CRM started, in an embryonic state, in the mid-80s, when marketing departments began to take advantage of database technology to record customer details and automate outreach.

Explosive growth then came in the early 90s with the development of Sales Force Automation (SFA) systems, which allowed companies to automate their sales efforts.

CRM AdoptionBroader capabilities for sales, customer service, and marketing quickly followed. Eventually, these suites were combined so the data could be centralised, and this saw the birth of “CRM” as a software category in the mid 90s.

As we head towards the start of a new decade, we will have accumulated well over twenty years of CRM experience under our collective belts. Gartner further predicts that CRM will be a $36B market in 2017, so we are clearly continuing to invest heavily in the promised land.

However, there is one rather large elephant in the room that is struggling to find a graceful exit. Why is it that so many CRM deployments fail due to user adoption problems? 13 years of research conducted by leading analyst research firms place the failure rate somewhere between 30-60%. And what’s even more astonishing is that this failure has almost nothing to do with the technology involved…

There are countless documents on how to solve the CRM adoption dilemma. Most of them as dry as the paper they are written on. Yet, twenty years on we still see the same issue halting CRM success. There are plenty of CRM consultancies rubbing their hands together in glee as they look to shift bottoms from their bench to help companies that are just not seeing a return from their expensive asset. They will talk about user training, UI design and sales process friction, all wrapped up in a change management programme.

However, is it time to hold our hands up and admit that we haven’t yet found the right tactics to solve the adoption issue? Or, worse still, we are looking in the wrong place?

Let’s take a step back and do some simple analysis of the facts in front of us to see if we can shed some light on what is happening.

Roughly 80% of the licences sold by (the market leader in CRM solutions) are being used by sales folks. And let’s face it, adoption is far less of an issue for customer service operations. CRM is a tool of the job for service agents; after all, they have to use it (even if they might not want to).

The third leg of the CRM stool is marketing. It goes without saying that the numbers of users in this role is far lower and their engagement with the technology far higher. Given they are focused on lead generation and pipeline building, CRM systems provide the mechanism to showcase their results. Marketing teams crave CRM systems.

Sales reps, on the other hand, do not. For countless reasons, they will often resist the use of CRM.  Let’s pick on a handful to see if any resonate.


Sales reps often complain that their CRM system:

  1. Is a management tool used to spy on activity levels
  2. Steals away valuable selling time, replacing it with menial data entry tasks
  3. Is merely a management pipeline reporting & forecasting tool
  4. Has poor data quality that slows down sales efforts with calls to people who have long since left
  5. Is hard to navigate and use, so reps just don’t bother with it


The situation can often be further exacerbated by sales leaders who perversely see the CRM tool as something their reps should be using and not a place they see themselves ever needing to go.


Let’s take a moment to profile your typical highly successful sales individual. They are:

  • Driven
  • Focused
  • Goal & action oriented
  • Competitive & social
  • Recognition operated (note that we deliberately did not say coin operated)


As with all positive sides to profiling, there are also negative traits that we shouldn’t ignore. Successful sales reps also tend to be self-centred and often motivated by personal gain. As such, they are highly selective in the tasks they will undertake. If they cannot see the value or benefit to them (or if they don’t believe it will advance them towards their goal) then they simply will not do it.

No amount of UI design, process friction or change management will divert them. Unless we start to centre our CRM adoption efforts around addressing the ‘What’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM) then nothing will change.

If we can get that part right then everything else we have ever wanted from a CRM system will follow naturally.

But how do you solve the WIIFM? Here are 9 tips guaranteed to get your guys engaged with your CRM system.


9 Tips to Address the WIIFM (What’s in it for me)

1. Sell the CRM system to your sales team as a personal productivity tool:

CRM should be a tool to accelerate their success. Communicate successful sales in the context of the end-to-end campaign.


2. Train your team on your CRM’s sales productivity features:

I know it sounds simple, but you will be amazed at how often it is ignored. Unsurprisingly, sales reps want to know how to set up and send email campaigns more than they want to know how to update a contact. They want to know how to access vital competitor information and deliver proposals more than they want to know how to log a task. Help reps to understand why setting future-dated calls and accurately recording the next steps will prevent them from ever dropping the ball on deals.


3. Get out of their way:

Don’t put lots of mandatory fields or validation rules in their way. Keeping the use of CRM simple will help your reps feel like the system is working for them, rather than against them. Help them to build the customer & deal picture at their own speed. Better still, motivate & reward them when they do it faster.


4. Make success transparent – help reps to know if their deal is on track to close or not:

Provide them with real-time coaching prompts that guide them along the winning sales path. Nudge them with timely reminders of the things that need to happen across the sales stages. These steps are the ones that make up your sales process methodology. Reward them as they take the right steps along the sales journey.


5. Coach them on your sales process:

Help them to understand the KPIs you expect them to hit that span right from initial lead to closed business. Explain how this process is designed to help them win more often.


6. Go mobile:

Successful reps spend most of their time on the road, talking to customers. Facilitate the sharing of important customer data (whilst is fresh in their minds!) by making the CRM system fully accessible wherever and whenever they are working.


7. Create a feedback loop:

Listen to what sales are saying and adapt your process as you go. Your sales team are the fastest route to understanding how to improve your sales process and help them to win more.


8. Reward the menial work:

Stop using the stick and start using the carrot to get the reps to perform the tasks you think they won’t want to do. Reward the reps that do a good job of contact scouting in an account or the reps that build up the reporting relationship hierarchy.


9. Perform every single sales review (without fail) from within the CRM system:

Coach reps on the areas of your sales process that they may be neglecting. For example, some reps are fantastic closers, but terrible at generating and nurturing early-stage deals. Focus your reps on overall pipe health. The target will take care of itself.

Your CRM system only has any value if the information in it is accurate and current. Without the buy-in of your team, and their belief that the system is there to help them to succeed, you’ll be left with a clever piece of technology can never fulfil its true potential.

The good news is, you don’t have a technology problem nor do you have a “CRM adoption” problem. You have a behavioural problem. And by applying the right approach, behaviours can be changed.


Want to learn more?

Read our latest eBook showcasing 6 tips to increase the performance of your sales team.


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