The Six Challenges Involved In Fostering The Adoption Of CRM Systems

The majority of new product launches fail – they simply do not attract enough customers to be commercially viable. Similarly, my experience suggests that the major of CRM systems fail – the people who are expected to use these systems do not do so at the level of scale necessary to generate business benefits.  Therefore, one of the most critical challenges in realising value from a new CRM system is that of cultivating-fostering trail and adoption.  Such that use of the CRM system becomes a way of life.

One of the most meaningful ways that I have found to think of CRM systems is to think of them as tools.  What shows up, as clues to fostering adoption, if we choose to view a new CRM system as a tool?  I cannot tell you what to do as failure is common and success is rare in CRM.  So allow me to point out the land-mines that blow up CRM dreams. 

1. Awareness-Interest

If I am not aware that a tool exists, what jobs it does, and the promised benefits then it is guaranteed that I will not be try out the tool.  Which explains the importance of advertising: generating awareness-interest and encouraging trial.

In my experience, most managers, most organisations, do not give adequate consideration to the challenge that lies in this area. Too many think a dull email or Powerpoint presentation is all that is necessary to facilitate the trial and adoption of a CRM system. Behind this complacency-arrogance lies the ‘master-slave’ stance towards employees. We are the masters, the employees are slaves, and they will use the CRM system because we tell them to and because of the threat of the whip for disobedience.

2. Accessibility/Availableness

Imagine turning up to store and finding that the store is out of stock for the tool that you are after. Or imagine that you can see the tool in your workshop : it is locked away and you do not have the keys.  The lack of access, of availability, is a big issue for frontline people who are often out of the office.  This is the key reason that I stay away from SaaS offerings when I am travelling and have important work to get done. Instead I rely on desktop applications (which do not need to be connected to the cloud) and pen/paper.

Accessibility/Availability continues to be significant issue for CRM systems when it comes to the folks out in the field talking with customers.

3. Usability

If a tool is to be used then it must show up as being usable. What does that mean?  It means that I must be able to pick it up and use it without having to read a 30 page document which shows up as gibberish.  It means that the tool must not be too heavy or too light.  It must not be too high or too low. It must not be too long or too short. It must not be too bright nor too dark. It must not be too fast nor too slow.  It must show up as just right rather like the iPad does – even for the two/three year olds.

Just about every CRM system I have come across fails the usability test: CRM systems do not show up as being easy to use.  It occurs to me that CRM systems are firmly rooted in the early days of mobile phones whereas the people who are expected to use them are living in the iPad era. I cannot help but feel the busyness-clutteredness-ugliness of user interface in CRM systems. How much commerce would take place if this quality of user interface was exposed to customers?

4. Usefulness

For a tool to be used it has to be more than accessible and usable. It has to be useful. Which is to say it must either make my life simpler – make it easier/quicker to do an existing job. And/or open up new possibilities, enabling me to do that which I was not able to do, and thus making my life richer.

Many CRM systems do not show up as useful to those who are expected to use them: the sales people, the call centre people, and the marketing people. In theory, the CRM system should be the ‘one stop shop’ for all things customer. The reality is very different: sales folks, marketing folks, customer service folks have to use a multiplicity of systems to get the jobs that need to be done, done. Often, the new CRM system becomes one more system in a bundle of systems: complicating life rather than making it easier/simpler; increasing inefficiency through double keying, having to log into multiple systems etc rather than increasing productivity.

5. Power

Tools change the balance of power. The introduction of the iPod and iTunes changed the balance of power between Apple and the music labels.  The introduction of the iPhone changed the balance of power between Apple, the handset manufacturers, and the mobile networks.  The introduction-adoption of the iPad changed the balance of power between Apple and PC makers.  You get the idea.

CRM systems change the balance of power: they increase the power of those in management positions and decrease the power of those who have to feed the CRM beast: those interacting with customers.

