Adoption: The Overlooked Key to Deployment Success: Stakeholders


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Every parent knows the grief. We find the coolest toy, make an extra trip to buy batteries, assemble it before the birthday party, quiver at the joy on our child’s face upon opening it, and then find it abandoned behind a bookshelf the next day. None the wiser from this and a multitude of similar experiences, we then dip into our sales budget to buy the coolest seven-figure CRM software, step aside as the supplier trains sales people, then turn instantly more gray around the temples when, six months later, none of the surefire sales benefits show up.

The Missing Ingredient: Inspiration

Of course our first mistake in each case is to fall a bit too much in love with the technology benefits. That leads us to the second mistake: overlooking the question of whether the “gift” actually helps the user, at which point they buy into the “gift” and change their work habits long enough to taste the benefits. Consequently, we do too little in the way of sustained direction, training, and incentives.

We forget to methodically and relentlessly inspire.

According to the Alexander Group, when asked about the top challenges for CRM success, seasoned enterprises rank technology well below managing employee resistance to change (63 percent) and optimizing processes and job roles (56 percent). To address those toughest challenges, an adoption program, concurrent with technology deployment, can put a proper perspective on the technology itself as a means to the real goal: inspiring change toward every stakeholder’s benefit.

Creating Stakeholders: A Case Study

In early 2003, a large regional communications service provider (CSP) deployed a sales effectiveness solution to thousands of sales users.

This sales effectiveness application is designed to boost productivity during the sales interaction with prospects by providing rapid recommendations and guidance to contextual, solution-specific information such as product information, selling tips, competitive information, configuration, pricing and promotions to the sales person at the point-of-sale—when it is most valuable.

To achieve user buy-in, adoption and ROI success, the CSP and the sales effectiveness vendor co-developed an adoption program that embraced each set of stakeholders—marketing, sales operations, sales executives, and users. The intent of the program was to achieve regular user adoption not temporary compliance. It also incorporated specific adoption goals: 40 percent to 50 percent sustained adoption within 60 days. This is compared to sales technology adoption, which ranges from 15 percent to 25 percent.

The CSP’s measurable results exceeded its lofty goals:

  • Fifty percent to 60 percent sustained adoption;

  • Sixty-eight percent completion of introductory training;

  • A 217-percent increase in logins;

  • A record of 209 percent more revenue than non-users; and

  • A record of 93 percent greater value of sales proposals

Indeed, over a three-month period, new users grew by 78 percent in the second month, and 72 percent of established users returned in the third month. The strongest evidence that sales staff were buying in: proposals generated using the application grew 2,642 percent between the fifth and eighth month.

A Multi-Layered Campaign

How did the plan achieve such stellar results? By employing all of the following adoption and change management strategies:

  • Executive leadership, direction and communication

  • Metrics—rewards and incentives

  • Consistent, channel-specific communication

  • Training

Here’s how it words.

  • Strategy 1: Executive Leadership, Direction And Communication. Even employees that are the most resistant to change will give high attention to any change directive that enjoys strong and sustained endorsement from the bosses. The CSP did this down the chain of command, from corporate and division executives through sales and marketing managers. Management collaborated with the supplier to define and then to present and reinforce the business case and benefits in context to the current organizational plans and strategies.

    Going beyond short-lived fanfare at the launch of the program, leadership committed to ongoing communications and branding efforts and to keeping the sales effectiveness application on agendas. At the same time, it established and nurtured a feedback loop for end-user input, as well as a system for tracking training.

  • Strategy 2: Metrics—Rewards and Incentives. Good grades may prove reward enough for some, but this CSP sought to create incentives tailored to each stakeholder group, including sales users, managers, and sales support. Tying incentives directly to usage, revenue and skill improvement, the CSP developed a range of rewards:

    • Regular, swift recognition from higher-ups

    • Frequent, visible awards

    • Cross-organization contests (e.g., holding contests between sales manager teams to personalize the attention of the managers).

    Free dinners, tickets and other incentives proved to keep interest alive along the path to making usage second nature. Ongoing measures of usage and impact assured that management kept its eye on the adoption prize.

  • Strategy 3: Consistent, Channel-Specific Communication. Identifying and leveraging every opportunity to promote adoption can spell success. Such opportunities grow out of regular meetings and regular communications by sales operations, sales managers and sales executives.

    Scheduled rollout updates, contests and award ceremonies all proved effective in keeping the sales effectiveness solution on everyone’s radar, as did communications tagged to new upgrades. In addition to piggy-backing adoption messages onto the plethora of regular organizational electronic communications, this enterprise found added effectiveness in good old in-house merchandizing—posters, mugs, mouse pads, and other stuff that one could see and hold. However, a key was consistent delivering message to sales users of the specific benefits to them by exposing the success of peers using the tool.

  • Strategy 4: Training The goal of a training program is to measurably improve productive use of the sales effectiveness system to achieve projected business outcomes. Handing our child a manual to a new toy does not ensure that it gets used. Instead, providing a short tips and tricks session, handholding, and incentives can be used as part of a comprehensive training program to maximize participation and completion requirements.

    Real tracking and enforcement of training milestones by management ensure basic exposure. Thereafter, mandated hands-on use immediately following live training, weekly “lunch and learn” sessions, searchable FAQs, monthly update, and tips emails—all these bridge and extend training into actual adoption and usage.

Studies find that, in the absence of a dedicated adoption strategy, more than 50 percent of new application introductions fail. A company can buck these statistics by implementing an adoption strategy as seriously as it implements the technology. Additionally, have technology that is indented for value to be seen by the actual users. This supports the real goal: work habits to deliver corporate results.

Michael Heflin
With more than 20 years of leadership experience and a strong sales and marketing background, Michael Heflin possesses skills, experience and first-hand knowledge of sales effectiveness systems. Before joining Convergys, Heflin was CEO of WhisperWire, a sales effectiveness company, and was chairman and CEO of Fracta Networks.


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