The User-First CRM Implementation Method

Most CRM software implementations state goals in software terms and not people terms. They apply design to software and not user experiences. They emphasize software ascetics over usability. They blindly add features and functions at the expense of simplicity and ease of use. Their project budgets favor investment for technology related tasks while skimping on change management and user training. They operate under the premise that if they build it, the users will come.

Unfortunately, 25 years of CRM software implementation history suggest otherwise. Prioritizing technology over people has clearly contributed to the staggering and often cited CRM failure rate. Fortunately, there's a better way. Johnny Grow pioneered the User First Method to CRM software deployments. This framework positions the user as the North Star and emphasizes objectives, efforts and outcomes in human terms.

Here are the 8 User First building blocks that collectively mitigate pervasive implementation challenges (i.e., user adoption) and advance some of the most talked about but seldom realized high impact outcomes (i.e., user productivity).


People Goals

Successful CRM implementations start with successful goals, and successful goals start with empathy for our users and customers. Experience guru Stephen Andersen uses the below pyramid to illustrate a continuum from task-based output to people-based outcomes.

CRM Goals Continuum

In order to cross the product to experience chasm, think of goals in terms of emotional or behavioral adjectives – such delightful, rewarding, memorable and a joy to use – that describe the desired user experience. Design Thinking is the best method to identify the highest impact user and customer goals, and to combine people-focused goals expressed as emotions with experience-driven design to deliver the ultimate user experience.


Staff Productivity

According to the McKinsey Global Institute report, sales people spend 19% of their time searching for information. On the flip side, SiriusDecisions reports that 60% to 70% of marketing's content goes unused because it's not found. The Docurated State of Sales Productivity Report shares that salespeople forfeit eight hours per week on non-productive activities such as CRM management and data entry. Interestingly, the problem and the solution are one in the same.

For staff to be better off, and for the CRM system to be sustainable, the application must be able to increase user productivity. This can be achieved from new mobile accessibility, improved process automation (see next point below), delivering information in context, using guided behaviors to suggest next best actions, facilitating team based collaboration with enterprise social networks, and leveraging knowledge management for content sharing and repurposing information. Productivity enhancements should start by identifying tasks and processes that drain productivity. Simply configuring more software options that don't really contribute to time savings will result in the opposite effect.

Looking at future trends can also provide opportunities for labor savings. Gartner forecasts that the customer will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human. Deploying customer self-service portals, online knowledge-bases and AI-driven chatbots will both empower customers to serve themselves on-demand and relieve staff of high volume, low value activities.


Business Process Design

On average, businesses change or update their business strategies every 20 months. However, they only change or update their business processes every four years. That creates misalignment, inefficient processes and user frustration.

Staff productivity is enabled with technology, but not achieved with technology alone. Business process automation ― born from business process design ― is often the #1 contributing factor to increased employee productivity.

Agile value stream mapping is a fast and extremely effective method to streamline business processes. Or, the Component Business Model is a good place for larger companies to start as it defines and designs end to end business processes that cross departments or lines of business. Regardless of method, once you have a holistic business process view you can prioritize and architect process optimization to reduce friction in processes, eliminate low value or non-value added steps, lower operating costs, achieve superior information reporting and improve outcomes.

Automation replaces manual activities, accelerates business process cycles and incurs fewer data-related errors. More importantly, increased automation allows staff to spend less time on entering and fixing data, and more time using that data to better serve customers (more intelligently) and to make more informed business decisions.

Business process design is often the single greatest contribution that will determine whether user adoption is enthusiastic, sluggish or challenged.


User Experience

Anybody can get CRM software to run. But failing to deliver user experiences that make the users' lives easier, more productive and more rewarding is like saying that the operation was successful but the patient died.

The user experience is different than the user interface. The latter is focused on aesthetics, while the former considers utility, effort, outcomes and satisfaction. Designing the user experience requires co-creation and a combination of process design and consumer technologies.

Co-creation with users requires designers to know how users work and how they can work better. In addition to workshops, tools that can help include user surveys, Voice of the Customer apps and simple A/B testing.

Consumer technologies make use of more white space, less clutter, mobile capabilities (touch screen, voice, swipe and gesture recognition), contextual commands, and dynamic information specific to the content at hand. They also enable collaboration among teams and communities, using collaboration tools such as enterprise social networks (i.e., Microsoft Teams or Salesforce Slack) that are linked to CRM entities such as accounts, contacts, opportunities, campaigns or cases.

