CRM Training Best Practices

Most CRM software training consists of all-day, instructor led courses covering wide swaths of application capabilities. More often than not, participants get bored, become diverted, check their email, and then check anything else on their mobile device that is in any way more interesting than the course content. Software training research shows that attendees generally recall less than 15% of the content beyond 48 hours. Fortunately, there are proven best practices to improve CRM software training results.

  1. The first pre-requisite to successful training is setting aside a realistic budget. CIO magazine did a study and found that a good training program should account for 10 to 13 percent of the project spend. From my experience of having done this for more than two decades, very few projects invest anywhere near this figure, and suffer the results. Successful training is highly correlated to CRM software adoption, software utilization and technology payback. Plan accordingly.
  2. A CRM software system built on usability is the second and most influential pre-requisite to successful user training. CRM software that is designed for simplicity, intuitive navigation and purpose-built user experiences can be adopted without lengthy training. CRM systems that leverage consumer technologies achieve lower learning curves, increased user adoption, faster time to value and greater software utilization. The point here is that designing usability during the implementation will pay big dividends during the training.
  3. One size does not fit all when it comes to training, so offer users training choices. Some staff will respond best to classroom training, while others will better engage with self-paced manuals, computer based training or mobile-enabled videos. Having more options will better connect with more staff.
  4. Training instructors should advise why the company is adopting a new system. The goal isn't to give users a different place to enter customer data, but instead to engineer better business outcomes using new technology. Those business outcomes may include fewer manual processes, more process automation, better customer experiences, faster time to market, improved information reporting, support for more agile business strategies or building a culture of continuous process improvement. Staff are likely be more committed to the training program if they understand the strategic importance of the new system.
  5. Short, bite-sized training works best. Less is more when it comes to training and retention. Training research suggests that adults can concentrate for about 15 to 25 minutes before getting distracted. That figure can be increased somewhat with an engaging instructor, role-based content and personalized stories. However, classroom instruction beyond 60 minutes produces diminishing returns. You can still schedule training by the day, but break up the schedule so that training sessions are short, and progressively build upon each other. It can also be helpful to schedule a half-day of courses, followed by a homework like assignment of hands-on exercises for the remainder of the day. Retention climbs sharply with shorter training bursts and when instruction is immediately followed by attendees applying what they've learned. One caution though, with shorter intervals it’s critical that training attendees be fully present and uninterrupted.
  6. Adopt just in time (JIT) training. Don't implement training programs for things staff may use 6 or 9 months down the road. Instead, create composable training programs that can be adopted when needed. Even better, on-demand training delivered on mobile devices facilitates anytime/anywhere consumption.
  7. Invest is a sound training curriculum supported with role-based presentations, supporting collaterals and hand-out materials. It's generally a mistake to use the software vendor's generic training materials. Instead use a tailored curriculum that identifies course pre-requisites; focuses on your users, roles, use cases and expected outcomes; and injects real user and company stories that staff personally relate.
  8. Training should flow according to role-based business processes, not software screens. Users learn best when training is presented as part of their daily work stream context. Minimize the software bells and whistles and instead emphasize end to end business process efficiencies and effectiveness – and how staff can do their jobs easier and better. Don't be too concerned about step to step sequencing. CRM systems are quite flexible, normally permit multiple navigation options and users are sure to find their own preferences.
  9. Keep it simple. Stay focused on the primary and core responsibilities and don't try to make your staff technology experts - it won't work. Empower your staff with the CRM automation, information and knowledge to become better at their roles, not technology gurus.
  10. Spend most of your training time in the application. Novice trainers have a tendency to spend too much time in PowerPoint. Also, application training doesn't mean giving a demonstration. It's okay to start by demonstrating the system, but that has to be followed with staff operating the application. There's no substitute for users typing on the keyboards.
  11. Use real data, and avoid using demo data. Real data better supports training programs that focus on relevance, real user scenarios and expected benefits. It will make the application seem more familiar and improve the training experience.
  12. Develop training as part of UAT. User acceptance testing is not just confirming the software works, but that it works for the company and users. A UAT approach can identify training shortfalls and remedy them as part of a defined process.
  13. Timing is everything. Experience reveals that user retention is one of the most challenging obstacles. It may therefore be advisable to schedule user training shortly before the go-live event.
  14. Make training part of the change management program. Training is one of the most effective tools in getting reluctant staff off the fence and into the software. When training is combined with other change management artifacts, such as the user and business impact analysis, staff start to understand the go-forward plan and how they fit into the bigger picture.
  15. Prepare your live support options such as a help desk, designated SMEs (subject matter experts) or floor walkers with Trainer training. Also make available multiple methods of user support, such as printed materials, FAQs, role aides, reference sources, Queue Cards, a knowledge base and online documentation.
  16. Training is a process, not an event. Avoid the one-time, drive-by training event in favor of continued periodic training. Progressive training sessions at the end of each sprint are ideal for agile projects. CRM staff typically use less than a quarter of the application's potential. Continued training after the go-live event will increase user adoption and software utilization. Design a recurring training cadence aligned with new software releases.