CRM Technology Decisions: CRM experts offer change management tips

What if you implemented CRM software and nobody used it? Experts at the recent CRM Technology Decisions conference offered some change management tips and tricks to help you avoid that problem.

ATLANTA -- It's no secret that the best-laid CRM plans will go astray if employees don't support the project.

In a discussion at CRM Technology Decisions, panelists agreed that the process of getting user buy-in should start at the very beginning of CRM strategy sessions.

Judy Kincaid, a CRM consultant and the former director of CRM for Hewlett-Packard Co., put the responsibility for the CRM road map -- including championing end-user buy-in -- with business executives and not IT.

"This is a business problem that needs to be solved," she said. "I have never seen a successful [CRM] project that wasn't 90% dominated by the business people."

One of the keys to getting buy-in from lower-level business people, said Kincaid, is to get sponsorship from a high-level executive. Another is to communicate the benefits of the new CRM system to the employees.

Jeff Tanner, research director at the Center for Professional Selling at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a former salesman with Xerox Corp., emphasized the need to communicate the benefits inherent in the system for each specific business unit. Salespeople, for example, could see higher commissions.

Because sales staff typically doesn't like to interact with technology, Tanner suggested presenting CRM to the sales force as a "business strategy for getting its job done, [that] happens to be technology-enabled."

The answer lies in implementing technology that will do "a lot of the heavy lifting" for the sales force, automating time-consuming tasks, and leaving them more time for the parts of their jobs that they enjoy, Tanner said.

Panelists agreed that end-user adoption is usually less of a problem in contact centers where agents typically have no choice but to use new technology. They can, however, be offered incentives based on the quality of the data they enter and the speed with which they handle customer inquiries.

Panelist Dennis Upton, CIO at Bridgewater, N.J.-based Brother International Corp., completed a successful CRM rollout and credits the lack of physical barriers with contributing to end-user success. At Brother International, IT, sales, and marketing are located on the same floor, in close proximity with one another, within an open office. "In our situation, we didn't need a [CRM] facilitator," Upton said. "We're not a separate group."

When championing CRM, Kincaid advised branding each IT project by creating logos and names for the initiative. "I know everybody hates this stuff," she said, "But it's really important."

Kincaid also suggested creating a weekly newsletter in order to keep staffers informed about the progress of the project. She also urged honesty in admitting any mistakes: "If things are slipping, for gosh sake's, say 'we ran into these problems,' reset expectations and keep going."

As far as the age-old question of the carrot and the stick are concerned, Tanner said that if employees aren't using the system -- for example, not entering data -- then, "you've got a problem with the system, not with the sales reps." He does not advocate withholding sales commissions for those who don't use CRM software.

And remember that sometimes the problem with the system is that the sales reps don't want it. Kincaid related a story from her days at HP, when she decided not to implement an SFA system, because the sales force "didn't care."

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