CRM Adoption – Why Some Inside Sales Reps Don’t Fully Utilize a CRM

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Why Won't my Sales Guys use the CRM?

Leads are fickle things.  Who of us hasn’t been on that call when things went south?

Why are leads so hard to convert to sales?  There have been many studies that talk about that, but I wanted to talk about the nitty-gritty reasons why we often don’t get the results we expect; CRM adoption.

The following articles talk about CRM adoption rates, and both point to a larger problem: Salespeople not fully adopting the CRM or not utilizing it in the way management has instructed.

Destination CRM: Don’t Confuse Implementation with Adoption

LinkedIn Poll: What % of your salespeople use your sales CRM (You may have to log in to LinkedIn first to access the link.)

The next logical question, then, is why? Take a look at the chart above.

If you increase the complexity of the solution and the time it takes to contact a lead, you are killing opportunities.  Among other issues we’ll discuss later in this post, CRMs are not doing enough to simplify sales tasks.  And in some cases, are actually introducing more steps into the sales process.

Ask yourself these questions:

1)      Is my CRM making it easier to contact potential leads?

2)      Is my CRM increasing the ability of my sales force to contact potential leads?

3)      Is my CRM providing transparency to the lead and sales process?

Why CRM’s Fail

Anybody that’s been a sales manager or inside sales rep can tell you the reasons people give for not adopting a CRM tool are as numerous as the people giving them, but there are some common threads.  The common issues usually come from one of three categories:

1)      People Barriers – This one is probably the most obvious.  Salespeople want to spend their time selling, and are generally not prone to be technology tinkerers.  This behavior can kill lead response times and follow-up if relevant information is not entered or seen by the right people.

But sales people aren’t the only people barriers that exist.  They can include managers or other sales reps that require additional approvals to advance a lead or opportunity.  In my own experience, I’ve had leads that were handed over, then taken back, then handed back to us over a 2 week period, based on what some sales reps thought they were entitled to.  Other barriers can include finance people that need to review dollar amounts or product quantities.  I remember a particular instance where leads were not even entered into the CRM system until they were closed, because finance was denying commissions to some reps based on regional assignments.  By doing this, the sales reps could force face-to-face conversations with finance to discuss commissions, rather than depending upon a flawed compensation model that was codified in the CRM system.

Marketing managers who hold leads for too long or fail to enter them into the sales CRM system can also kill your effectiveness.  We had a trade show that was 4 days long, with two more days’ travel.  How old do you think the leads were when they were finally entered into the system?  6 days, an eternity for a hot lead.

2)      Technology Barriers – Often in large environments a CRM that may have been simple in concept, becomes a Frankenstein upon implementation due to requirements from financial, legal, marketing and other departments (I.E., ERP integration).  We see a major push toward hosted CRM solutions due in part to the extreme complexity of on-site implementations.  When a system becomes difficult to use, sales will be the first to stop using it.

Lack of training is also a major cause of leads not being handled or assigned correctly in the CRM system.  Let’s say the sales force is trained on a newly implemented CRM for one hour, initially.  How much of that information will they retain?  How many features and clicks will they remember?  Studies say less than 10%.  Training is not a replacement for ease of use. Training can also prove costly and time-consuming to your sales force, beyond whatever the company paid in consulting fees to put the solution in place.

Lastly, there is the unwritten truth that there may be several CRM solutions that exist within different divisions of a company, based on sales manager preferences.  Beyond the obvious issues this causes to overall tracking and effectiveness of any CRM solution, it also points to deeper adoption problems that are moving beyond just dissatisfied sales reps. If a solution is not effective or easy to use, management will eventually stop using it as well.

3)      Process Barrier – The same Moore’s law of complexity applies to processes.  The more processes a lead or sale has to pass through, the more likely that it will be mis-handled or dropped as some point.

Having multiple CRM and lead management solutions as well as silo’ed reporting chains can lead to processes getting in the way of sales.  Cross-training is a big part of this, but so is business process planning.  You can have the best CRM and sales force in the world, but it won’t help if your business processes keep bogging your leads down in needless gates and approvals.

I remember a CRM solution we were trying to use for the purpose of funneling leads to our partners.  However, there were several gates that the lead needed to pass through before it was handed off. The first gate: was the partner signed up and signed into the CRM?  After that, it was passed to the sales rep for “size” review – was the opportunity large enough to keep or pass on to the partner?  If the rep approved, it was posted to the partner portal.

If the partner actually closed the deal, it was entered into the CRM again with relevant numbers. This was passed to the partner rep who then determined if/how the partner got paid.  Needless to say, partners did not use the system much, especially for leads they ran across.  It was too cumbersome with too many process barriers to make it effective.

How to Improve CRM Adoption

So, how do we remove these barriers?  In today’s world, it is unlikely all barriers can be removed, but the following best practices can help.

Good business process planning.  The implementation team should brainstorm through each step of the process, develop as many questions to address each process step, and then brainstorm on how to most effectively answer those questions BEFORE implementation begins.

Questions most organizations will consider:

1)     How does a lead come into your system?

2)     How many hands does it go through on its way to the sales rep?

3)     How many clicks are required to convert, save, update or close a lead?

4)     Who needs to know about the lead, and at what stage?

Good planning can prevent complex approval chains and mis-handling.  Less hands means more speed and more reliable, hot leads.

Technology integration.  This probably requires the most planning, but integration done right pays big dividends.  Beware of vendor lock-in and giant suites that require months to implement and customize correctly.  Simplicity helps sales.  I’m aware of implementations that took YEARS, and were millions of dollars over budget at the end.  There were many factors involved, but poor technology integration planning (and mapping that to business processes) led to many bugs and revisions, along with line-of-business managers wanting to constantly tweak or change the product to their liking.  This, in turn, led to endless versioning and analysis paralysis (death by committee).

Buy-in and training.  This is where your people (sales and otherwise) either validate their pre-conceived notions about a CRM product or become educated users and champions.  Perhaps this is the most difficult of the three best practices.  As part of the training process, the vision of how this new technology will benefit and increase sales, simplify processes, and make the rep’s life easier or improve customer service should be reinforced over and over again.

Will the sales rep stay with the CRM long enough to learn it and apply its features, its benefits across all relevant sales-related activities?  What is the most effective approach to training to improve adoption rates and adoption speeds?

While these are all good techniques to think about when it comes to a CRM, as always, the devil is in the details.

Integration is always more complex than originally thought.

Regulations, reporting and ego can all get in the way of process planning.

I hope to be able to answer these questions and others in my next post.  This isn’t a consulting synopsis, or a generalized list from the blogosphere.  These are real examples from a guy in the sales trenches.

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