Thursday, December 20, 2007

On CRM and User Adoption

Triggered by a post on the usability of enterprise software, I ended up reading an article on CRM and user adoption. CRM spending is on the rise again in the US (us Europeans have been experiencing a CRM "mini" boom since mid 2006 already), but one of the main issues in succesful CRM technology implementations is getting users to work with the system, atleast according to AMR Research. One of the most interesting remarks made in the interview with Robert Bois is the following:

"The challenge in CRM is really specific to the sales and marketing applications. Much of the software on the market today helps automate process, but doesn’t necessarily provide incremental value back to the user. Sales people often complain that CRM or SFA is just an administrative burden, and does little more than prove to their boss that they are doing their job. So adoption wanes, and users go back to using familiar tools like spreadsheets, databases or even just Rolodexes." Robert Bois, AMR Research

Over the years I've been involved in service and sales related projects and have worked together with colleagues implementing marketing resource management or automation systems. I've found that service related employees adopt crm solutions far quicker than sales or marketing professionals, mostly because sales professionals do not recognize the added value of a CRM solution, or perhaps I should say because the added value of a CRM solution is not always communicated clearly to sales and marketing professionals. The aim of this post is not to provide a solution to this issue, that has dominated the CRM arena for quite some time, but to merely go into a number of possible causes.

Adoption by service representatives

A CRM application, providing a consitent view of the customer, is the key asset for a service representative. If a service representative would have to work with a combination of spreadsheets, access databases, dispersed information he would simply not be able to perform his work in an efficient, customer friendly way. In other words, a CRM, or service automation application, makes a service representatives life easier and customers happier, which in turn leads to automatic high levels of user adoption. A key driver in implementing a service related CRM application is enhancing a customers experience, by making the job of the service rep (call centre agent or field engineer) easier.

Adoption by sales representatives

Perhaps I should start of with a definition of what a sales rep is, for the purpose of this post a sales rep is the hard working man or woman, travelling around the country or his district to perform face to face sales activities and not the student with a side job in a call centre selling a cheap product, or a long distance phone subscription. What motivates the typical sales representative? His sales based bonus! In my personal experience adoption of sales force automation application is the lowest among simple, one man, account management driven, sales environments. The reason for this is simple, his bonus will not increase by spending time on recording information on a sales visit or recording customer attributes needed for segmentation purposes. Only when a need arises to share information among a team of account managers, jointly pitching to close a deal, does the sales rep start entering and sharing information, after all, if he doesn't share, he might not help win the deal and therefore loose out on his bonus. A typical SFA implementation focuses on asking sales reps to enter information that can be used by the (sometimes hated) 'HQ' to improve segmentation and ensure sales reps focus on selling to the right customers. I believe the key to getting user adoption is to ensure a sales specific CRM system also provides direct benefits to a sales rep that allow him to close a deal (and thereby increas his bonus) quicker. Don't implement an SFA solution just to get more information on your customers for better segmentation so that you can in the end replace your field sales reps with a call centre (which could be your end goal off course), which will require you to beat your sales reps with a stick to get them to work with the system. Implement order or product configuration possibilities as well, provide your representatives with the means to quickly calculate prices and generate offers for customers and sell, sell, sell! This will make the job of the sales rep easier, increase his bonus, and will motivate him to enter the information the rest of the company needs to better target customers and develop new product or service propositions.


esandstrand said...

Hi Wouter,

I read your article with great interest, as it is near and dear to my professional heart.

Technology, and in this case CRM solutions, can provide a slew of features and functions to sales people that supposedly will help them, as you said, close sales and get bonuses quicker. Among these, features such as mobile access, analyses and reports, price books online, templates, etc, etc, I find a common missing theme.

Sales professionals are a dualistic breed, a mix of the temperamental artist and the persistent bulldog. The best sales people will always tell you that successful sales is a combination of the Science and Art. If Science is technology, methodology and the discipline a sales person must employ, then Art becomes the intangibles of such as intuition, trustworthiness, reputation and relationships.

I believe, that a CRM system that only focuses on the Science of sales, will soon not only bore our sales guy to death, but he will likely actively reject it as a time waster that doesn't deliver true value to him.

CRM solutions feel constraining to sales. Like you said, the hated 'HQ' doesn't have their personal motivation in mind (the bonus) when they implement CRM and the associated rules and procedures.

The missing piece is that CRM fails to provide value and especially on the side of things where the sales artist needs them - how to understand and strengthen relationships, how to act on intuition, how to build trust and reputation with customers and prospects through networks and connections.

