One of the knottiest problems in implementing a Sales Force Automation software system in any size company is getting enthusiastic acceptance from the salesforce. Quite simply, without active buy-in from the sales people who will use and manage the CRM or SFA system, it will almost certainly fail.
This is a tough problem because the very nature of SFA systems and Customer Relationship Management software in general is so often based on change — and change management.
At bottom, CRM strategies and SFA software implementations involve re-engineering the business processes that touch customers. That usually means a lot of change in the way things are done and that change produces anything from skepticism to outright resistance at multiple levels.
Fortunately, getting user buy-in is a known challenge. Over three decades of SFA implementations of all sizes have delivered a series of change management techniques to generate the much needed buy-in.
All of these techniques depend on having active, involved and visible executive sponsorship. It's an irrefutable fact that if the highest levels of management are not supporting your SFA or CRM selection and implementation project your chances of success are not good. Management has to buy before users will do the same.
Beyond this all-important sponsorship, there are other management techniques that can be woven into the sales automation implementation process to ensure a successful result.
5 Steps for SFA Implementation Success
Listen To Your Stakeholders
All stakeholders, including management and the salesforce, as well as marketing staff and call center customer support representatives (CSRs), among others, should be engaged and solicited for input and feedback throughout the project.
That input needs to start at the beginning stages of the SFA software selection project, and certainly well before you choose an SFA or CRM system. You need the input of all vested participants to help identify and prioritize your company’s goals and requirements.
Among the tools you can use are questionnaires, manager interviews and requirements gathering workshops. Try to identify the parts of the current processes that are sub-optimal or perhaps not there at all. Identify the pain points in your sales process and customer management system and then dig in to the root cause analysis to surface alternatives.
It is the combination of business process improvement and software automation that will ultimately provide your best offense in securing user adoption.
Active listening requires more than simply asking people’s opinions during the CRM software selection project. Many companies establish groups of users who meet periodically to work with the selection committee or implementation team. These groups not only provide continual feedback, they become champions for the project with their co-workers.
Stakeholders, especially those at the customer interface levels such as CSRs and sales people, should get early and frequent chances to comment on reengineered processes and later to try out the system in the prototype stage. However in trying out the prototypes you need to make it clear that what they're looking at is a prototype and that there is plenty of opportunity for change and tuning before the system goes live.
Meet The Stakeholders’ Needs
Sales people can be difficult to please and if the system doesn’t deliver for these stakeholders it will probably fail. In other words, there has to be substance behind the hype and the new system must deliver tangible, measurable value for each constituency.
Training in the new enterprise software system is critically important to meeting the stakeholders needs. Everyone who is going to be using the system, from management to the salesforce, to sales administrative staff, needs to be thoroughly trained in the new system. This normally takes multiple training events. If you skimp on the training, the users will not be able to make best use of the system and the chances of software failure go way up.
Similarly, make sure plenty of help is available to aid everyone as they transition to the new system. This should include cheat sheets, how-to guides and the on-demand availability of help desk staff to make it as easy as possible for everyone to learn and quickly become proficient in the new SFA or CRM system.
Sell It Internally
Even the best sales force automation system in the world doesn’t sell itself, especially if it means changing the way people do things. As in any kind of sales job, focus on the benefits to the "customer" and recognize that different groups of stakeholders are going to realize different benefits.
The salesforce, for example, is going to be interested in the features that will help them sell more successfully and lighten their administrative load. But one caveat. Some sales staff are likely to view the increased transparency as a management attempt to micro-manage their efforts. Clear goals and messaging are needed to focus on what's most important and prevent cultural resistance.
Top management is going to be more interested in getting a clear, comprehensive view of what is going on at customers and in having visibility to an accurate sales forecast. But their goals can only be achieved if the users enter accurate and complete data to the system.
Evangelizing the benefits and mitigating the risks must start early and continue throughout the project.
As the project moves forward you have the opportunity to stage successes. Make sure you achieve some early wins and then make sure everyone in the organization knows about them. Celebrating successes, however small, builds momentum and breaks down user resistance.
One way to ensure early success is to start implementing your SFA system by prioritizing features or capabilities that will deliver outcomes important to users. Since most SFA or CRM implementations are phased it's usually easy to grasp the low hanging fruit and build progressive support throughout the deployment.
This can be anything from integrating email to CRM accounts, to intelligent lead distribution, to automated activity reporting, to software recommendations for up-sell and cross-sell. One of the keys here is to successfully identify pain points, even small ones, that can be resolved quickly.
Also consider a stepping stone strategy from account management to contact management to activity management to opportunity management. Once the basics are covered you may want to advance to competitive intelligence, sales quoting, mobile access, social media integration, marketing automation, partner relationship management (PRM) or any of a number of capabilities which tend to produce more excitement from the sales team.
One common source of SFA failure is a fall off in utilization after the implementation cut over. It's not uncommon for unsuccessful projects to go from a utilization of 75 percent or so (good but not great) down to 30 percent or less in the course of the first year.
Keep in mind that once the customer relationship management software is finally live, it's not done. Your users will almost certainly find things that don't work quite the way they want them to, or new features they would like to take advantage of. Like most enterprise software projects, SFA and CRM systems need refinement and evolution. Your implementation plan should make allowances for this and you should stand ready to make changes to meet the users needs along your journey.