The Psychology of CRM User Adoption – and Why It Matters to Customers


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Many companies have implemented CRM. But what happens after implementation? What are the motivators that make CRM a success with its users? Some sales and marketing professionals admit they are required to use CRM, but confess they just “check the box” to satisfy their bosses. In other words, they see using the system as a top-down management imperative—not a way to make their jobs easier.

Rethink the software selection committee
Improving salesperson adoption of a CRM system starts with the software selection process. Most selection committees are cross sections of the enterprise—and they should be. A representative group of stakeholders throughout an enterprise should have the chance to weigh in on the features and capabilities they need from CRM. However, in addition to the usual role-based approach to choosing committee members, companies that want to maximize adoption should also include the following “personas” in their selection process:

The early adopter – This is the person who always looks for the latest and greatest. They were thinking mobile-first while everyone else was still on landlines. They were cloud-based while the rest of us were earthbound. They can help a team think outside the box and look for an innovative, future-oriented solution that breaks new ground—and does not just address current needs.
The complainer – This person may be hard to like, but you want them in the room during the evaluation process. Why? They complain for a reason. If you can make the CRM system do what this person wants, you get more than just a happy future CRM user, you get an evangelist—one with instant credibility with his/her colleagues.
The strategist – This is your big-picture thinker. They can synthesize the pros and cons that the other two “personas” raise and make sure that the project stays focused on business goals, and not simply the needs of the loudest voice in the room.

Once the CRM system is implemented, the next challenge is usually adoption and consistent use. How can companies get their salespeople to see that logging their activity into CRM is more than a chore—it is actually something that can make them more productive and efficient?

Flip the script on the purpose of CRM

To get the frontline salesperson to enter data into the CRM system, companies need to change that person’s preconceptions. They need to shift the conversation from CRM as Big Brother’s way of monitoring and controlling their daily to-do list to focus on the “aha moments” that a CRM system provides.

To do that, they need to show how the benefits of each piece of data entered can outweigh the time and effort of entering it.

I can access the data I need, when I need it – Each entry greases the skids for future customer interactions by providing anytime/anywhere access to data on any device.
Others can access the data I enter – And bother me less.
I can keep management informed, and spend less time doing it – Updating pipeline status, completing trip reports, and other management reporting tasks become easier.
I can help out marketing, so marketing can help me – I can spend less time helping them understand my customers, while I get quicker access to the content that they produce that I need for outreach.
I can see what others have done – My customers interact with multiple people in my company. Seeing whether they have a customer service, invoicing, or delivery issue makes me more effective.

The reality is, logging data into CRM isn’t a distraction from the salesperson’s core responsibilities. It frees them to spend more time engaging customers and means less time filling out spreadsheets and reports. It pays off in the form of easier access to data that helps generate business and provides insights that they would otherwise miss.

Build buzz and celebrate success
Companies that encourage adoption of the CRM system need to minimize the fear of change and tap into the desire for something new and innovative. They should take a cue from the marketing department and hold pre-launch demos, publicize executive endorsement, and even host a launch party that sends the message that the new system is a step forward—not a disruption. It has been said that no one loves being sold to like a sales person, and selling to the sellers before the go-live date can help build interest and enthusiasm and encourage higher usage from the outset.

Capitalize on sales’ competitive instincts
Competition is already in every sales person’s DNA. Individuals want to be recognized and rewarded for success—and companies can use that competitive drive to encourage CRM adoption. Hold contests to see who logs the most calls into the system each week. Buy lunch each month for the rep who closes the most service tickets. Whether you call it by its 21st century name of “gamification” or think of it as old-school competition, it’s an approach that works.

The takeaway: A better customer experience
CRM is not just for sales and marketing—ultimately, the data in a CRM system acts as the collective corporate memory that enables a company to deliver a more compelling customer experience. It provides the context and insight that deliver:

Richer cross-channel interaction – Customers do not have to continually re-educate their vendor on their needs and challenges even as the engagement cycle crosses multiple channels and involves more people in the vendor’s organization.
Greater personalization – Customers get an experience and solution that are ultimately a better fit for their needs.
Clear differentiation – Choosing the right vendor can be a high-stakes decision with long-term implications. The quality of the experience provided can help a customer differentiate among potential partners with similar offerings.

From the customer’s perspective, the data that sales people enter into CRM can help smooth the transition from prospect to customer. It also helps ensure a tighter alignment between what they heard in the sales cycle and the post-sale reality.

CRM success is about demonstrating value and functionality. It is also essential to show how the result of using CRM becomes part of the normal workflow and supports organizational reporting. Put all of this together and you have a CRM strategy that cannot lose.


  1. Excellent article Erik. We’ve seen too many CRM and marketing automation initiatives fail due to a failure to address user adoption issues. What sounds great to the people who sign off on a system often doesn’t translate into the willingness of staff to manage workflow, enter data, produce reports and so forth. The suggestions you make are as important as the features and technical specs.

  2. Hi Erik: you have highlighted some good points about how to sell CRM to salespeople. In my experience, the most powerful sales tool is to deeply involve salespeople in the design and implementation planning. That way, the need for managers to “get their salespeople to see that logging their activity into CRM is more than a chore” becomes a less onerous challenge. And by deeply involve, I mean more than simply asking ‘what do you think?,’ or beta testing a workflow that IT isn’t really interested in changing anyway.

    A couple of quibbles: While user archetypes (e.g. the early adopter, the complainer, the strategist) are widely invoked in articles, I find their use problematic because they are reductive and often arbitrary. I could just as easily use the compliant, the skeptical, and the ambivalent. I could also select another three (or more) attributes that are equally likely to describe a population. Mostly, I find that people just don’t fall into the buckets that others assign for them. Often, there are elements of every archetype in a person, plus some others. As a project manager, I’ve just found that stereotypes don’t help me as much as understanding the key issues that influence how people behave.

    Second, I’m not convinced that gamification can produce benefits that last beyond the launch hoopla. If the CRM application doesn’t ultimately support the salesperson’s efficiency, productivity, and ability to improve his or her personal income, rewarding them for activity like logins and closing out service tickets won’t do much other than causing a rep to game the system (“We apologize for your inconvenience. Please hold while I open several service tickets to fix your problem . . .”)

    Many of the implementation challenges I see in my consulting work revert to the issue that drove the purchase of the CRM software in the first place: management’s need to control sales activity. (No one should forget what the M in CRM stands for!) I’m not suggesting that’s a bad motivator or purpose. But it’s disingenuous to buy a CRM system primarily to help managers keep their reps on a leash, and then go to the sales force and tell them, “by the way, it’s good for you, too!” Salespeople aren’t stupid – before companies implement their CRM, they’ve already figured out their subordinate ranking in the outcomes that management is seeking.


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