Approximately 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci wrote, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." He came to this conclusion during a lifetime of studying the world around him and considered this to be one of his most important realizations. It shaped his approach to design, and his creations are still considered amazing today.
The CRM industry would be well served to heed da Vinci's words. For years now, the Gartner group and META have pegged CRM implementation failure rates at anywhere from 50 to 80 percent. Why so dismal? Quite simply, most systems are too cumbersome for the average user. For all the bluster from CRM vendors about how many bells and whistles they can deliver, they fail to mention that the great majority of these features are simply taking up space. In fact, they are making it much more difficult for users to utilize the systems for their intended purposes.
Any CRM system needs to be functional, and every organization has unique data elements that must be maintained. Unfortunately, most CRM vendors do not make "ease of use" their number-one product objective. In the ongoing competition between systems, most vendors still try to flex their muscles with a "bigger is better" approach. Web pages flaunt "comparison charts" showing how many more features they provide than the other guys. Much of what is crammed into systems actually gets in the way of the work that has to be done.
Additionally, the per-user cost skyrockets for those individuals who are able to navigate their way through complex menus and screens. If an organization is paying $60 per user per month for a CRM system and only one third of the people are utilizing it as they should, the actual cost is $180 per month for each real user. ROI analyses generally don't take this into account.
No matter how much money was originally committed to a CRM system, it is not worth the cost if it is not being used. Most "traditional" CRM users, including outside salespeople and telephone reps, complain about adapting to a standardized system that will change the way they have been keeping records for their entire career. These complaints are normal, and part of the typical "resistance to change." Yet, the ones who are complaining are the key CRM players. If they do not adapt, most system potential will go unrealized. They need to maintain contacts, notes, calendars, sales opportunities, etc., so that the enterprise has a complete history of customer relationships. Without their buy-in, the system is doomed to failure.
Even if people are generally resistant to change, the vast majority want their new CRM system to work. They see the value in having a central repository of information, are open to ways of improving their own efficiency, and will generally give a new system an honest try. But if the system is slow and difficult to use, it is only a matter of time before they give up. Most users won't openly revolt. They will, however, put in only enough information to keep their jobs or keep management off their backs.
A good CRM system should be looked at as a tool that will free up time for employees to perform more valuable functions that generate revenue and improve customer satisfaction. If it is viewed merely as a way for managers to keep track of what is going on, CRM is no longer an organizational tool but rather an inconvenient task. This is a sure path to failure.
Which brings us back to "ease of use."
Industry surveys indicate that more than 75 percent of organizations are currently dissatisfied with their current system. Dissatisfaction leads to change, and when managers are asked to provide the number-one requirement of a new CRM system, the overwhelming leader is—you guessed it—"ease of use." The importance of this cannot be overstated. Over the past decade, many companies have implemented new CRM systems. Many are on their second or third attempt. Each initiative started with good intentions and great hopes. In time came the realization that sales leads, appointments, notes, and a myriad of other important information were never entered. Instead of having an important historical record of their business, all they had was a large bill to pay for next year.
There is no value in throwing good money after bad. Companies re-evaluating their current CRM must focus on those things needed to better manage the business, and find a platform that will allow users to update and access those things quickly and easily. Only when complexity takes a backseat to simplicity will any CRM investment pay for itself.
Al Lencioni is a principal partner of ASA Sales Systems, LLC, the developer of Jetstream CRM.