CRM can bring a lot of benefits to your business. However, change is always tricky to effect, especially if staff believe that they are already succeeding at what they’re doing and perhaps perceive that any change or new technology may be a hindrance, distraction or even a burden, rather than a true enabler of even greater success.

For managers, the motivation to impose a CRM system is often straight forward. Sales managers want to better understand what’s going on within the sales pipeline, be provided with accurate sales forecasts and know that the team is going to hit targets. Marketing managers want to be able to rely on properly segmented data that reveals who the ideal customer really is and which can provide straight forward and measurable mechanisms for reaching out to their target audience. Customer service managers want reliable processes that help to retain customers, increase levels of satisfaction and which can help with SLA compliance and escalation, so that issues are resolved early in the contact cycle rather than ending up as problems on their desk.

Given the above statement, it’s easy to see why, traditionally, CRM vendors have targeted managers when promoting their systems. The problem is that, other than viewing the KPI’s on their dashboards, managers rarely actually use much of the system. The task of entering data, recording correspondence and keeping the system up-to-date falls to others. This simple disconnect explains why so many CRM projects, that could bring tremendous benefit, instead fail to deliver their full potential value.

So, how can you ensure that the whole team “buys-in” to the idea of CRM? More importantly, how can you ensure they actually want to use it and that you get the best value from it?

Sales team Perspective

Generally, sales people are not technophobes, nor are they averse to change. They will readily embrace any technology that helps them sell (and therefore earn) more. By way of an example, try and find a sales person that has not visited LinkedIn within the last seven days, has a mobile that is more than two years old and still uses a Filofax or Rolodex, rather than some form of software aid, in which to record all of their contacts and appointments.

Sales people are, however, often sceptical about technology because technology by itself never sold a thing. It is the act of talking to a prospect that sells; everything else in life either helps or hinders that one singular process. The difference between closing a deal at 11:59 pm on the last day of the quarter versus 12:01 am on the next day could make the difference between earning that commission cheque or not. Time matters.

So, in order to persuade a sales person to adopt a CRM solution you must, first and foremost, demonstrate how it is going to help them when it comes to talking to the prospect and how it’s going to free up time from other burdensome tasks so that they can talk to more prospects.

To do that, it must tick as many of these boxes as possible:

  • Be a source of all new prospect data
  • Enrich or supplement the minimal data that they have to enter
  • Prompt when follow ups are due and remind about other tasks
  • Automate reporting and reduce meetings
  • Provide access to data whilst out of the office
  • Automate laborious processes

Show the sales team how this can be achieved, and you are well on the way to full adoption.

Nominate Owners and Champions

CRM solutions often span more than one business department and this alone can lead to a number of challenges. Different departments or teams will have differing priorities and different levels of requirement. The success of a CRM solution may depend on wide adoption throughout the organisation and in this scenario it will be necessary to sell the idea to a variety of different people by finding benefit to all and avoiding burdening any one particular set of users.

Ultimately, you will need to decide who will “own” CRM. Someone will need to coordinate the process, and act as an arbitrator in balancing different needs and priorities whilst still ensuring momentum. This is best performed in collaboration with your key departments.

Research of our own customer database shows that in the vast majority of organisations, the process of selecting a CRM solution is owned by IT. However, after studying many successful CRM rollouts, it is often the case that end user groups with strong champions, who hail from departments such as sales or marketing are often more adept at owning this process.

Elect a “champion” from the department that will own the CRM system. Give the champion overall accountability to drive user adoption and evangelise the benefits of CRM within the organisation.

Once you have a champion, select administrators and “super users” from each of the key departments who will use the system. Allow them to represent their departments during the rollout and ensure that they build a consensus around CRM within the department. Make sure that these super users have sufficient influence to represent their departments.

Prior to implementation, leverage your champion to make an effort to fully understand the different priorities within the business. Do not assume that CRM software will magically solve any fundamental business process issues.

It’s worth re-stating that a strong internal champion, who either works in tandem with a super user or can become a super user themselves, is probably the biggest factors in success that we see. If no one has overall accountability, no one is driving momentum, and no one is acting as a liaison between the business and the CRM supplier, then the risk of failure is measurably higher. This will often result in the system being blamed (often unfairly) for the failure.

Champions and super users are vitally important. But do ensure these key evangelists keep three important rules in mind when planning the system:

Rule 1 – “Think big, start small and iterate”
Make it clear that if you try to accomplish every single requirement raised, by the time the system goes live your requirements may well have changed and a lot of resource will have been swallowed up in requirements gathering, design, testing and project management.

Rule 2 – “The 80/20 rule”
80% of the benefit of a CRM solution will probably be available more or less out-of-the-box. The final 20% will require customisation and integration. Unfortunately, this last 20% of benefit may well account for 80% of the project budget. So think carefully about what you really need to accomplish right now and what can be introduced later on as a subsequent phase when you can re-invest some of the return.

Rule 3 – “You don’t yet know the things that you don’t yet know”
If you’re just beginning your CRM journey, you don’t yet know the direction you might want to take later on. Plan to remain agile.

As you gain familiarity with the CRM, you will begin to identify areas where efficiency savings can be made and where a little tweaking may add further benefit. It can be hard work to try and determine this all up front.