CRM systems are resisted, in a multiplicity of ways, by those who find themselves managed (Bottoms).  Many of the managed often feel vulnerable, to some extent naked, as a result of CRM systems.  They are left feeling that the already small space of freedom, of autonomy, of power is being taken away by management.  Often it is.

6. Ecology

Everything that exists, exists in relationship.  What does this have to do with CRM systems? Put simply, ecology matters!

Of what use is a locomotive without the right train track?  Of what use are railways without trains? Of what use are trains and railways without train stations?  Of what use are trains, railways and train stations without skilled personnel to drive-maintain-operate the railway network?  Of what use is the railway network without passengers willing to travel by rail?  Hopefully you get the critical importance of the interlocking of the ‘parts’ to co-create the ‘whole’: the system.

Many CRM systems fail to be adopted because they simply do not fit into the existing way of ‘doing things around here’. And the willingness to shift the ‘way we do things around here’ is absent. Please note that the ‘way we do things around here’ is more than process and culture.  It includes everything: the leadership style; the management style, organisational structure; the people who constitute the organisation; the relationships between groups of people; practices – what people do; processes; technology infrastructure; performance management framework ……

I once found myself telling a client “CRM is not about data and technology. Yes, it involves data and technology. No, its not a data and technology project. Yes, CRM involves business process. No, it is not about business process. CRM is about shifting the ‘way we do things around here.'”

Please note: all of these ‘pieces of the puzzle’ have to be addressed simply to get enough people in the organisation to use the CRM system. Whether the CRM system generates business benefits or not is a different question. Put differently adoption does not necessarily imply stronger customer relationships nor competitive advantage.

Why ‘sales gurus’ and CRM systems can’t increase your sales effectiveness

The other day I read another ‘sales guru’ offering his sales elixir and have written this post to debunk  these elixirs.

In the land of B2B selling there is real pain.  Whenever people are in pain they turn to the ‘gurus’ to give them answers.  And there are plenty of ‘gurus’ selling their particular elixir.  In the process companies have spent many millions on training, methodologies, negotiation skills and CRM systems.  Yet, the task of B2B selling has not become easier and the sales folks have not been raised to new heights of sales effectiveness.  Let’s take a deeper look at the issues and associated elixirs.

CRM systems make life harder for the folks at the sharp end

The theory and the rhetoric is that CRM systems make the people actually doing the selling more effective and efficient. The reality is almost the opposite: the sales folks spend time entering data into a system and get little value out of it.  The CRM system does not magically offer better customer insight (needs/wants), nor automatically select the right product/solution.  And it certainly has no influence on how well the sales folks interact with prospects: answering their questions, addressing their concerns, negotiating and closing the sale.  Most CRM systems end up diverting productive time into admin activities.  Allow me to elaborate a little.

The problem with most CRM systems is that it is quicker for me to get the details of my prospect from Outlook than the CRM system. And it is quicker for me to scribble down the details of any conversation on paper than it is easy to punch this into a CRM system.  What happens in practice?  I talk with a prospect and I scribble it down on paper – taking down notes in the course of the conversation.  Later I have to spend time entering these details into the CRM system.  What value does that add to me?

In theory CRM systems help in team based selling.  In practice, as a team member you cannot be sure that I have updated the system with the latest details and conversations.  It is highly likely I have not.    I will probably do it an hour or so before the weekly sales meeting to please the boss: the sales manager.  And if I have entered the details it is quite possible I have entered it against the wrong account; you’d be surprised how often the same account has been set-up but with different names!

Sales managers, not sales folks on the sharp end, have bought CRM systems.  Why?  Because they have promised and given the sales manager greater visibility and control over their sales folks.  This has come at a cost to the sales folks: time spent entering data and making things up to ‘please the boss’ or at least not get into trouble.  The CRM system has often became a master to be served and not a tool to help me sell.

Training – how much of it is useful?

No sales person should need ‘personal skills’ training.  If they do then you have recruited the wrong person and they will struggle because you are asking them to push a boulder uphill.

