Why Would You Let CRM Adoption Be Optional?

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The initial idea for this post was to try to explain the “great divide”—the perceived barrier that exists between salespeople and sales management concerning the value of CRM. Analysts say that the historical morphing of contact management into CRM was driven by salespeople. I think that’s true—salespeople crave information on their customers, especially if the information is current and correct. Now things are different—sales departments are getting a reputation for being the major antagonists against CRM.

One word quickly rose to the surface of the pile when I researched the “great divide”—that word is adoption. The term adoption is used to describe the success or failure of a CRM initiative. CRM is getting a bad rap for low adoption—the system is put in place, and people don’t use it. A quick Google search on “CRM adoption” will show you just how prevalent this problem is. A large proportion of mission-critical CRM projects fail because people just don’t want to use the software and the workflow requirements associated with it. I’ve written about the specifics of this phenomenon before, so my approach here is a more cerebral take on it. I am amazed it occurs at all, let alone the extent to which it happens—this painful rejection (poor adoption) of CRM. Why does it happen?

The word “adoption” seems to imply usage as being optional—adopt if you want, otherwise reject. No one in their right mind sees a business running successfully under this mantra. Take the back office as an example. Step into the production area to see people getting things done, working in teams using defined processes. Imagine one of those motivational posters hanging over them that says, “Why don’t you try out our new multimillion dollar high-velocity manufacturing system. We think you’ll like it—let us know what you think.”

Maybe they’ve got fifteen stations on the production floor and everything looks like it’s moving through fine, until you get to station ten. Here there is a pile up, nothing is getting through. The explanation—Fred, who is the head honcho on station ten. is not using the new high-velocity manufacturing system. He just doesn’t like it and would prefer to do it his way, the old way.

We all know that this could not happen in practice, at least not in the production system. But the awful thing is that it can happen back in the front office with the CRM system, and the most likely breakdown point is within the sales team. I’ve seen it in my previous company. We had ten salespeople nationally. Most of them embraced our CRM system—a few didn’t. The transgressions usually led to lack of data, poor data, or too much rubbish data. It’s amazing how quickly one salesperson can adversely impact the company’s knowledge about the customer.

We usually measured the scope of sales and customer data within a region by the size of the relevant database. Remember, for CRM technology to work well, there needs to be a central repository of customer information. You can look in here to find all interactions between the company and a customer over time. Here you can get the answers you need to defining the exemplary customer satisfaction goals that you are trying to achieve. In my company, the sales department contributed over half of the information in our CRM database. You have ten salespeople with two renegades who in different ways poison the companies database. That means ten percent of you customer knowledge may be unusable.

The problem is that this is a shared database. Other team members use it, not just sales.  Data can’t be compromised because people opt out of the CRM system. It’s as unthinkable as the production line crashing because some processes are being done the old way. It’s time to realize that a certain defined mandatory adoption of CRM is the rule. For that to work, up front preparation and education are needed. That’s a long story for more posts. Plus we still have to talk about the “great divide.”

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