• March 1, 2014
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

The Adoption Rate Challenge

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For 12 years, as part of CSO Insights' annual Sales Performance Optimization (SPO) study, we have tracked the use of CRM solutions within sales. Each year we have seen the percentage of companies implementing technology to support their sales force increase, as well as the percentage of reps using those systems. Until this year.

In gathering data from more than 1,200 companies worldwide for our 2014 SPO study, we saw the total number of sales organizations leveraging CRM increase to 82.9 percent. This represents a significant increase from the 48.7 percent adoption rate reported a decade ago. But for the first time, we witnessed a drop in the percentage of salespeople who actively use CRM solutions as part of their daily workflow.

The point of paying for and implementing CRM systems is to increase sales' efficiency and effectiveness. If significant numbers of salespeople aren't regularly using these systems, essentially they are a wasted investment. What can firms do to increase adoption? Delving deeper into the more than 120 metrics we collected as part of the study, we found three trends that produced significant increases in the percentage of reps who actively use their CRM systems.

Train, train, train

Having tracked the evolution of CRM systems over the years, we've seen significant improvements in user interfaces, screen navigation capabilities, administration functionality, and more. All of this has made the applications easier to use than in the past, but it doesn't mean they are completely intuitive. My business partner, Barry Trailer, often likens CRM to a Ferrari. It is one thing to have a world-class racecar; it is another to know how to drive it. What we are finding in firms with low CRM adoption rates is that they were given the keys to the car, then told to read the owner's manual and to drive the car fast without crashing.

Conversely, firms with high end user adoption rates get high marks for the education they deliver to sales teams on how to get the maximum benefit out of using their CRM application. In fact, of the 8.7 percent of companies that received “exceeds expectations" ratings for the quality and quantity of the CRM application training they deliver, 71.2 percent reported that more than 90 of their reps actively used their CRM system.

Clean up your mess

A second factor that influences CRM adoption is data quality. If salespeople trust the accuracy of the information in their systems, adoption rates go up. No trust, adoption goes down. What we found from our research this past year is that many companies have a data quality problem, more so with prospect data than existing customer information.

One way to increase data quality is to invest in sales intelligence services. These solutions will compare the data you have on prospects and customers to the information they have gathered from a variety of sources. From this, they do two things. First, if the information you have is inaccurate, they will update the records automatically for the rep. Second, if the sales intelligence system has additional data on prospects and clients, they will enhance the records. The combination of better and more data increases the value of the CRM application to the sales team.

Keep integrating value

The third factor to consider is enriching the capabilities of your CRM platform. We are seeing more salespeople utilize Web-conferencing tools to conduct sales calls, leverage sales knowledge management systems to ensure they have the best/most current content and collateral to use when selling, take part in internal sales force social networking and collaboration to leverage the insights of the sales force to sell more effectively, and more.

When these capabilities are integrated—available within the core CRM solution—adoption rates increase significantly. So talk with your CRM solution provider(s) about how to make these capabilities work together.

Do these suggestions come with a price tag? Yes. But consider the cost of doing nothing. If we don't make the right investments to increase CRM adoption, we are incurring a huge expense in terms of low win rates, longer sales cycles, increased ramp-up times for new salespeople, and more.

Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at jim.dickie@csoinsights.com.

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