you feel you understand what already works for your team, get the simplest thing that could possibly work to fill in the gaps.

Don’t: Reach for a CRM With All the Bells and Whistles

Finally, don’t buy yourself a professorship. Most people shopping for a CRM have bigger priorities—like, say, closing deals—than software shopping, followed by software instruction. Make sure your choice of CRM system is simple enough that no one will be waiting for your help. If you find yourself needing to craft custom materials to teach everyone because the vendor doesn’t have the right tutorials, you’ve reached for something too complicated.

When you start with a process where you don’t assume you’ll be replacing everything already working for your sales organization, you might just find you don’t need a CRM at all. Maybe you just needed to figure out a shared inbox, or maybe just the easiest way for sales reps to upload their spreadsheets, allowing you to skip the expensive artificial intelligence and predictive forecasting.

Simple tools will have much higher adoption in your organization, making your CRM decision a lot less risky. After all, you don’t want to buy another VCR. Not that you could easily find one for sale, anyway.


Nathan Kontny is the CEO of Highrise, a simple CRM that helps users track leads and manage follow ups on the go. He has been a software engineer and designer for 15 years, beginning his entrepreneurial career with two Y Combinator–backed start-ups: Inkling in 2005 and Draft in 2011. Get to know Kontny by following him on MediumTwitter, or YouTube.

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