One Secret for CRM Success: Understanding the heart, mind, and soul of a sales person

“Anything that helps me sell more effectively, I will employ, but not at the expense of ineffectiveness” – Mike Muhney

Last week, I had the opportunity to have one of many conversations with industry pioneer Mike Muhney, co-founder of ACT! Software, and the sales person’s advocate in the conversation about CRM.

In our conversation, Mike makes a number of thought provoking statements that challenge the conventional thought process leading up to the beginning or advancement of a CRM initiative. Some of the topics you’ll hear include:

– Sales people are the “untethered element” of the organization

– Who does a sales person really work for? The customer or their company?

– CRM software is traditionally too complicated for sales people

– Technology isn’t always unencumbering

– Why sales people sabotage CRM deployments

– CRM needs to revert backwards to less functionality

– What to do when your top sales people refuse to use the system

Each of these topics could be a blog or podcast on their own. While I don’t necessarily agree with some of Mike’s opinions, he makes some great points and brings a convincing voice for those venturing into, or deeper into, the world of CRM systems.

While CRM failure can ultimately stem from a number of strategic, procedural, or organizational factors, end user adoption (and more specifically end user adoption by the sales team) is one of biggest hurdles to overcome.

Michael Krigsman’s ZDNet blog post “Three Big Reasons CRM Initiatives Fail” expand on this thought:

Paying insufficient attention to user needs and benefits.

Engaging users is critical to the success of any enterprise software deployment, but particularly so in the case of CRM, where users can sometimes sidestep the technology and still accomplish their job function.

A research note from AMR Research explains why this aspect of CRM is different from other enterprise software categories:

In applications such as ERP, supply chain, or financial management applications, the users have much less flexibility or choice in whether or not to adopt an enterprise application standard. And when was the last time you heard someone question why financials were implemented?

A quick search reveals that many observers believe poor user adoption is a key driver of failed CRM projects. In a SearchCRM interview, SugarCRM’s former CEO, John Roberts, links adoption to end-user perception of value (emphasis added):

“In a lot of cases, companies deploy CRM, and there’s a lot of euphoria over it for the first couple of months. Then, people stop using it. They look at it as ‘Big Brother’ watching them. CRM is sold as a tool to make an organization more effective and efficient; but the end user doesn’t see CRM as making them more efficient and effective.”

In my view, poor user adoption is not the direct cause of CRM project failure. Rather, it’s a symptom the organization has not anticipated obstacles that may interfere with users embracing the new system.

Adoption may lag for many reasons, including:

  • Software that is complicated or difficult to use
  • Sales people that don’t see adequate value in the new system
  • Poor communication of benefits to users

Get users to adopt a new CRM system by focusing on the WIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor. I asked independent analyst, Erin Kinikin, for her thoughts on engaging users:

“The sales person is quarterback for the customer team. Give the sales people good reasons to login and use the system. If the sales person feels the system saves time, makes money, or helps ‘keep score’, he or she will be much more likely to use the system — and enter customer data.”

One banker involved with CRM efforts told me:

Frontline users, particularly the most effective “top-producers,” will adopt the system only on the basis of real or perceived value.

Engage users early and often during the system planning and implementation phases, so they understand what’s in it for them. When users do not adopt a system as planned, seek their honest feedback on how to make it more usable, helpful, and valuable.

Have a listen. Share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from sales people, executives, consultants and CRM vendors.

Also, which of the bullets above would you be most interested in discussing or hearing about on future blogs and podcasts? Sound off!

7 Responses to One Secret for CRM Success: Understanding the heart, mind, and soul of a sales person

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for One Secret for CRM Success: Understanding the heart, mind, and soul of a sales person « CRM Strategies Blog [] on

  2. melachaman says:

    Interesting conversation. I think the key word may be untethered. The same issues of adoption and support apply to other parts of the organization. The difference is that salespeople are measured on results much more than accountants or service people. They are reluctant to reduce sales just to comply. The company accepts their refusal, because they want sales.
    However, the issue is the same. Make people’s job easier and they will support it. Make life difficult and there will be resistance.
    Salespeople have more fight in them.
    The problem with CRM is that it gets installed as “Big Brother”. No matter where this is done, the data is only as good as the input.

    • Marc,

      Thanks for stopping by, and I agree with your thoughts.

      “Make people’s job easier and they will support it. Make life difficult and there will be resistance.
      Salespeople have more fight in them.”

      Successful sales people typically have a little bit of “maverick” in them which helps them to do things that other people won’t or can’t. The system should align itself with their behaviors, not seek to harness or limit them.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

  3. Bill Treat says:

    Lack of adoption by sales people is a major reason for implementation failure, but there are ways around that.

    Many times I see the IT person too involved in the process, and it’s also common for Sales Managers to not let their team get involved as well.

    It’s all about having the right people in it from the start. Don’t get caught up on the technical challenges (i.e. leave your IT person out of it) in the beginning. Focus on what your Sales TEAM will need, not just upper management. If you provide the tools to the team, the rest is just data manipulation and then you’ll have the results for management.

    • Bill,

      Good input. The key is to focus on the needs of the sales team AND management. I think many companies would agree with this statement, but when it comes down to actually implementing it, management wins because they’re paying for it and they play their trump card to get what they want. More and more companies are learning that the “They’ll do it because I’ll tell them to” approach doesn’t really work that well.

      It’s also important to remember that CRM encompasses more than just sales, but for most, this is a key component, and where the majority of the value comes from for an organization (at least initially).

      Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  4. John Sanford says:

    Thanks for the great article, as well as the comments that were posted, this gave us plenty of food for thought with regard to the CRM solution my company came up with.

    Currently we don’t have anything to support the idea of the “untethered” sales person, or whom ever would take on this role in a small start-up company.

    Hopefully with in the next few versions we can come up with some solutions to cover most of these points.

  5. Thanks John for stopping by. Let me know how I can help as you develop your solution.

    Best regards,

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