To Help Salespeople Sell More, Focus on CRM User Adoption


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CRM initiatives are about creating superior customer experiences. But as many companies have discovered, for a CRM implementation to be successful, it must complement customer-centricity with a healthy dose of user-centricity. Put simply, for a CRM system to deliver benefits to the customer, it has to be used—and to achieve user adoption, it has to demonstrate benefits to the user, not just the company or customer.

Most CRM implementations involve multiple departments, but it’s common for sales force automation to be a central driver. In today’s challenging economy, this is truer than ever, with many companies’ CRM initiatives being driven by a need for improved sales productivity and effectiveness in the face of more competitive markets and fewer sales staff.

Salespeople typically have their own tried-and-true approaches to managing their sales cycles and see little reason to change.

Unfortunately, salespeople are notoriously reluctant to embrace CRM—AMR Research cites sales-user reluctance as one of the top explanations for CRM failures. According to analyst Robert Bois, “SFA software products and deployment strategies need to start with the end user in mind, or else risk poor adoption and ultimate project failure.”

Salespeople typically have their own tried-and-true approaches to managing their sales cycles and see little reason to change. They often see CRM as a means of management control, rather than an effort to facilitate the sales process and help them be more successful. For this reason, companies evaluating or implementing CRM systems need to carefully consider exactly how a CRM system will help and benefit their sales users, and how well it can fit with their existing habits and process—enhancing, rather than dictating, how they work.

Helping Salespeople Sell More

What does the sales department want from a CRM system? First, from the sales executives down through each role on the sales team, every user needs to see immediate value from using the system. Whatever their role, they need to see the CRM system as a solution that’s built for them. So what does this really mean?

For salespeople, the bottom line is whether the CRM system helps them sell more. There are numerous ways CRM can assist. First, with strong marketing automation and lead management features, CRM systems can be used to generate higher-volume, higher-quality leads, effectively qualify them before they reach the sales force and deliver them while they’re hot, improving sales potential and cutting down on time wasted on dead-end leads.

But even more than leads, salespeople want the time to sell—and they have far less than you might imagine. A 2004 study by Proudfoot Consulting found that salespeople spend only 10 percent of their time actively selling, largely because of an alarming amount of time spent on administration and problem-solving. A CRM system can help increase selling time by reducing data entry and automating time-consuming tasks such as opportunity logging, quote and contract generation and activity reporting. Automated sales action plans and workflows can also help accelerate sales cycles while keeping in line with proven sales methodologies.

Many salespeople have honed their knowledge and skills over the years and scoff at the idea that technology can replace their instincts, but even the savviest salesperson can benefit from the right CRM support. M.S. Rau Antiques, a landmark in New Orleans’ French Quarter for almost a century, prides itself on its salespeople’s deep knowledge of the business, but they found that once their business had reached a certain size, sales acumen wasn’t enough: technology support was needed to sell effectively. “Our salespeople really know their stuff, and they really know their customers,” says Susan Loustalot, M.S. Rau’s Web Consultant. “They used to be able to match customers and items intuitively just on memory. But our inventory and our customer base have grown so rapidly, salespeople wouldn’t be able to do this effectively anymore without CRM.” The company implemented Pivotal CRM in 2003 and has relied heavily upon it to support rapid growth from 40% to 70% online sales.

Insight for Sales Managers

Salespeople aren’t the only ones a CRM system has to win over. For sales managers to embrace CRM, it must provide usable business insight. It must be their window into the sales team, offering a comprehensive view of all sales activities that saves them time chasing down updates. It must also offer clear visibility into the full sales cycle and pipeline, helping pinpoint issues and shortfalls in time to intervene.

For sales managers to embrace CRM, it must provide usable business insight.

Management visibility was a big driver for Texas-based Illes Seasonings & Flavors in their decision to deploy CRM for the sales department. “Managing sales in spreadsheets created silos and prevented sales management from knowing exactly what the sales teams are doing,” says IT Director Les Howell. Managing this in their CRM, “managers will be able to see what’s going on and track the opportunities better.”

Integrate, Adapt and Personalize

Above and beyond specific features, however, there are core attributes that make a CRM system more likely to achieve high sales-user adoption. First, deep integration with the tools sales teams already use, such as Microsoft Office, Outlook and BlackBerry devices, is essential. If a user is forced to take extra steps or toggle between applications or devices to add data to or pull data from the CRM system, odds are they’ll stick with their current tools. If it’s easy to move seamlessly between programs, accessing and adding information a single time in a single location, sales users will quickly see the benefits and time-savings.