When consumer technologies are correctly infused into business applications the apps become so intuitive they can be used without lengthy training and software manuals.

To achieve a rewarding user experience, you will probably need a UX designer to work closely with a business analyst. UX designers not only know how to blend consumer technologies with business process design, they recognize the inverse relationship between software features and the user experience. Too many implementers attempt to solve business problems by adding more and more software features and functions to the solution. More often than not, this actually makes the application more complex, difficult to use and less likely to deliver a rewarding experience. Think about the lessons from popular consumer technology tools. Social media sites like Facebook, commerce sites like Amazon and digital gadgets from Apple have clearly demonstrated that for a great user experience, less is more.


Business Intelligence

Sir Francis Bacon is generally credited for the phrase, "knowledge is power". I would actually suggest knowledge is not power unless it is acted upon. Business intelligence (BI) is the long heralded but seldom achieved capability to get the right information to the right decision maker at the right time. And for the record, decision makers are not found in just the C-suite. Too often, business intelligence is narrowly viewed as something for corporate leaders, somehow suggesting that remaining staff can operate just fine without intelligence.

Many industries are incurring accelerated change which is re-ordering the competitive landscape more frequently. The paradox of being data rich and information poor will accelerate this change.

Successful businesses will be defined by their ability to collect and curate the right data, use data to create differentiating customer experiences and apply analytics to make insights actionable at the point of decision. It's a complex undertaking which is why those who succeed will achieve competitive advantage over those who don't.

The right company culture and an information feedback loop are keys to being successful. Management must adopt a culture which discourages subjective, gut or intuitive decision making (aka institutionalized risk taking) and instead favor data driven, fact based and evidence supported decision making.

You also need a closed loop information reporting system that captures exceptions, operational deviations or poor performance measures, so that when something happens that shouldn't, that event, activity or transaction becomes visible in some form of analytics display and allows somebody to take action that changes that outcome in the future. This feedback loop isn't just recording things or acknowledging happy path work streams, but instead is highlighting exceptions, relating them back to their source and taking action to eliminate them.

Once you have the feedback loop, you can make information visible in role-based dashboards. Good dashboards prioritize actions, facilitate guided behaviors and aid time management. Really good dashboards appear almost psychic. For example, as a salesperson, don't show me 50 prospects that I could call today, instead show me the 5 that are most likely to buy. Technologies such as machine learning and AI algorithms can consider the prospect profile, opportunity data, alignment with company solutions, level of engagement, competitor solutions and other variables that have historically demonstrated influence in sales wins and losses and prioritize tasks or opportunities according to "best bets" and confidence levels.

I think Peter Drucker said it best, "Knowledge has become the key economic resource and the dominant–and perhaps even the only–source of competitive advantage."


Organizational Change Management

A new CRM system brings new processes, automation, information, roles, responsibilities and control. That's a lot of change, and the problem with change is that it causes anxiety for many users, and is often endorsed by the few imposing the change but is not so widely accepted by the majority receiving the change. To bridge this gap, a change management program can systemically shift individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a defined future state while mitigating productivity loss during the transition, creating an environment for sustained change and realizing the benefits of change more quickly.

Some of the more common change management events and artifacts to make this happen include a change readiness assessment, Communications Plan, business and technology impact analysis, learning and training tools, post go-live intermediation measures (such as a user adoption dashboard) and value realization measurements. These steps provide users a pathway from the current to the future and provide assurance to stakeholders that resistance to change will not delay or derail project objectives.


Staff Training

Most CRM implementations under-estimate the hours needed for training and deliver less than impressive training classes. Too often, training is delivered by trainers that know the software but do not really understand what is most important to the staff. This problem is exacerbated when trainers focus on software capabilities in a vacuum, as opposed to how software capabilities can enable the objectives and processes most important to users.

User training is a critical success factor in adoption and utilization. When users believe they become net beneficiaries of the application, that is, they can get more out of the CRM system than they put in, they will embrace the system. Training classes must demonstrate measurable benefits with plenty of supporting WIFFM (What's In It For Me) examples to clearly show how each role becomes a net beneficiary.