Every sales person has to understand the ‘product’ he is selling and I can totally get the value of practical, hands-on, immersive training that provides this understanding.

People that are new to selling can benefit greatly from sales skills training.  The issue that I have with most of the so-called ‘skills training’ is that it is ineffective.  Bombarding people with motivational stuff does not make them better sales people.  Bombarding them with lists of techniques does not make them better sales people – not by much.  The most effective way to build good sales people is to apprentice the new to the ‘masters’.  That way the ales stuff that really counts is absorbed – it becomes muscle memory.  Think about children they do not sit in a classroom learning the rules of grammar, the simply imbibe ‘best practice’ by experiencing it and practising it.

In theory negotiation skills training sounds great.  The reality is that the organisations that are busy sending their sales folks on this training have no negotiating power.  They are offering ‘me-too’ products/services and the guy on the other hand knows that.  Your negotiation strength rests on your ability and track record in walking away.  And that is the very thing that most sales folks will not do because any deal is better than no deal.  Why?  Because that is what the sales manager expects.

Processes and methodologies promise much and deliver little

Process fixation is great for a manufacturing where you are acting on matter which is always the same and which has no intelligence.  So repeating the same steps again and again – provided they are the right steps – gets you ‘zero defects’.  This is not the case when you are dealing with human beings who have ‘personalities’ and ‘intelligence’.  Each person is unique and the same can be said for ‘sales encounters’.  What counts is your ability to be flexible and adapt to this variety: one prospect might want you to get to the point whilst another may want to have more of a discussion and get to know you better before he buys from you.

Simple methodologies like SPIN selling tend be useful for people that are new to selling.  I found it useful back in my Andersen days when I moved from doing the consulting work to selling and leading the doing of consulting work.   My issue is with the more complex methodologies where you have to gather lots of intelligence, enter it into the CRM system and figure out what strategies you are going to use: are you going for full frontal assault or are you going to adopt a flanking strategy? What is forgotten is that in a competitive situation (RFP, pitch) your competitors are doing exactly the same.  So how do you figure out which strategies your competitors are going to use?

Let’s assume that you have no competition, it is just you and your prospect.  And let’s take a simple methodology SPIN selling.  SPIN tells you that you have to figure out the prospects Situation and his Problem/s.  Once you have that insight then you draw out the (negative, undesirable) implications of the prospect failing to take action.  And when you have your prospect there you can propose your solution.  Negotiation. Sale made!  Great theory but sucks in practice.  Why?

How do you get that insight?  The fact is that prospects are no longer open to talking with us sales folks.  Why should they?  They can find all the information they need and it is usually a few clicks on the mouse.  The sales gurus tell you that it is up to you to get this insight and then come up with a compelling proposal so that the prospect will see you.  But how do you do get the quality of insight you need to put such a compelling proposal together?  On that the sales gurus are silent or offer platitudes.   I put a proposal together and there is world of difference between version 1 and 2.  Why?  Because the person on the other side of the table opened up and told me all about his situation, pointed out the weaknesses of version 1 and described exactly what he is looking for in version 2.

My View

The key to sales effectiveness is insight.  Insight into the people you wish to do business with.  This insight has to be at two levels:  the person/s that you wish to sell to and their business situation.  What are they like people?  What do they want to achieve personally?  What is their business situation?  What are they seeking to achieve?  What are the problems/issues they are facing?

Process will not give this insight.  Methodologies will not give this insight.  CRM systems will not give this insight.  Sales training will not give this insight.

Only the person who you want to do business with or his inner circle can give you that insight.  So the key sales challenge is how do you get into that inner circle.   Many years ago Andersen arranged for one of the partners to live next to a CEO and frequent the same golf club.  It paid off.  In politics and in warfare extensive use is made of spies.  If you think of that creatively then it may offer some avenues like seminars, conferences, so called ‘independent’ research organisations…..

Sorry I cannot offer you a magic elixir. I am no sales guru just a student of life.