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Selling CRM to your sales team: How to ensure adoption

22nd Jan 2018
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User adoption has arguably been the biggest single obstacle to successful CRM implementation for the past 20 years. It doesn’t matter how impressive the technology is, and how robust the strategy, if sales reps don’t input data and keep records up to date, the whole project is kaput.

“User adoption is quite multi-faceted and there is a lot involved in it,” notes Richard Boardman, founder of Mareeba Consulting. “You need to dedicate a lot of resources into the usage of a new system on an ongoing basis but particularly in the first six months. You can’t do some training and assume that everybody will go off and just use it - some will and some won’t.

“There is a battle to be fought to get that adoption happening. And that can be a long-term battle. A lot of resources that are put into CRM systems are concerned with purchasing the technology and the initial implementation, but often they are not geared up to support the more long-term attritional battle of getting usage patterns embedded.”


“Using a CRM system isn’t a straightforward process,” says Samantha Kinstrey, director of The Inform Team. “For example, with something as isolated as Microsoft Word, anyone can start it up, write a document, save it, print it, and close it down. This gives users complete control of the process from start to finish, beginning, middle and an end. In the case of CRM, users may be involved in a beginning and perhaps middle, but not often an end and so forth. The involvement depends on the user’s function, the organisation and sometimes even the CRM system itself. There needs to be the right understanding for the individual user of their role in the CRM process and of the wider system as a whole.”

Training, says Kinstrey, is the only way to give employees this level of understanding – and without it, employees will lack the necessary understanding to ever make the CRM system perform well.

And a token half-day introduction simply won’t cut it, adds Boardman: “You need an ongoing commitment to train. That is very difficult for organisations because invariably there is an expense to doing that. But it is essential.”

The importance of training in the CRM system is unlikely to be heralded as an epiphany, even if the ongoing commitment is a wake-up call. So why is CRM training therefore so often undercooked? There are many reasons.

  • Letting the wrong people deliver the training. One of the most common mistakes is having training being delivered by trainers who do not understand the business, the processes or its people, explains Darron Walton, MD at De Villiers Walton. “It is important for a trainer to understand where the business and users are coming from and to be able to clearly articulate how the system benefits not only the user but the business as a whole. This points to the most effective end-user trainers being recruited from within the business rather than external service providers.” Geoffrey James of recommends using managers as trainers. In a blog post on successful CRM implementation, he explains:  “When sales managers are responsible for training the reps, it not only guarantees that the managers learn the system, but it also makes the managers into the sales team’s first line of support. A ‘train the trainers’ approach thus helps everyone work to more closely to ensure that the system becomes integral to the sales effort.”
  • Training users on the product and not the business process. Everybody should be given not only an overview of the system, but also why it is being used and what the impact will be on process flow between users. “Most CRM users are keen to understand how to get their job done and how the CRM system can help them achieve that. They really aren’t interested in all the features and functions,” says John Cheney, founder and CEO of Walton agrees: “End-user training often focuses on functionality not process. People need to know how they are going to perform their job using the new system - anything else is just noise.”
  • Delivering ‘vanilla’ training on a bespoke solution. “One of the most frequent mistakes made by growing and larger organisations is training users on a ‘vanilla system’,” says Karen Ainley, category manager at Sage UK. “If a business trains on an ‘out of the box’ CRM solution that has not yet been tailored to their specific business requirements and processes, the system is likely to look and act completely differently when ‘go live’ comes round, which can render much of the early training redundant.” Boardman believes the problem can be particularly acute if the training is delivered by the vendor. “If the business gets the vendor who is supplying the software to do the training, probably the main issue you get is that the vendor will deliver fairly vanilla training that reflects the out-of-the-box product. Vendors aren’t terribly good at doing training in context of somebody’s specific customisations or specific business processes. So that tends to be what falls down there.”
  • Applying the wrong delivery model for the training. “Choosing the wrong delivery mode for training is another common mistake that organisations make,” says Eric Stahl, VP of product marketing at “Many organisations opt for virtual training to save money but organisations should consider carefully the most effective delivery mode for their workforce, as ineffective training will be costly in the long run.”
  • Assuming that training is only required as a one-off to deliver expertise. In the cases where there has been training at installation phase and none since, the risk is that employees can become complacent and this is especially true if the initial training was basic and specific to certain job functions. In both cases the knowledge that develops is inevitably that which users of the system have picked up themselves. However, with personnel changes, such knowledge is often not shared. This invariably leads to the risk of mistakes and not using the CRM system to its fullest potential. Training should not be a tick-in-the-box at the start when the CRM system is installed – it should be continual to ensure the system is delivering the ROI the business needs and expects.

Resistance from the sales team

But training is not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to user adoption.

“Organisations generally underestimate what’s involved in achieving comprehensive user adoption and often put too much faith in the value of classroom training,” notes Boardman. “Classroom training has its place but adoption demands a host of proactive measures such as targeted training and interventions for reticent or struggling users. It’s not uncommon for user adoption programmes to take many months of sustained efforts before the new habits and practices become ingrained.”

