Why Sales Won’t Use the CRM System … and What You Can Do About It


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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 will generate no value. And nowhere does usage seem to be more of an issue than in the sales area.

Before you say, “Of course, our sales team is using it,” let me tell you about one of the first system audits I ever undertook. We were given the grand tour of the offices, met some bright system administrators and discussed the latest enhancements to the system. It quickly became apparent, however, that virtually no one was actually using it. In the previous month, only a handful of the 100-strong sales force had even accessed the system. An extreme example, perhaps, but it’s a situation I’ve seen replicated many times over the years.

One of the prime reasons that user adoption is such a big issue is that, I believe, the approach to training is fundamentally flawed. Standard practice seems to be for staff members to receive a day’s classroom training and then be left to fend for themselves. Some do, indeed, take to it straightaway, but most don’t. The most effective approach to training is a proactive one. Training needs to be targeted as a sequence of initiatives that include both classroom and one-on-one help until each user is verified as active. This sort of program may take several months, but it needs to be sustained until the habit of using the system is deeply ingrained.

What’s in it for me?

Another reason that salespeople shy away from CRM systems is that there are often no particularly compelling reasons for them to use them. A lot of systems badly fail the “what’s in it for me?” test. They simply don’t provide salespeople with sufficient payback for the time they have to invest in updating it. In addition, little attention is given to embedding key sales processes within the system. If the only way to provide a sales forecast, to get a discount authorized, to submit an order, etc., is through the CRM system, then—no surprises—the system is going to get used.

Another reason salespeople fail to engage with CRM technology is that they are inherently time poor.

The management team also has a crucial role to play. One of the fundamental differences between failing and successful CRM systems is that in the successful case executives use the system as a key tool to run the business. This is such a powerful predictor of ultimate success that if as a manager, you limit your involvement in the system to no more than signing off the purchase order then, frankly, I’d save your money. The odds are strongly against your seeing a return on your investment.

Another reason salespeople fail to engage with CRM technology is that they are inherently time poor, and many systems fail to take account of this. It’s not unusual, for example, to find remotely based salespeople whose only means of access to the CRM system is when they are in the office. It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that when Jane from sales drops by the office for her fortnightly visit, diligently inputting the details of the previous 13 days’ worth of interactions she still remembers may not be No. 1 on her priority list.

The setup of the system should balance the need to capture information with the need to minimize the time demands on the salesperson. Several years ago, I visited Nissan’s immensely successful factory in Sunderland in the United Kingdom and was struck by the care and attention given to maximizing productivity. Every tool was precision-placed so that a worker on the production line only had a put out a hand to grasp what he or she needed to perform the next task. It’s a lesson that many CRM systems might benefit from. I still see systems where the addition of a new contact record takes an age to perform because the input screen is excessively demanding on information and key strokes. The net effect: Staffers are loath to add new information.

One challenge that has plagued many CRM implementations is keeping the system relevant to the business over time. The payback from a CRM system accrues over the life of the system. Many systems start out successfully but fail to adapt to changing circumstances. This is often because CRM is seen as a one-off project, where the investment of funds and energy is front-loaded to the implementation stages and the system is starved of resources thereafter. The pressurized, impatient world of sales takes no prisoners in this respect; if it can’t be done within the system, the sales team is likely to get it done outside.

Boiled right down, implementing a CRM system is relatively simple. Define what you want to achieve with the technology; ideally something of significant bottom-line value to attract attention and resources. Determine the business processes required to deliver the anticipated benefits. Choose the appropriate technology. And then focus like mad on the people to ensure they use it.

The problem has often been that the technology part attracts a disproportionate part of our attention. Technology can’t, however, do it on its own. As one senior executive who was in the process of re-implementing a failed system ruefully noted to us, “We saw CRM like we saw the email system. It was essentially just a case of ‘switch it on and it would work.'” When we start to look at CRM rather more three-dimensionally—people, process and technology—the user adoption issue becomes a lot less intractable. And yes, even sales can be persuaded to use the system.


  1. You do make some very good points I must say. However, I now use Workforce Track CRM to help me as I used to have the same problem as many people trying to find the ideal software. Workforce Track is a low price and easy to use.

  2. I agree with you, RIchard, thank you for this useful article.
    Nowadays CRM is a must-have – most effective way to keep customers happy, and it really depends on HOW you use it in a “consistent and structured way”, as you said.
    I use the kpi.com CRM tool for managing leads, customers, cases and tasks, which makes it easy to find what you need and control your tasks, mass mail, helps to formulate a targeted marketing strategy and etc. It is low cost and has a free trial, so you can give it a try to see how it works.


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