Get Hummingbirds in Heat, a.k.a. Salespeople, Using CRM


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We’ll put this as delicately and gently as we can: Your salespeople have the attention spans of ADD-diagnosed hummingbirds in heat. Is this why they’re not using your CRM?

We know they’re not using it. Brian Carroll wrote about being at a conference where the presenter asked “How many of you [marketers] have a problem with sales not updating your CRM?” There were over 170 people in the room, Carroll said, and over 170 hands went up.

Never mind the excuses they give you — “I wasn’t properly trained.” My guess is they’re not using it for one of two reasons — they don’t see any real advantage for themselves in doing so, or they’d like to use it, but it’s too much a pain in the butt and takes too much time. If it were easier, I bet they’d at least give it a fair shot.

“That’s probably the most important thing when you’re rolling out a CRM application to your sales, marketing and services professionals,”’s senior vice-president of product management, Tien Tzuo, told Jennifer Schiff a while ago. “If the salespeople can’t figure it out in five seconds, they give up.”

That’s unfair to sales professionals, of course. Some will actually give it seven seconds.

Now if you’re using a system that really doesn’t give the salesperson any payback for using it, well, it could be the easiest system in the world and it still won’t matter. If they see some payback they’ll put up with a little hassle to use it, but not much.

What they will use is a system that’s functional and easy to use. Consider Louis Braille.

When ten-year old Braille went to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris in 1819, he was anxious to “read” the institution’s embossed books. The letters had been raised so one’s finger could trace them out. But as Braille soon found, he had to trace every contour of every letter, and by the time he got to the end of a sentence he had sometimes forgotten the beginning. Embossed books were not widely adopted, since they were functional but not easy to use.

In 1821 French army captain Charles Barbier proposed a new system called “night writing,” using raised dots and dashes to stand for sounds. He had developed it in the field for soldiers to communicate without sound or light.

As Braille found, one could read it much faster than embossed books, and using a stylus a student could take notes on what he heard. But it didn’t have numbers or punctuation, spelling or grammar. Barbier’s night writing, an improvement over embossed books, was not widely adopted, since it was easy to use but not functional.

But in 1824 Braille developed a much easier system using raised dots to represent letters, not sounds, what we today call “Braille,” which he published in 1829. It was widely adopted since it was both functional and easy to use.

And in truth, there’s no real difference between a blind student in France in 1830 and a salesperson in America today. Both will use tools and systems that make their lives easier. Both will reject tools and systems that are more hassle than they’re worth. Both hate cumbersome technology that doesn’t really add value to their lives. Both are highly likely to kick aforesaid clunky technology into yon ditch.

CRMTrak executive Mark Morton advises companies looking to make CRM easier for their sales staffs to include “just the right features. We get feedback all the time from companies searching for a new CRM tool and they tell us that most products are far too complicated.”

This overkill, Morton says, includes “hundreds of useless features that do little more than overwhelm the users… we are not interested in getting into a feature race that adds to the problem.”

Even Microsoft (Company motto: “Because We Say So, That’s Why”) is interested in making their CRM easier for actual humans to use. How do you know? Because their marketing materials say so, that’s how: “User interface improvements make Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 even easier to use and make it simpler to complete tasks with fewer clicks.”

Don’t laugh at counting clicks, salespeople in the field care about such things. One CRM vendor, Dovarri, went to a lot of trouble to fashion a CRM Tools Comparison chart, painstakingly recording how many clicks 18 functions — “Find Contact,” “Reassign Account,” “Check Client History” — require in nine CRM products such as Salesforce, Sugar, Microsoft, NetSuite, et al. It matters.

Some concessions Microsoft made to ease of use for 4.0 include AutoComplete — “so they don’t have to type the same information over and over,” faster searching, support for bulk execution and closure of campaigns, and improved mail merge. There are tools to create reports from CRM data without IT support and advanced functionality that enables users to create, find, and implement workflows. So they’re, you know, trying and all. Making an effort. They feel your pain.

And not only will your salespeople use easy CRM, they’ll keep using it if it’s working for them. In the 1840s a new headmaster at Braille’s school, a certain Pierre-Armand Dufau, tried to abolish Braille’s system because in his opinion the system might render the sighted teachers at the school unnecessary. Here we see the spiritual ancestry of today’s teacher unions, who no doubt would have done the exact same thing.

Dufau took away the students’ styli and slates to write Braille, and burned books written in Braille, and tried to reinforce embossed books. The result? The students taught Braille to each other in secret, risking harsh punishment.

Make your CRM easy, make it good for your salespeople and they’ll adopt it — tenaciously.

Article originally appeared in the author’s TMC archive.

David Sims
David Sims Writing
David Sims, a professional CRM writer since the last century, is an American living in New Zealand because "it's fun calling New Yorkers to tell them what tomorrow looks like."


  1. David: I had a good laugh from your Microsoft quotes. The Internet is full of product platitudes that have slid from the VP of Development’s office right into the home pages of many well-known information technology products–without anyone so much as asking “hey, will prospects understand this?”

    One problem results from the fact that software developers get stoked up thinking that the products they create are full-featured and sophisticated. The “wow” contagion spreads to marketing and to sales.

    . . . but the customer wants something that’s simple and easy-to-use. I know from experience. I’ve asked Development to simplify screens so prospects won’t be overwhelmed, but pride frequently overrules: “How will customers know about all the great stuff we’ve included?”

    Yet, usability has so dominated discussions of CRM adoption that one would think that nothing else matters. Vendors are forever comparing clicks, keystrokes, and other features in a vicious product-feature bake off that might not truly matter. Another theory has emerged that suggests that impediments to software adoption results from the breaks in social network ties that are often required when new business processes are implemented. I haven’t found any vendors that speak to that issue because they’re too busy insisting that the complex software they’ve created is easy to use (because we told you it is!).

    In any case, salespeople shouldn’t complain too much about CRM software not aiding productivity. Information technology has always been–and will continue to be–about control. If people are productive through using software, that’s a desirable byproduct, but it’s still about dashboards, reports, and financial statements. Best to remember the Golden Rule–“He or she who has the gold makes the rules.” And when it comes to CRM, that’s usually not the salesperson.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Yes, they are pretty funny. Good comments, and you’re right — usability rules, everywhere except with developers. Hey THEY know how to use all the bells and whistles, what’s salespeople’s problem?

    I had someone once tell me that his sales force hated the CRM he wanted them to use. I asked him why he made them use a system they hated. Know what his answer was? “Where are they going to go and not have to use a CRM system?”


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