At California-based Evangelical Christian Credit Union, their CRM system’s built-in integration with Microsoft Outlook has been among the most popular features with sales users. Users now store all e-mail interactions within the system and send e-mails directly within it, rather than switching between applications. They can also send messages to multiple recipients—for example, to everyone tied to a given company or opportunity. “That’s saved time and made a big difference for the sales force,” says Judy Dietz, ECCU’s Pivotal Application Manager.

Flexibility is also crucial. If a CRM system imposes workflows or procedures that don’t fit the way sales users like to work, it will meet strong resistance. The ability to quickly and cost-effectively tailor the system to their needs and a company’s unique methodologies is thus indispensable—and also makes the system more adaptable to evolving business demands.

Finally, the ability to personalize is invaluable. Customizing CRM views, dashboards, shortcuts and more—not just to the department or role, but to the individual end user—truly enables the sales user to make the system their own. By empowering them to create their own high-performance hub, companies can ensure each sales user feels the CRM system was not only “built for sales,” but built just for them.

Sales user adoption is a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. With careful consideration and thoughtful system selection and deployment, companies can implement a CRM solution that both delights sales users and delivers on the end goal of increased sales.


  1. Jason: thanks for these insightful ideas. It’s interesting that many CRM companies tout usability and user-friendliness as key selling points toward the holy grail of Total User Acceptance. But there’s a theory about what contributes to delayed user acceptance that few companies recognize or want to address: the new business processes and workflows that accompany CRM systems are agnostic to legacy network ties. They don’t ask “how are you getting it done now?” They focus on “here’s how it will be better for you.” The not-so-surprising result: people maintain the connections and the processes they used in the past. “When it comes to getting my job done, the ‘devil I know’ is less risky than the one I don’t know.” Wouldn’t it be better if CRM software developers considered the informal networks that underpin sales collaboration before their companies go off and “re-engineer workflows.” Maybe if they did, they wouldn’t need to scratch their heads in post-installation progress meetings wondering why they’re getting slow or no adoption.

    For salespeople, CRM systems have great selling points. For many salespeople around the world, there is a huge amount of tedious, repetitive, unchallenging, unproductive busy work that CRM systems can reduce or eliminate. But selling salespeople on the advantages of new, efficient workflows and greater efficiency won’t dispel the major appeal of CRM systems: they’re all about control. And measurement. And accountability to management. That selling pitch to the CFO presents a common anathema to salespeople.

    No matter how much a salesperson is told (or sold!) on how much income he or she can make by adopting the new CRM software, that message still projects like “We’re the government. We’re here to help.”

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting on my article, Andrew. I think we’re in complete agreement. While I touch on it only briefly in this article, your comment concerning user acceptance is precisely why we’ve always emphasized the importance of system flexibility with CRM in particular. You’re quite correct that user-friendliness is not enough to ensure user adoption. Real-world business processes are seldom created in a lab; they reflect the collective wisdom and best practices of the users and the specific company, often honed over decades. While a CRM implementation is a great opportunity to rethink and streamline processes and workflows, it’s equally important to use the system to reflect what the users already know works, rather than imposing new processes arbitrarily just because that’s how the software company has built the workflows! A good CRM system should be flexible enough to accommodate the “informal networks” you mention and model whatever form of collaboration and workflow works best for the company—and its users.

    As for the issue of control, it’s true that to many salespeople, a CRM system may seem like a control mechanism. For that reason, companies really do need to look not just at what’s in it for management, but what’s in it for the user. If it feels like the data entered or tools used are for management’s benefit alone, forget it! It puts the onus on the CRM system to really deliver on those promised end-user benefits. But if a salesperson sees that by using the system they’re getting better leads, faster; finding more reliable information—faster; generating quotes and contracts and getting management signoff on them—faster… I don’t know a salesperson who would say no to being able to make more sales with less effort, whether or not they feel management’s looking over their shoulder.

  3. Jason, I agree with the main point of your article — to focus on adoption. Although adoption alone won’t drive sales, it’s an important step.

    Reps will adopt something that:

    a. they can use — which explains why ease of use has tops our list of key requirements when we’ve researched SFA systems in the past.

    b. that help them sell — which has been the more difficult part, because SFA systems seem more designed to manage pipelines and give info to management, rather than focused on closing deals.

    So as you put it well, “companies really do need to look not just at what’s in it for management, but what’s in it for the user.”

    I would suggest thinking of reps as “customers” of the CRM system, and for sales management to focus on delivering a clear and compelling value proposition for CRM usage. If they can close that deal with reps, then reps are more likely to use CRM systems to sell more to the real customers.


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