Indeed, even an ongoing training programme can prove ineffective if sales reps simply don’t buy into CRM in the first place

This requires getting to the root of the problem - just why do so many salespeople take such a disliking to CRM?

Sean McPheat, MD of MTD Sales Training, believes that the challenge that organisations face is the very nature of the best itself – sales people love interacting with people, not with CRM programmes.

“Many sales people would rather make an additional 10 calls per day or go out on another two prospect visits than update their records, especially as a lot of their commission is riding on the results that they achieve,” he explains. “Having said that, what the same sales people do not realise is that many of them miss out on following up with prospects, they forget crucial information and then using the data ongoing for marketing and farming purposes is a lot harder with incomplete or worse still, no records.

“’I’m getting bogged down with paperwork and admin when I should be out selling’ is a common complaint I hear all the time from sales people. Whether it’s the forms they need to complete or the entries onto a computer to fulfil a new piece of business or whether it’s entering updates into a CRM system, the salesperson at times does not seem to see past their commission cheque and the activity required to bump their salary up to the levels that they need.”

Often, sales people don’t like using CRM because they don’t see how using the system benefits them personally. All too often, CRM systems are viewed by salespeople as “a tool for managers to keep a close eye on their work” rather than a tool that enables them to be more successful.

So with this in mind, how can you get your sales reps to buy into CRM whole-heartedly?

  • Put CRM in context. “Communicate with your sales people as to why CRM is important to the company as a whole and to them as individuals,” advises McPheat. “Many salespeople just see CRM as a way to keep to score and something that marketing use to send out mailings. With proper objectives and a clear vision for the CRM system your sales team can increase their buy in from the word go. You need to sell the CRM system to the sales people! That does not include just a cascade. Telling is not selling! Instead you need to cover the business benefits and also the all-important question that each sales person will want answering ‘What’s in it for me?’”
  • Explain how it benefits them. “At the end of the day, selling to sales is similar to selling to other people: they want to see the benefit,” explains Katie Hollar, marketing manager at Capterra. “Allow your users to discover benefits on their own, but also make sure they know that proper use of the system will save them time searching for contact information; allow them to set reminders for follow-up calls or appointments; track selling patterns to determine the most effective methods; give them social media info on prospects and their companies; perform automatic forecasting to eliminate end-of-the-month crunch time for reporting; and streamline lead qualification criteria from marketing and present it in a meaningful way.”
  • Demonstrate the ROI. “Communicate any ‘wins' that you have with the system,” recommends McPheat. “Any deals that were won due to its deployment, any potential problems that were avoided or any data that you are now able to analyse and hence have made some process improvements off the back of it. All of these add fuel to the fire and make using the CRM a way of life and a ‘need to do’ rather than a ‘have to do’.”
  • Listen to feedback from your sales team. “Most businesses are highly dependent on their sales team for the capturing of key data needed to fulfil orders and to invoice, and hence salespeople are the key to successfully implementing a CRM system,” explains Cheney. “Listening to their needs and complaints then acting on their feedback is a sure way to encourage the adoption of a CRM system. You may find it helpful to liaise with your CRM provider, as they will be able to help you identify ways to make the software easier to adopt. It’s also worth ‘championing’ those salespeople who do adopt the system and offering them incentives.”
  • Incentivise usage. “Using rewards to incentivise your workforce is a great way to ramp up involvement,” says Hollar. “It’s important to keep the goals team-oriented rather than individually-centered to promote cooperation and sharing of lessons learned among system users. You might try to celebrate milestones and reward diligent usage – try setting a weekly, per-person goal for actions like updating lead status, converting leads to opportunities, or generating new leads.”
  • Ensure the management set an example. “Your sales directors and managers will play a major role in how CRM is adopted throughout your organisation,” emphasises McPheat. “Will it be seen as a ‘divide and rule’ system used for sales person bashing, checking up all the time and for nit picking? Or will the system be used as something that really adds value to the sales process and one that enables the sales managers and sales directors to mentor and coach their sales people to a greater level of performance?”

Winning hearts and minds

All of this may seem to be extraordinary lengths simply to get staff to use a software programme, but having invested a large amount in a CRM system, it is vitally important that the hearts and minds of your sales team are fully committed to the cause.

Boardman explains: “Running these systems well is a costly business. You do have to invest in ongoing training and all sorts of other support for the system. But if you can get these things working well they can make an enormous difference to a company’s financial fortunes.”

He concludes: “To me there are two approaches. One is that you don’t do CRM terribly well but don’t spend much money in the process – put a tool out there, it’s available for users that want it, it’s kind of ad hoc and you don’t invest a lot in it. The other is that you decide you really want to differentiate your organisation through the use of CRM and you invest significantly. If you can do that and do it properly, it can be a huge differentiator and hugely financially beneficial.

“The place you don’t want to be is in the middle of these two scenarios where you spend a lot of money, but still don’t achieve the objectives. And unfortunately a lot of organisations fall into that zone.”

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