CRM Applications & Sales Reps adoption – The Million $ challenge

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My experience with CRM Projects has been a mixture of waterfall, hybrid agile & pure agile based implementations. But the success of CRM projects seems to be inclined more on the hybrid agile/agile side of the house. Success cannot be credited only to the agile methodology but also to some of the principles listed below which were more conducive in the agile/hybrid agile world not so much in the waterfall world.

Observations from years of CRM project implementations: Looking Back

From over 15 years of CRM/ERP implementations these are some observations of CRM implementations across myriad of industries ranging from software, high tech, manufacturing, aerospace & defense:
• Sales Reps are invited for CRM Project kick off & then again invited months down the line for User Acceptance Testing (UAT) just before project Go Live.
• Business Requirements were gathered at the start of the project & many months/years down the line delivered when some/many of the requirements have changed due to changes in the marketplace/company’s business requirements.
• Fancy features/functionalities were implemented which were never discussed or asked for by the sales team or sales leadership
• On Time & under Budget trumped everything else including delivering what the business would consider key to their success besides addressing pain point areas
• Most projects were heavy IT driven and had less of business ownership

Why is ‘adoption’ low among Sales Reps?

• What’s in it for Me (WIFM): Sales reps had no real say in what was built
• IT driven not Business driven: IT decided what was important vs sales team inputs, so the value delivered is low in the eyes of business
• Sales Goals Fit: Business never understood or was never communicated to, how would these new applications help solve their daily challenges or help them meet/exceed their sales quotas/goals.
• Agile changes to adjust to Market demands: Sales team’s needs & priorities changed based on market demands during the time lapse between project kick off until project Go Live, there was no active business involvement or feedback loop into what IT was building during this time lapse leading to no adjustments/changes to meet changing business needs.

The below list is not the be all or end all for a successful project, but a good sample of practices gleaned from successful companies & their CRM Projects: Looking Forward

• Sales reps & leadership should be involved throughout the life of the project not just the start & end
• Business will appreciate fewer features over a plethora of features they will rarely/never use; with the focus being the ones that address their business needs
• Business should see/touch/feel the ‘product’ sooner & more often through agile iterative testing
• Empathy – Make as many field visits to the clients with the sales reps during various phases of the sales process from initial sales calls to the closing of a sale; to get a firsthand understanding of their challenges & needs
• OCM/Training can be manageable bite sized chunks, tailored & made more effective based on regular business feedback as small functionalities are delivered often
• Business should have assigned clear business ownership with Product Owners & their time/resource committed for the product development & delivery.
• IT should plan the whole thing as agile product release/s vs project releases; with room for changes even in the final stages of each release
From a technology perspective most, companies fall into three categories; early adopters, wait & watch adopters, late adopters. Successful CRM Projects could fall into any of these categories, but their success depends on their adoption of some of the Agile principles & other points listed above.

CRM/CX Projects with Early, Wait & Late Adopters:

Early Adopters:
• These companies are trail blazers with a high tolerance for risk taking, they do run into issues with the CRM application or other technology challenges & they come up with solutions to address them
• These companies have an advantage over their competitors due to the head start in implementing newer technologies and thus increasing their business competitiveness. E.g. Companies who implemented ‘call back’ functionality without making customers hold the line for hours – their customers & partners did more business vs companies who made them hold the line forever. Source: https://www.westuc.com/en-us/blog/managed-voice-services/5-reasons-you-should-be-using-call-backs-contact-center

Wait & Watch Adopters
• These companies learn from their industry peers and avoid major potholes (with newer technologies) thereby standing a slightly better chance of getting a better bang for their buck. This does not guarantee a successful CRM project if the basics are not planned & executed thoroughly.
• These companies still have a good chance of winning in the marketplace although they may not fall into the first mover advantage quadrant but can remain in the top businesses in their industry gaining market share, mindshare & wallet share. (e.g. Companies in these Covid times who were the first to advertise & implement BOPIS (Buy Online Pick Up In Store) or curb side delivery & pick up for retail saw more business coming their way vs other stores who saw falling percentage of customers due to a bad CX with a negative/non-existent BOPIS. Source: https://global.hitachi-solutions.com/blog/bopis

Late Adopters:
• These are the risk averse companies where leadership avoids major changes be it technology or process. These companies do more analysis of the market, technology trends, competitor failures, wait for the industry technology adoption to mature before making a move
• The CRM projects in these companies could succeed or fail but usually they get it right with the technology since the product has matured or major kinks have solutions but the business advantage is considerably reduced since their competitors have increased their presence with customers & partners. (e.g. Bookstores with physical locations who did not go all out with their eCommerce delivery models either ran out of business or lost major market share). Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/16/books/bookshop-bookstores-coronavirus.html

To conclude; few things stand out with successful companies & their CRM/CX Projects, across industries & categories:
• Business owns & runs the project with IT as an enabler not the other way around.
• CRM/CX is considered not as a technology/IT application but as a ‘business product’ with periodic releases that dynamically adapt to changing business needs.
• Change is in their DNA or brought into their DNA/Culture (top down & bottom up); no matter what it takes to bring about the changes.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Sam – great insights here that reflect my own experience with CRM solutions in financial services. I like your point about poor adoption because requirements change by the time the solution is delivered. I’ve seen this myself. This happens when we add the “extras” that aren’t essential to the user’s needs, or when we implement valid requirements that are poorly understood. In our industries, there is a “constancy” of requirements that we need to find better, more efficient ways to deliver as our technology toolsets improve. I think this aligns with your other point – users adopt solutions that deliver the essentials instead of a buffet of poorly thought-out “extras”. In this case, focused execution always wins!

    One last thing – in my experience, the key to user adoption is integration. Get integration right and users will love your solution!

  2. Thanks Darryn for your inputs & comments, very valid. I have my share of integration insights from CRM/CX projects, maybe in another blog sometime.

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