No matter how intuitive your CRM solution is, or how familiar with other CRM solutions your team are, be prepared to either train the entire team or at least adopt a “train the trainer” approach. People will usually pick up the basics of using a CRM system quite quickly but often the most powerful features are not the most readily apparent ones.

Without training, a new CRM system will struggle to increase productivity. Budget and plan for comprehensive training sessions. Make sure your team understands how the CRM software fits the company’s overall vision and strategy.

Make sure that the party conducting the training also understands this view. If possible, work through the “Rules of Engagement” that you plan to implement with the training party ahead of time, so that a common approach and vision can be promoted.

Also, whilst manuals, on-line videos and tutorials can provide a good introduction to a system, there is still benefit in either face-to-face onsite training, or at least web-ex based training so that staff can ask questions and dictate the pace of their own learning. In particular, people will want to question how the system relates to their own work practices and processes and this can be difficult to extract from a video tutorial.


Implementing CRM software may disrupt and change routines. Make sure management supports and assists the team through the short-term pain with regular coaching and reviews.

Consider the level of support that the team will require. Determine whether this is best provided internally or via an external expert in the field such as from the vendor themselves or their reseller. Support levels can vary. At one extreme, the support agreement may only allow for basic “how to” type explanations or the pointing of the user to the appropriate place in the manual. At the other, the support provider may be able to make configuration changes, or undertake more complex tasks on behalf of the user.

You may require a greater level of support in the immediate period following a CRM deployment than you will need later on once internal familiarity and expertise has been acquired.


Positive motivations, such as examples of how the CRM has contributed to a success, tend to be more successful than punitive motivations.

For example, making CRM use into a monthly competition between sales people—in which consistent users are rewarded with a prize at the end of a sales period—can be an effective motivator. Identify and reward your strongest adopters. Review how your employees have used CRM during performance reviews. Announce and acknowledge the strongest adopters within the company and promote how they follow best practice.

Introducing sales enablement technologies for alerting, lead management, enrichment of data and other functions can be a motivator if those technologies use CRM data to give sales people a leg up in selling.

Negative or punitive motivations, such as reducing commissions on sales that weren’t tracked through CRM, can sometimes be effective (and in some regulatory controlled industries may be necessary) but they do tend to reinforce the perception of CRM as a tracking tool for management.

Ultimately, a mixture of carrots and sticks may be needed to drive adoption, but do try to lean toward the carrot side of the equation in order to maintain staff effectiveness.

Rules of Engagement

Consider putting together a short “Rules of Engagement” document that describes things such as

  • What should (and shouldn’t go into the CRM system)
  • How new contacts are to be added
  • Minimal data entry expectations
  • Naming conventions for things such as Opportunities, meetings, call records, uploaded documents etc. (as this can greatly ease searching for them later).

Also try to ensure that key processes such as those of lead and opportunity management are standardised and transparent. Make sure everyone involved in the sales cycle is able to check the stages of the process.

Lead by Example

Of course you should get your executives to commit to CRM around a common set of goals and objectives and a mutually agreed upon timeline. But you should also get them to commit to using it themselves – after all, they do also meet people, pick up business cards, receive emails. Those contacts should go into the CRM, as should the history. Nothing is worse for the sales person than to make a call to what they think is a cold prospect only to find that the person had dinner with the CEO last week!

Usually, when I suggest to the exec team that they should also be using the system, not just for pulling reports, but also for entering contacts and history, I’m met with a singular response – “Oh, no, I don’t have time to do that!” Well, if the exec team don’t have time, the sales people sure don’t.

But more importantly, if the exec team are seen to be using it then the rest of the business will have to. You can’t ignore a task or note that has been assigned by the CEO. You can’t miss a prospect record that an exec has entered and passed on to you to follow up.

At the very least, make sure PAs know how to use the system on behalf of the exec team members that they represent.

Measure, Review and Improve

As with all business change programmes, measure your KPIs (key performance indicators) regularly, review your initial assertions and objectives and realign your business goals as required.

The KPIs for user adoption may vary from company to company. Some KPIs may focus on CRM usage (the number of user log-ins, the number of records entered/modified, and the total time spent in CRM, how old/obsolete data is). Other KPIs may relate more directly to departmental goals of sales, marketing, and customer support.

If you regularly review performance, canvas and discuss possible improvements with the super users and liaise closely with your supplier, you should be able to head-off or address any adoption issues early.

Keep an eye open for early wins that resulted from the use of CRM. Look for the eager adopters within the sales team, and watch their wins. When a sales person can point at a sale and describe how the CRM helped get him or her get closer to that deal, take notes and make sure that everyone on your sales team hears about it. Whenever CRM can be shown to have contributed to a closed sale, contributed to better understanding the ideal customer, helped drive a marketing campaign, helped increase customer satisfaction make sure it is promoted.

The goal here is to back up your assertions of how useful CRM is to those using it on a daily basis with results that point out that it’s useful not just for generating reports for management but really can help end users smash their targets.

Written by Nick Holt


Talk to us if you want to learn more.

Back to Insights

Bench Newsletter

Register here to receive the latest Newsletter