I'd be interested in reading more about what kinds of benefits you thing a CRM solution can and should provide to sales users. If there's any user group that needs and deserves value from CRM (so they can be productive users and contribute value to CRM), it's our sales force.



SalesCentric Relationship Charts
See. Move. Win

Ken Knickerbocker said...

Wonderful post and great comment by Eivind.

I suspect the question of adoption would be moot if more CRM companies looked at the world from the salesperson’s point of view as you suggest and found a way to deliver instant, immediate and continues value to the salesperson.

I’m surprised how many times I hear of consultants suggesting using the "stick" as if it was possible to beat sales people into submission.

I wonder why more CRM companies don't simply make their application more compelling? What do I mean by compelling?

Your post hit the nail right on the head; CRM tools are boring to the max. They do nothing for a sales person that he can't do himself in Outlook. Packaging them with a configurator or price book is a good start but there's something more basic than that.

What drives sales people? Making more money, closing more deals, adding value to his client interactions, while looking good is what motivates most sales people. (Did I mention making more money?) And doing all this in less time so he can get an extra round of golf in or cut out early Friday afternoon!

So why don't CRM vendors start there when designing a CRM. Focus on delivering greater value to the salesperson by giving their users the tools needed to look better, be more persuasive, and integrate more substance into his proposals and presentations. They should focus on helping him close more deals!

I know of a division of a Fortune 100 company running $4B+ in annual sales through such a system with 100% adoption rate. Since adopting the system in 2005 the number of deals and gross margin per deal have gone up 15% and 30% respectively, while the number of sales people and support staff has gone down by similar percentage.

Why the success? Because their system is designed around making the sales person look good by delivering content rich, highly personalized brochures, presentations, emails and proposals . The system core premise is "service the sales person, help him do his job better by helping him be more persuasive, and everything else falls into place."

Aside from the sale people the company's marketing legal and channel partners all use the system as well. In short over 1000 people use the system on a regular if not daily basis.

One of the best kept secrets in the CRM world if you ask me.

esandstrand said...

Hi again Ken,

I loved your comments - seems we think alike.

From personal experience with SFA tools, I have seen disasters big and small that helped sales people become less efficient, less empowered, and naturally less profitable. Needless to say, those sales people - good and bad- soon began looking for ways to circumvent the system or to look for a job elsewhere.

I agree that sales people like to "look good", perhaps that's one of the better ways of capturing what motivates a sales professional. They like to look good to their customers, to their bosses, and in their business community - reputation, sales results, credibility, etc are all key factors here.

So, here's the conundrum: Since CRM systems clearly weren't designed with Sales as the primary guide - how do you get these solutions to be invaluable to sales people after the fact.

I agree, personalized brochures, presentations, emails and proposals are very important - as they are often the biggest time thieves of a sales day. However, good solutions need to automatically based on simple and quick profiling questions that can be remembered from one 'session' to the next. (It's no good having proposal templates where the only thing you end up keeping after hours of editing is the company logo...)

Speaking of Fridays... Why is it that sales managers insist on doing forecast reviews on Fridays when our sales people want to hit the links? A good CRM solution should again be able to automate much of this so that valuable time is not spent assembling reports and numbers, when it could be spent perfecting a swing.

We all agree that a well-populated and well-utilized CRM solution is for the good of the collective, but why is it so difficult to keep it up to date? Sales people are correctly enough the ones who are best positioned to enter or update customer information, but it needs to be done quickly and when it's relevant. If what you're missing is evident when you're working on it, it's a lot easier to spend the 30 seconds it takes to add a phone number or an email address or a hobby or a relationship.

Finally, since our valued sales people like to spend their time on the golf course, internet-based and mobile access is critical. Reliable two-way synchronization between the different 'access points' and the motherlode database should be fast and furious.

What else can help a sales person achieve their success..?

As I mentioned before, I truly believe that we have to appeal to and support the creative, non-linear and procedural, disciplined sides of sales.

* Automation that saves time and doesn't hamper creativity is a good thing.

* Reporting tools and dashboards are fine and dandy, but not if you still have to sit there with the recipient and explain the details

* Multi-point access is excellent, but it does little good if you can't get to the updated data or update data and send back.

I like this thread, and I'll be back with more thoughts later, but I would also love to hear your ideas for value-enhanced CRM for Sales.



SalesCentric Relationship Charts
See. Move. Win