The training programs that we have found most successful are designed for the employee experience and change the objective from delivering training to measuring learning. I personally prefer the four stage progressive training model of See it, Know it, Try it and Do it. Regardless of method, a comprehensive training program should include a training strategy, training plan, curriculum of role-based of courses and training assets which may include:

  • Aids such as reference guides, cheat sheets, custom help, on screen prompts, videos and infographics
  • Events such as periodic conference call updates, town hall meetings, lunch and learns, webinars and recordings
  • Self-service training courses and knowledgebase support
  • Guided instruction or technology aids using products such as Walk Me, or guided user navigation tools such as online prompts and guides that deliver step by step process or task sequence to completion

In addition to the above points, five CRM training best practices that I recommend include:

  1. A user approved training curriculum designed to demonstrate staff processes enabled by software (as opposed to delivering instruction on software capabilities that are not aligned to the staff objectives)
  2. Bite sized training programs that make training more focused, faster to consume and easier to remember
  3. Live training supplemented with leave behind collaterals
  4. A user steering committee that reviews new software releases in order to gauge which new capabilities are relevant and deserve continued training, and
  5. A recurring training cadence aligned with new software releases

CRM Center of Excellence

Once staff begin using the application their requests for additional configuration, customization, automation and information reporting will increase. The more staff use the application the more changes they will want. And that's a good thing as it will improve user adoption, labor productivity and technology payback. However, most organizations don't have an unlimited CRM budget so a process is needed to apply limited investment to the areas that deliver the biggest business impact. A CRM Center of Excellence can manage this process and deliver other big benefits.

The Center of Excellence is a cross-representational team that brings collaboration, planning and discipline to the post-deployment CRM evolution. This group continually advances the CRM application in ways that increase system automation, software utilization, the user experience and ROI.

CRM Center of Excellence

The CRM Center of Excellence is generally designed in a three tier hierarchy.

  • The bottom tier is a representational peer group that acts as proxy to the wider user community. They provide a channel for users to be heard and are responsible for continuous process improvement related to the CRM software. To do that, they bring forward community feedback in the forms of ideas, process improvements, software customization requests, system integration requests or additions of complimentary third party software. They apply a CRM governance mindset to ask and understand why any request is valuable. They generally catalogue ideas and those with the highest value are submitted to the Change Control Review Board (CCRB). They may also be responsible for reviewing software upgrades and new version releases before those upgrades are released to production.
  • The CCRB evaluates requests for changes pursuant to guidelines and investment budget. This group ensures that proposed changes are vetted pursuant to a framework, are properly weighted and prioritized, support agreed upon standards and objectives, and maintain strategic alignment with the company's top (revenue and customer) priorities. Sometimes the CCRB may actually be a Project Management Office (PMO).
  • The Board provides overall governance. They ensure the CRM governance model is working and review the performance reporting which links investments to payback. They may establish the length of terms for members in each tier in order order to rotate new members on a periodic basis. Their primary interest is generally to make sure that the CRM software and program is evolving in concert with the company’s business strategies and in a way that continuously increases the user experience, user adoption and technology payback.

Another benefit of this model is that when users are given a voice and peer representation that influences how the CRM system evolves pursuant to their needs and objectives, system ownership transfers from 'management' or 'IT' to the user community.

An interesting data point to show the upside value of the Center of Excellence is that most companies are using less than 25% of their CRM application capabilities. A Center of Excellence will result in continuously increased utilization which will increase automation, information, user adoption and the company's ROI.

See the User-First #CRM implementation model, and how it improves user adoption, business outcomes and CRM implementations.

Click to Tweet

The Point is This

Employees are not just users, they're customers, and the goal of a new CRM system isn't to give them a different place to enter the same data, but instead to engineer better user, customer and business outcomes.

CRM software is not a solution, it's a tool that can be crafted into a solution. Different craftsmen use tools differently. Skilled artisans use tools to create works of art that are appreciated by their audience and stand the test of time. Lesser skilled artisans use the same tools, but the audience is unimpressed and the results are disappointing and fleeting.

Technology does not create a solution any more than paint and canvas create a Picasso. The CRM User First approach is a people-focused design method with supporting tools and processes that create a final solution that will impress its audience and deliver an application that will be appreciated and sustainable.