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Rick Cook Five Steps To Achieving SFA User Adoption

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 By Rick Cook

One of the knottiest problems in implementing a Sales Force Automation software system in any size company is getting enthusiastic acceptance of the project. Quite simply, without active buy-in from the sales people who will use and manage the CRM system, it will almost certainly fail.

This is a tough problem because the very nature of SFA systems and Customer Relationship Management software in general is so often based on change. Customer relationships are not an IT project. True, IT is important and a lot of the implementation involves computer systems, but CRM strategy and customer facing business processes are much more fundamental than that.

At bottom, CRM strategies and SFA software implementations involve re-engineering the business processes in all aspects which touch the customer. That usually means a lot of change in the way things are done and that change produces anything from skepticism to outright resistance at multiple levels.

Fortunately, getting user buy-in is a known challenge. Over two decades of SFA implementations of all sizes have delivered a series of change management techniques to generate the much needed buy-in.

All of these techniques depend on having active, involved and visible support from the very top of the organization. It's a fundamental fact that if the highest levels of management are not supporting your SFA or CRM selection or implementation project your chances of success are not good. Management has to buy in before you ever start implementing a customer management software solution.

Beyond that all-important executive sponsorship, there are other management techniques which have to be woven into the sales automation implementation process.

Listen To Your Stakeholders
All stakeholders, including management and the sales force, as well as marketing staff and call center customer support representatives (CSRs), among others, need active, ongoing input in the project.

That input needs to start at the beginning stages of the SFA software selection project, and certainly well before you ever select an SFA or CRM package. You need the input of all vested participants to help you identify and prioritize your company’s needs and to suggest ways to help meet them.

Among the tools you can use are focus groups, questionnaires and interviews. Try to identify the parts of the current processes that are sub-optimal or perhaps not there at all. Identify the pain points in your sales process and customer management system and then dig in to determine the root cause analysis. It is the combination of business process improvement and software automation that will ultimately provide your best offense in securing user adoption.

Listening means more than simply asking people’s opinions during the CRM software selection project. Many companies establish working groups of users who meet frequently to work with the selection committee or implementation team. These groups not only provide continual feedback, they become champions for the project to their co-workers.

Stakeholders, especially those at the customer interface levels such as CSRs and sales people, should get early and frequent chances to try out the system in the prototype stage. However in trying out the prototypes you need to make it clear that what they're looking at is a prototype and that there is opportunity for change and tuning before the system goes live.

Meet The Stakeholders’ Needs
Sales people can be difficult to please and if the system doesn’t deliver for the stakeholders it will probably fail. In other words, there has to be substance behind the hype and the new system must deliver tangible, measurable value for each stakeholder constituency.

Training in the new enterprise software system is critically important to meeting the stakeholders’ needs. Everyone who is going to be using the system, from management to the sales force, to sales administrative staff, needs to be thoroughly trained in the new system. This normally takes multiple training events. If you skimp on the training, the users won’t be able to make best use of the system and the chances of software failure go way up.

Similarly, make sure plenty of help is available to aid everyone as they transition to the new system. This should include cheat sheets, how-to guides and the on-demand availability of help desk personal to make it as easy as possible for everyone to learn and quickly become proficient in the new sales force automation or customer management system.

Sell It Internally
Even the best product in the world doesn’t sell itself, especially if it means changing the way people do things.

As in any kind of sales job, focus on the benefits to the “customer”, realizing that different groups of stakeholders are going to recognize different benefits. The sales staff, for example, is going to be interested in the features that will help them sell more successfully and lighten their paperwork load. Top management is going to be more interested in getting a clear, comprehensive view of what is going on at the customer levels and in having visibility to an accurate sales forecast. Meanwhile the sales staff is likely to see improved transparency of the sales process as meaning they're going to be micro-managed. Clearly you have to tailor your messages to your audiences.

Celebrate Successes
As the project moves forward you have the opportunity to stage successes. Try to “load the dice” to make sure you have such successes early and then make sure everyone in the organization knows about them. Celebrating successes, however small, builds momentum and breaks down user resistance.

One important way to ensure success is to start implementing SFA systems with the parts most likely to be successful. Since most SFA or CRM implementations are phased it's usually easy to grasp the low hanging fruit and build progressive support for the system.

This can be anything from a call handling module to making sure the sales people get their messages from customers quickly to a process that enhances the ability of the sales force to consistently up-sell and cross-sell. One of the keys here is to successfully identify pain points, even niggling little ones, that can be corrected quickly.

Also consider a stepping stone strategy from account management to contact management to activity management to opportunity management. Once the basics are covered you may want to advance to competitive intelligence, sales quoting, mobile access, social media integration, marketing automation, partner relationship management (PRM) or any of a number of capabilities which tend to produce more excitement from the sales team.

Keep Selling
One common failure mode for SFA system projects is a fall off in utilization after the implementation cut over. It's not uncommon for unsuccessful projects to go from a utilization of 75 percent or so (good but not great) down to 20 percent or less in the course of the first year.

Keep in mind that once the customer relationship management software is finally live, it’s not done. Your users will almost certainly find things that don’t work quite the way they want them to, or features they really need. Like most major enterprise software projects, SFA and CRM systems need tweaking and sharpening as people actually start using them. Your implementation plan should make allowances for this and you should stand ready to make changes to meet the users’ needs along your journey. End

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Author  Author: Rick Cook
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Comments (1) — Comments for this page are closed —

Guest Chris Nichols
  The best way to get sales people to use the SFA system that they know monitors their performance for management's purposes is to make the SFA invaluable in helping the salesperson close more business, save more time, work more efficiently and make more money. Only when it truly benefits the sales person will they use the tool in a meaningful way, which will then also benefit managements goals as an indirect, but no less important, consequence.


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Try to identify the parts of the current processes that are sub-optimal or perhaps not there at all. Identify the pain points in your sales process and customer management system and then dig in to determine the root cause analysis. It is the combination of business process improvement and software automation that will ultimately provide your best offense in securing user adoption.


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