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Why Does CRM Training Get Short Shrift?

By Christopher J. Bucholtz
Apr 14, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Applications delivered as Software as a Service (SaaS) are great. They allow businesses to scale their operations, reduce up-front costs, relieve themselves of tasks like backups and software updates, and speed up deployment of applications.

Why Does CRM Training Get Short Shrift?

They're simple to implement (in most cases). But, oddly, I think the ease with which cloud-based CRM can be deployed and integrated creates the impression that users can then pick it up with the same level of ease. And that's a big mistake.

The reality is that training is still a critical part of implementing a CRM application. Ease of use -- which many vendors are emphasizing -- is great, but it only gets you so far. The basics are still the basics -- and if you need to get deeper because of a particular business condition under which you operate, a surface-level understanding of a CRM application is not going to be enough.

I've talked to many CRM resellers about this, and the topic triggers reactions ranging from head shaking to the classic forehead slap. Far too many customers see training as something extraneous. It's the last bit of money a vendor or a consultant can squeeze out of you before the lucrative part of the engagement is over, they think, and it's not given the same priority as the rest of the implementation. This is asking for trouble.

How and Why

First, training not only allows your employees to be competent in using the application -- it also offers an opportunity to demonstrate exactly how the application will help them do their jobs.

Adoption is the big CRM killer, and without an understanding of both the mechanics of the application and the reasons for its implementation, users will be less likely to embrace the technology.

Second, good training should inspire as well as inform; by seizing the opportunity that training presents, you can get your employees thinking not just about how to use the application but about new ways to use data. Remember that CRM is always a work in progress, and it's always good to have help with that progress from the people who are closest to the customer. That's going to include a lot of folks who interact directly with the CRM application.

Finally, training needs to be an ongoing thing, at least for managers or people who can serve as internal trainers for your organization. CRM vendors introduce new features on a regular basis -- especially in SaaS applications -- and expecting employees to unilaterally catch on to how these features work and how they can help them do their jobs is rather presumptuous.

Learn It or Lose It

Without a bit of training to update them every so often, the amount of CRM horsepower you're paying for that goes unused will grow over time. From the simple perspective of maximizing your investment, training is an important part of your CRM strategy.

This all seems clear in the right context. Why is training such an issue? I think the vendors are somewhat culpable. How many times have you heard about a SaaS application that was installed, up and running in a weekend, or less? When you hear such tales, you assume that the application's actually being used by employees -- so clearly, training is of minimal importance, right? Well, no.

Vendors ought to be more realistic in how they frame these stories. More importantly, they need to function increasingly as consultants to their customers, helping them with the soft-skills parts of creating a CRM strategy. That includes people and processes. Training fits neatly into that mix.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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