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Sowing the Seeds of CRM Adoption

By Christopher J. Bucholtz CRM Buyer ECT News Network
Jul 20, 2012 5:00 AM PT

When people ask me what I write about, I say "CRM," but I could just as easily say I write about adoption. Adoption failure is the arch-enemy of CRM, the great CRM investment-waster, the adversary to those who want to organize, rationalize and economize their customer data and how it's handled.

Sowing the Seeds of CRM Adoption

We've known this for years, and yet as an industry we're still combating resistance to the use of CRM. There are about 15 million CRM licenses sold worldwide; how many of them are actually being used? That's a terrifying question and one probably best left unanswered -- unless you have licenses going unused in your business.

At some point, if you're in charge of your company's CRM program, you will probably be asked to explain why you're spending money on software that is not just unused but is actively disdained by the people who are supposed to use it.

Hopefully, you won't get to that point -- or if you do, the discussion serves as a catalyst to update and modernize your CRM application. We can talk until we're blue in the face about the users as the causes of CRM failure -- in fact, I've written in the past about ways to sell skeptical sales staffers on the value of CRM. But they're only part of the problem -- and if you as a manager make bad decisions early in the CRM selection process, even the most enthusiastic salesperson may join the ranks of the skeptical CRM non-users.

To avoid sowing the seeds of poor adoption, managers need to look at CRM through the eyes of the user. Here are a quartet of things to think about as you examine CRM applications during the decision process -- or, even later, as you look at ways to update your existing CRM system.

No. 1: The Interface

This is an obvious one: Does the interface make life easy for the user, or does it turn simple tasks into never-ending clickfests that alienate users?

At a conference last year, one attendee cornered me and asked why several of the large players in CRM had such awful interfaces. The answer was a perfectly human one: CRM applications were designed primarily by people who were good at building databases. They were not designed by salespeople, marketers or customer support agents; they were designed by people guessing at what those roles needed.

Over time, those basic interface designs have been layered with new features, and several vendors have articulated the view that workers should learn to "live within the interface" for more and more of their jobs. However, CRM is becoming a tool for an increasing variety of roles in the business. At a certain point, one-size-fits-all means one-size-fits-none.

Look for an application with a streamlined interface -- preferably one that users can adapt to reflect what's important for their role. They should be able to do this without IT's intervention. The more control users have over how information is displayed, the more likely it is that they will enter data as well -- and the more likely that they will grasp the value CRM has for their job.

No. 2: Who Was the Application Designed For?

The oft-stated goal of providing a 360-degree view of customers and complete visibility into the pipeline sounds great for managers. If you're a salesperson or a service agent, however, you're mostly concerned with the customer who's right in front of you at the moment.

Most CRM applications are designed for managers and emphasize reporting, dashboards and other management-oriented tools while missing out on extending their value down to the users. It makes sense -- the managers are the people who make the buying decisions. But, again, think like a user: Why should I invest effort in fueling a tool for my boss if I get nothing out of it?

Instead, look for CRM applications that are designed with the front-line user as the target audience, not the managers. This is where it makes sense to get some of those front-line users involved in the decision-making process; they'll be able to spot things -- good and bad -- that a manager may overlook.

The reporting tools are certainly important, but you need to realize that without widespread adoption, those reporting tools will only provide a partial view into what's going on in your business and a potentially misleading representation of your customers' behavior. Dashboards without data are pretty screens -- and pretty useless, too

No. 3: How Well Does It Integrate?

It's likely your customer-facing workers already use other applications: They may interface with the ERP system, a lead management application or marketing automation system already in place. If you're really into the technology, there may be a host of sales-related applications already at work for territory and compensation management, for example.

If your CRM application does not integrate seamlessly with these systems, it's the wrong application. When you ask your employees to become the bridge from these applications to CRM, you're just begging them to skip out on CRM usage. That leaves important data siloed -- even within departments -- and wastes the opportunity that data represents.

Some vendors are creating ecosystems of proprietary applications; they may work well together but leave customers at the vendor's mercy for pricing. Adopting them may require you to abandon applications you've already paid for and which are working as advertised.

A CRM application well attuned to integration allows you to use complementary applications that are best for your business circumstances -- and should circumstances change, you can make changes.

No. 4: Does It Work the Way Your Workers Work?

The forward-looking version of this question should be this: Does the CRM application allow your employees as good an experience on mobile devices and tablets as it does on their desktop or laptop?

Workers expect increasing functionality on their mobile devices; when it comes to CRM, if they're expected to use it, they're expecting it to be available on their mobile devices.

Mobile used to seem like a neat option to CRM vendors -- an add-on, a bonus feature, something they could generate revenue from by selling it as an extra. That isn't the way it is any more. I like the analogy of seat belts in cars: They were options you paid extra for until the late 1960s, when it occurred to people that it was no longer smart to drive without them.

Make sure your CRM application has a robust mobile capability -- because your users are coming to expect it, too. Also, apply Nos. 1-3 above to your mobile CRM solution. The deficiencies that derail CRM adoption in the office are the same ones that wreck adoption on mobile devices.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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