Ignoring input from users: a great shortcut to go from CRM decision to adoption failure

By Chris Bucholtz

A couple of years ago, while researching an article for the now-defunct Forecasting Clouds website, I had an enjoyable conversation with an integrator about the best way to select a CRM application. One of the things we talked at length about was the composition of the CRM selection team – the people who mull over what’s important and what’s not in the technology you select.

Most companies pull in the big shots – the vice president of sales, the head of IT, maybe the chief marketing officer, whoever’s in charge of customer service, etc. They huddle up (and, perhaps, bring in their seconds-in-command) and out of this esteemed group comes a choice.

That sounds reasonable, right? Well, perhaps. The big killer of CRM is adoption – and that doesn’t mean the VP-types using the application. It means the people on the front lines in sales, marketing and service embracing the application and fully using it. When that happens, the VP-types get complete reports chock full of comprehensive and complete data.

But in order for that to happen, you need an application that the front-line folks will use. Sadly, the VP-types don’t always guess right; they look at applications through their own set of agendas and needs, and the choices they make sometime end up alienating the front-liners, thus setting the stage for adoption failure.

So, back to that conversation: I asked the integrator what he’d recommend to combat this. He said the ideal way to prevent a misalignment between the front-line users and the executives was to make sure front-line users were included on the CRM selection team. Not people selected at random, but people with some experience, knowledge of the processes that CRM is intended to help improve, and a decent understanding of their fellow employees’ behavior.

This is a fantastic idea, not only because it gets past the traditional issue of the application being selected by people who may not use it every day, but because it also creates a set of cheerleaders who can advocate for the application with their peers. The perception is not that the application is something picked by management and dropped on the front-liners, but something that their peers helped select. It helps with both the logistical and perception issues that can hinder CRM adoption.

So, in this integrator’s many years of experience, how many companies had taken this route and assembled a mixed team of the high and the low, the execs and the grunts, to make a decision informed by the entirety of the business’s experiences?


That’s it. Just one. No matter how hard they advocated, there was always pushback: choosing a CRM application was to important to be left to the people who would most frequently use it.

This is kind of heartbreaking to me – but it also gives you a chance to gain an edge in the race to ROI. If you can be one of the few to assemble the right decision-making team, you’re much more likely to have a smoother implementation and a quicker rate of adoption – which will mean that the CRM application can start paying for itself faster. And that’s what you want, right?

One thought on “Ignoring input from users: a great shortcut to go from CRM decision to adoption failure

  1. Hi:
    I understand you’ve been in the game for long time.. so this post did not resonate with me. Perhaps I misunderstand your viewpoint. Adoption, UX, Usability are all in passion circle. I drill apps. And absolutely squeal with delight.. when something is way way cool. In all my implementations, Ive never had an adoption issue and i have never had front liners as part of the selection decison makers.

    I seek clarity:

    Do you really feel the “usability” of the CRM mainstream apps differ that signficantly? (e.g. sugar, salesforce.com, etc… ). That is the real benefit of having the front-liners in the selection team.

    I cannot see this for the traditional pillars of CRM. I can absolutely see it for the intimacy tools part of CRM suite.
    e.g. Salesforce.com Chatter. Not sure of lingo for Sugar’s equivalent.
    e.g. Mobile and if mobile is offline supported
    For these elements, usability soars to the same level as iphone versus android (and which particular android). Significant factor.

    So, an alternative thought:
    In selection process (rather than team), I do live data CRP (conference room pilot) with a front liner driving it. So if the front liner could do that comfortable.. it demonstrates ease of use. e.g. they did not have to study hard to learn how to use it. … that is a biggy.

    What features available as-is subscription and more importantly are the features you will use (are they configurable in the click/studio (configuration toolset) — for example SF quote is written in their proprietary language, and Price Book is locked down.. very annoying. Is this shared upfront in the selection cycle.. mmm…

    More importantly, driving adoption, I see the key differentiator is DATA first.. and second, configurability. And all these are secondary to underlining platform. You buy a vendor but you dont implement the vendor, I read recently. That resonated.

    You always get adoption, when you make the tool indepensable as part of the process the front liners use NATURALLY to do their job. Reallly. Thats based on 10+ years experience, before all this whoo-haa about adoption.. agile.. interative.. responsiveness.. experience. Its common sense. Treat people as human-being rather than a widget.

    Adoption – is really simple. Its exactly as as Paul Gillin shares in his SugarCon keynote. “People are the platform”. That is the revolution that is happening and that revolution is enabled thru a series of open technologies (P2P, mobile, cloud). That is a fantastic statement.

    Adoption it helps to have a framework, so nothing falls thru cracks. I like long serving usability guru SF, acroynm – MADpo – dont make your users “MAD”

    MADpo stands for:
    M = Make it simple
    A = Automate dont force them
    D = Dont please everyone (essential make it role specific or sometimes user specific e.g. my preferences, how I want to communicate with you, that is internal facing too…)
    P = progressive help… progressive is key.. right where they need it.. right amount e.g. long drop down boxes are annoying, frequent selected or used (as defined by user.. section/segment at the top).. now how many CRM apps offer that.. and front-liners would only get that after they used it for 2 days.. maybe 5 days..
    O = offer translation.. so offer it their context… always offer

    Of course you dont get adoption, if you dont have EXCELLENT FEEDBACK LOOPS (aka social and mobile influences this too as part of the project).

    Expanding on the differentiators:
    1- Data management at front liners finger tips (e.g. at point of entry), making it easy. For example Ive not seen out of box, offering where the user gets to personalise their data management choice. Think of data management like a program, and the front line rep selects their preferred option (which often changes depending on the period they are in their sales cycle)
    Data Management Programme
    a) Do I want manage data quality on entry? (so give me dupe warning, fuzzy search logic, pop-up of options..etc..
    b) or do I want o deal with it later, so tag it? and then the rep has a utility cleansing screen (sorta like the one in CRMFusion that works with SF)
    c) or dont want to deal with it. Sys Admin can

    2- Configurability
    When something sold as highly configurable and the poor administrator keeps hitting hurdles.. nope.. sorry dude/dudette that is not possible.. you need code. That is really bad experience. You can do xy but not z, where z is really really simple (and COMMON). Are these shared upfront.. mm…

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