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!

The Challenge with CRM Initiatives

John Moore, on his recent blog post, Why aren’t you using your CRM system more? has facilitated a meaningful conversation which has triggered some very productive dialogue related to CRM, what it is, and why companies haven’t had more success.

This thread confirms what I have suspected for quite a while; While the evolution of Social Media and CRM continues to push forward in present day, many are still confused about what CRM is. There is an ever widening gap between those caught in an early 90’s mindset (as Esteban Kolsky references in an earlier comment) regarding CRM and those looking forward to leverage the latest technologies for their customer facing initiatives (ie Social Media, Mobile, Mashups, Cloud Computing, etc).

If you polled 100 executives, and asked them to define CRM, you’d likely get more than 50 different answers.

I’d define CRM as something like this:

CRM is a business strategy for increasing profitability through the alignment of people, processes, and technology towards enhancing the company’s value proposition and overall customer experience.

That said, if you can’t clearly define something, how can you possibly measure success?

The challenge with a CRM initiative is that there are so many expectations at so many levels, both internal and external. Success is certainly attainable, but requires the complex organizational alignment across management levels and functional disciplines.

An organization rolling out a successful CRM initiative will have:

1. An understanding of who their customer is, what their customer needs, and how they can present a compelling value proposition and unmatched customer experience

2. A clear understanding of the organizational and procedural changes required to deliver the compelling value proposition and customer experience

3. A clear understanding of the expectations/needs from:
a. Executives
b. Managers
c. Front Line Workers (across the disciplines of all customer facing departments – Sales, Marketing, Service, Support)

4. An ability to deliver a “system” (process plus technology) that maximizes value to ALL OF THE STAKEHOLDERS presented above.

Doing something like this requires tremendous alignment between executive vision, leadership talent, a “customer centric” culture, systems design, user empowerment, and the proper technology tools to support it.

For every company that is able to execute this, there are boatloads of those who can’t, and most don’t have any idea why.

I’d enjoy hearing your input below.

Risk Proof your CRM Initiative: The top reasons for CRM failure

William Band points out in his article the following results from a recent Forrester survey. I believe one of the key takeaways is that Business Process, People, and Strategy account for 67% of the problems associated with CRM initiatives. The technology is a certainly a component as it must enable the delivery of data and experience to internal and external users, but the true drivers of your success will stem from the strategy and business process.  If you focus there first, your chance of success goes up significantly.

Despite the recession, the need to create differentiation through unique customer experiences, strive for deeper insight into customer needs and behaviors, and serve customers cost-effectively remains. To support achievement of these goals, leading-edge CRM technologies are much easier to use and offer faster time-to-value — driving higher user adoption — compared to solutions available three or four years ago.

A recent Forrester survey, however, found that the risk of CRM failure can still be high. Only about one-third of enterprise-class organizations, and about half of midmarket ones, agreed that “the [CRM] application really improved the end users’ productivity.” Only about half agreed that the “[vendor] professional services team had good technical skills that helped with the implementation.” Over 200 problems were reported, across four categories.

Technology (33 percent): This category comprised functional deficiencies (30 percent), lack of the skill sets needed for implementation (23 percent), data problems (19 percent), and system performance shortfalls (19 percent). With product deficiencies still atop this category, decision-makers should keep a sharp eye on the breadth and depth of any product offering, including specific industry requirements. Evaluate customer data management abilities and usability. Examine how the application integrates with other technology systems. Gauge the size of the vendor’s customer base and the quality of systems integration partners. Examine the depth of human and financial resources available to enhance products.

Business Processes (27 percent): This group included technical/integration difficulties in supporting company processes (48 percent), poor business process design (31 percent), and the need to customize solutions (21 percent). Can you avoid these risks? At one diversified chemicals company with inflexible business processes across different lines of business (LOBs), business process experts were assigned to each business unit. These key individuals, who came from the business and not from IT, were chosen for their ability to identify the most important business needs. The business process experts were given the authority to make decisions for their group, and were responsible for designing and managing necessary workflow items pertinent to their operating LOBs. A quarterly review process ensures that, as business processes change, new requirements are captured and incorporated into the IT plan for future releases.

People (22 percent): The key pitfalls here were difficulties in achieving user adoption (49 percent), insufficient planning/attention given to change management (36 percent), and cultural resistance to new ways of working (15 percent). One global medical-products company, suffering from very low user adoption of CRM, implemented a program whereby any user could submit a question about the CRM application. These were reviewed by the CRM project team, which conducted a monthly survey to collect broader feedback from users. The team then conducted short information sessions with users to address specific issues. As a result, users came to realize the potential of the application, increasing adoption.

Strategy (18 percent): Comprising CRM strategy and deployment issues, this category included inadequate methodologies (40 percent), poorly defined requirements (25 percent), not achieving alignment on objectives (18 percent), and failing to tightly manage costs (18 percent). Successful CRM projects require a constant balancing of objectives, priorities, resources, and schedules. One financial services company created a CRM steering committee (senior IT and business unit heads with direct accountability to the board of directors), and a program committee (project and operations managers) that allocates resources as needed.

Reporting to the program committee is a project team of IT managers; the project team meets with its business counterparts every two weeks to monitor progress and document and resolve issues or escalate them to the program committee. Under this structure, there is a clear line of accountability, and decision-making processes are well defined.

via Small Business – Risk-Proofing Your CRM Initiative