CRM Might Require an Internal Sale—to Salespeople
Looking at the data from CSO Insights’ most recent Sales Enablement Optimization study, we found that CRM implementation has become commonplace; nearly every company of a meaningful size is making some form of CRM available to sales teams to help them perform more effectively. But technology implementation does not always equate with adoption. Consider the following CRM adoption chart from that same study, below.
Here we see that only 41 percent of the sales executives surveyed reported an adoption rate of greater than 90 percent across their sales force. On the other end of the spectrum, 12.7 percent of the survey respondents reported an adoption rate of less than 25 percent across their sales force.
It’s clear many companies still have a way to go (in some cases a long way) before making CRM a core part of their sales organization. This prompts a follow-up question: How far have we already come in terms of increasing usage?
The advantage of having 20-plus years of data is that I can easily access metrics for historical comparison, so let me share the answer to my question: We are headed in the wrong direction. Since 2006, the greater-than-90-percent adoption rate has increased a lackluster 1.7 percent; the less-than-25-percent adoption rate, however, has more than doubled.
Over the past 10 years, CRM has undergone many major innovations: Cloud computing has made CRM solutions available to any size firm; user interfaces have improved; access to CRM systems via mobile devices is now commonplace; there have been a ton of functionality enhancements; and so on. Yet many firms still struggle with getting their sales teams to actively use the CRM solutions they’ve implemented.
With the best-in-class CRM initiatives we have benchmarked over the years, specific things have helped drive adoption rates. But at the core is this understanding: The first sale a company needs to make is an internal sale—it needs to convince its salespeople why they need to get on board the CRM usage train.
How did the companies we benchmarked pull that off? They often started by mapping the current sales processes to see where performance bottlenecks were and then figured out how to apply CRM to make sales reps’ lives easier. For example, if salespeople are frustrated by the amount of time it takes to get a proposal out the door, you can win their buy-in by automating and optimizing the process with CPQ technology.
Another best practice is creating an End User Advisory Board, with representatives from sales, sales management, marketing, and customer support. Using this approach, the end user community’s fingerprints start to show up all over the project plans. They become part of the decision-making process on what components of the CRM initiative to implement and how. In turn, the advisory board members become ambassadors to sell the value of the CRM system to their peers.
In successful CRM initiatives, CRM training is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. With every new release of a solution, the sales force should be brought up to speed on new capabilities and why they make salespeople and managers more efficient or effective.
The charts above show the clear need for new thinking about making CRM a must-use for sales teams. If your organization has not bought into using the technology you’re paying for, you need to surface the reasons why and deal with them head-on. If companies fail to do so, there’s no reason to expect the 2026 adoption chart to look strikingly different from the two charts above.
Jim Dickie is cofounder and independent research director of CSO Insights, a division of Miller Heiman Group, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales enablement initiatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jimdickie.