CRM Killer: The Inability to Acknowledge Issues Before Implementation

Adoption is truly the CRM killer. If your employees won’t use your CRM system, your investment is an utter waste.

However, the way many organizations look at adoption doesn’t help matters. All too many adoption failures are attributed to the users — those darned stubborn employees who can’t be bothered to deal with change, even when it’s for their own good. If only they would listen! How many articles have you seen about motivating your sales staff to use CRM, or showing your employees how they will benefit from its use? A lot.

This stems from a major misperception — that adoption revolves around modifying user behavior, often after the CRM solution is in place.

In reality, the seeds of adoption issues are sown long before the system is even implemented. They are symptomatic of failures in planning, and those failures stem from the inability to acknowledge issues within the organization before the CRM selection and implementation process begins.

The Wrong Stuff

If a company bases its CRM strategy on a set of faulty premises, there’s no foundation for CRM to operate in the real world — but that’s where employees live and work. An honest — and at times, brutal — assessment of the strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement in the company’s processes is mandatory to establish the reasons and requirements for the CRM system.

However, many businesses simply cannot do that on their own. Identifying areas of weakness can be politically difficult, since it can require people to point out areas where they may have failed in the past, or it may require people to point out the failings of others. Unless managed carefully, instead of identifying areas for improvement, the process can degenerate into a blame-storming session, or people can simply not reveal issues that could reflect poorly on themselves.

Even worse, some organizations don their collective rose-colored glasses and ignore problems for the sake of conflict avoidance. Both approaches lead to a set of incomplete assumptions about the company and the issues that CRM is supposed to fix.

As a result, the CRM implementation will end up focusing on the wrong issues, fixing things that aren’t broken, leaving existing problems unaddressed, and leaving the employees wondering why they had to learn the new CRM system in the first place. Is it any wonder that they’d be less than excited about using CRM at this stage?

Look Within

Organizations have to lay ground rules at the start of the CRM discernment process, making it clear that neither honesty nor candor will be punished. If that isn’t possible, then organizations should call in a third-party consultant who can look at the organization with an objective eye — and they should listen to the recommendations that result.

Another great technique for paving the way to user adoption is to get the actual users involved with the selection process. Too many selection and implementation teams are made up of IT people and senior executives; while these are the natural decision makers, it’s absurd to think that they have the same detailed understanding of day-to-day requirements as front-line employees.

By expanding the selection team with people from sales, marketing and customer service, organizations can introduce real-world understanding of what will work and what won’t early on. Having these eyes available during the demo phase of selection is invaluable — they’ll be the people using the CRM application most frequently, and they’ll be able to spot things that will work well — and things that won’t — quickly and instinctively. Once the implementation is complete, these team members can transition to becoming advocates and mentors for peers who are slow to embrace CRM.

Sadly, in talking to integrators,I found this approach is frustratingly rare, and far too many organizations continue to base their CRM approaches on the assumptions of executives who may be completely detached from the realities of their businesses. You can’t create a 360-degree view of your customer if you don’t start with a 360-degree view of your own processes — and you can’t build that internal view if you refuse to be honest about your own organization.

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 two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.

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