5 Steps to Maximize CRM Adoption


  • Users adopt CRM software when the benefits exceed the effort AND when the software directly contributes to their effectiveness, efficiency, and empowerment – in that order.
  • Slow or low user adoption is a top cited contributing factor to CRM software implementations that fail to achieve their objectives or just fail outright. Many executives see the signs of slow adoption, but naively believe the users will ultimately come around. In fact, experience shows the opposite is more likely.  The longer it takes to achieve acceptance, the more probable the application will fail to become sustainable.
  • Fortunately, there are five proven methods to gain wide scale and enthusiastic CRM user adoption.

Customer Relationship Management software grows customer relationships, drives some of the most important business outcomes and delivers an impressive ROI. In fact, on that last item, research shows CRM ROI is 211 percent, on average, but can jump to three times that figure based on user adoption. The research found that ROI moves in parallel with user adoption.

CRM ROI by User Adoption
CRM ROI by User Adoption | Source: CRM Benchmark Report

Source: CRM Benchmark Report

That last research finding is important because it demonstrates in clear terms that user adoption is a prerequisite to achieving financial benefits. Users must use the system for its intended purpose. Sounds simple enough, unless of course you have been in the trenches and come to learn that CRM adoption is a perennial challenge.

According to a CSO Insights report, less than 40 percent of companies have end-user adoption rates above 90%. Most companies fall below 60 percent.

Even more telling, a report by Really Simple Systems found that 83 percent of senior executives explained that their biggest CRM challenge was getting their staff to use the software. The company's survey also found that 72 percent of the respondents would trade away functionality in exchange for better ease of use.

But before you start trading away anything, instead consider the following five steps to maximize adoption.


Align the software to achieve what's important to users

Employees adopt CRM software when the pain of same is greater than the pain of change. The application must also deliver benefits that exceed the effort. That means users must get more value out of software than the effort to enter data into it.

Put a slightly different way, staff adopt CRM software when the application delivers what's most important to them, what we often call their performance, productivity and personal goals, or what we sometimes call their WIFFMs (what's in it for me.)

Staff goals are usually role-based. Salespeople want technology that saves them time and helps them beat quota. Marketers want software that automates campaigns or digital engagement and increases conversions. Customer service agents want automation to resolve customer cases easily and deliver a positive customer experience.

It's important to identify precisely what's most important to staff (usually by role) and design the software to accomplish those goals.

Remember, users will endorse the application if it saves them time and aids their objectives. Otherwise, they will perform the bare minimum in the system which will lead to a slow but certain death of the application.


Design CRM for the user experience

A well-designed CRM system streamlines data entry, displays information in context, makes navigation intuitive, delivers a rewarding user experience and can be used with little or no training.

Most novice implementors deliver packaged software with information overload. Pages are full of densely placed fields, many of which are rarely if ever used.

For example, do most salespeople, marketers or agents need a 360-degree customer view. No, they don't. They need something closer to a 30-degree customer view, with just the content relevant to any given task, and easy accessibility to more content when it's occasionally needed.

A good UX starts with a minimalist view. It avoids software bloat and blindly adding features and functions at the expense of simplicity and ease of use. Expert designers know expansive and unwarranted features and functions are the enemy of simplicity. When it comes to designing the user interface for simplicity, less is more.

A CRM user interface is like a joke. If you need to explain it, it doesn't work.

Novice implementors also tend to apply design to software screens and not user experiences. That's another big mistake.

A good UX is less about software aesthetics and more about satisfying the user objectives of focus, simplicity and productivity.

CRM User Experience

Proactive planning helps a lot. If your evaluating software, consider the typical assessment factors such as capabilities, integration, support and cost, but don't forget to make the UX a meaningful evaluation criteria. Staff will generally advise that the UX is the single most important factor for them. Don't ignore their input. The UX is a strong factor because it makes users WANT to use the application.

For more information on this topic, see our related article, how to design the CRM user experience.


Simplify, streamline and automate business processes

Business process redesign is another opportunity to improve users' lives, gain widespread technology adoption and drive some big cost savings. Multiple studies show CRM automation increases staff productivity by 15 to 34 percent and those cost savings flow to the bottom-line.

Without process redesign, the new system becomes the old system with a different user interface. Lifting and shifting suboptimal processes will deliver suboptimal results.

Staff productivity is enabled with technology, but not achieved with technology alone. Business process automation ― which is the result of process design ― is the #1 contributing factor to increased employee productivity. Increased automation allows staff to spend less time entering and fixing data, and more time using that data to better serve customers and make more informed business decisions.

Agile Value Stream mapping is an ideal tool for process design. It doesn't just improve your existing business processes; it measures the value of what you do to eliminate non-valued added steps and activities and redefines business processes to be directly mapped to user and business outcomes.

Agile Value Stream Mapping
Agile Value Stream Mapping

For customer facing processes, it also assigns customer value to each step and eliminates processes that don't contribute to an outcome. That's important because if your processes don't create value that customers care about or are willing to pay for, it doesn't matter how efficient, fast or cheap they are.

The combination of business process improvement and software automation will ultimately provide your best offense in securing user adoption.


Ensure success with organizational change management

A new CRM application brings new processes, automation, information, roles, responsibilities and control, and oftentimes an actual or perceived loss of control. That's a lot of change, and it creates anxiety for many users. That anxiety negatively impacts user adoption.

The change that comes with a new system is endorsed by the few imposing the change but not always so well accepted by the many receiving it. To bridge that gap, a change management program can systemically shift resistant staff from a current state to a defined future state while minimizing productivity loss during the transition, creating an environment for sustained change, and realizing the benefits of change more quickly.

Some of the change management events and artifacts that will lower resistance to change and increase user adoption include a change readiness assessment, communication plan, technology impact analysis, learning and development tools, post go-live intermediation measures and value realization

CRM Change Management
CRM Change Management

The above journey diagram illustrates how change management activities can be systemically rolled out to ensure resistance to change will not delay or derail project objectives.

A change management program can be the single greatest tool to determine whether CRM software user adoption is enthusiastic, sluggish or challenged.


Measure and intervene

The path to technology adoption is a measurable one. User adoption dashboards bring measurability to application use and the realization of benefits.

CRM User Adoption Dashboards

User generated data is available to measure results and guide the evolutionary process.

But recognize that resistance to change will be masked by users who login to the new application and exhibit motions without results. Therefore, a user adoption best practice is to measure utilization and productivity; not just access to the software. Instead of calculating adoption from logins or rote consumption, it is far more meaningful to assess adoption in terms of productivity, automation and outcomes.

You want to know if users are using the technology as prescribed, if they are achieving targeted goals in different ways, or if they are failing to accomplish intended objectives. These types of metrics can be automated with dashboards that link user roles with log files and audit trails.

You will inevitably find capabilities not being used or fragmented business process cycles not being linked together. These create opportunities for additional education, training, motivation or other intervention to achieve the realization of planned business benefits.

See the 5 proven methods to gain wide scale and enthusiastic CRM user adoption.

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