Getting people to use CRM technology…


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I’ve spent the last few months putting together a survival e-guide for buying and implementing CRM software. It’s a combination of existing blog posts and new material, based on my last fifteen years on the front-line trying to help organisations get operational benefit from CRM technology. One of the new sections is on the issue of user adoption, and a draft of my thoughts is shown below. It would be good to get any feedback on areas I might have missed, and if anyone wishes to review an advance copy of the guide please drop me a line.

On CRM user adoption

I was asked to help a software company brainstorm how they could get more value from their system. They had clearly spent a lot of money on it. They had a full time administrator, the software ran on a bank of perfectly maintained servers, and they were a prominent reference site for the vendor whose software they used. After a few minutes looking at their system it was apparent they had a problem though. No one was actually using it. To be precise out of a sales force of 120 only 7 staff members had even accessed the system in the previous month.

The moral of the story is that you can have the greatest CRM system in the world but if you can’t get people to use it in a consistent and structured way it won’t generate any benefit for your organisation. User adoption has been the primary cause of death for most failed CRM initiatives in a world where there have been a lot of failed initiatives.

In reality user adoption is not that complex an issue to address, but like many aspects of the CRM world it’s considered to be a technical issue. So as each new CRM software product is released, the vendor, correctly identifying user adoption as a key point of failure, announces another breakthrough in ease of use capabilities that will supposedly banish this ill forever.

Putting aside my belief that actually there has been very little change in the usability of CRM software in the last 10 years, ease of use is only one piece in the user adoption puzzle, and it doesn’t matter how easy to use you make software, it doesn’t mean it will be used. The following are the bits that I believe make up the bigger picture:

Have a clear purpose – as we’ve already noted it’s important to define compelling objectives for a system, but it’s also critical that users understand and buy into those objectives and it’s not just seen as another pointless system they have to update. Communicating this effectively is the key here.

What’s in it for me – while it’s important that the CRM system will create benefits for the overall organisation, it’s critical that it also provides benefits to the individual users in terms of making their lives easier, or helping them work more effectively.

Don’t compromise on ease of use – sometimes when you are developing a system there’s a decision point between spending a bit more to make things more ergonomic or intuitive for the user, these investments generally pay big dividends in improving uptake and usage.

Half a day is not enough – let me be emphatic here; do not expect your users to attend a classroom training session and immediately start using the system in a consistent and structured way. This will not happen. Classroom training is a starting point, but as I touched on earlier, it is just part of a sequence of training activities that will need to happen before you get strong usage.

Assume failure – in other words assume that people are not using the system in the way you wish them to until you prove otherwise. Have a list of system users and only cross them off the list when you’ve proven they are using it. Until then, keep training.

Resource up – user adoption activities, as perhaps is becoming clear, can be time consuming. Make sure you have the people in place, whether they are internal or external, to ensure that you can get through this phase of the project.

Middle management is key – in many cases the senior executive team will buy into a CRM project, but this buy-in doesn’t extend to the middle management tier. Nothing will kill the system off quicker than a user’s manager intimating that use of the CRM system is optional. Effort should be focused on ensuring that all levels of the management team are driving the use of the system.

Monitor – there should be someone whose role it is to carefully monitor usage. If users are not following the agreed processes then that needs to be logged and addressed. This is a key function, so make sure the chosen staff, are capable, motivated, and have the time available to do the job properly.

Accept it takes time – user adoption won’t happen overnight, it will take months, maybe years. Get it right and it will be worth it, but accept this is a long term activity.

Burn the boats – when the Spanish Conquistador Cortez landed in Mexico he ordered that the ships be burned to ensure his soldiers were solely focused on the task ahead and knew there was no heading back. If the only way to perform a given task is through the CRM system – perhaps generate a sales forecast, or the monthly activity report, or place an order – then the system will be used. If there are other means to do this, perhaps manually, or through an old system, it reduces the motivation to change.

Reports – are a key way for users to determine if processes are being followed. If they’re not, then you will quickly know it because there won’t get any usable management information. Strangely though reports are often a belated afterthought encouraged by vendors who point to the standard reports that ship with the software or wizzy report generators. In reality, since reports need to track your individual business processes, they often require fair amount of customisation and development, so make sure that this is factored into to your development schedule so they are ready to support the user adoption process.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Thx for your checklist, Richard – a valuable tool for consultants like me, who also help companies to obtain ROI from their CRM systems. Let me add a best practice as one more way to increase system usage:


    The reason why most employees don’t use the system is the lack of relevance. They don’t see how it can be used to help with their daily assignments.

    Problem: the huge user’s manual describes generic usage only! The missing link to ‘what’s in it for me’ is obvious.

    Solution (as practiced with several of my clients): develop a personal user’s manual targeted to the users’ job assignments.

    Here’s the process:
    1) Establish a project group with members from marketing and sales (who usually are the ones to work with the crm system)
    2) Let sales define the most typical 5-10 daily/weekly assignments
    3) Do the assignments with the crm system, copying screen dumps of all fases
    4) Write a ‘Sales’ User’s Manual’ based on the routines identified and illustrate with the relevant screen dumps
    5) Test the manual for a period (e.g. a month) with 2-3 sales people
    6) Revise the manual according to feedback
    7) Roll out the manual to the sales department

    Now, based on recognizable job assignments, the manual is as relevant as can be. The sales people can now identify their routines and thus become far more motivated to use the system.

    By constantly monitoring the usage, analyzing the feedback and revise accordingly you optimize system usage. And system ROI.


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