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IT change management needs to spell out ROI for users

CRM projects will fail from the outset if your change management strategy doesn't center on what's in it for users.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Business Information: Sales intelligence tools shape strategies, customer experience:

It's common knowledge -- or should be -- that change management is the key to successful IT implementations. This is true for customer relationship management, of course, and it's augmented by the nature of the users -- typically salespeople -- who need to understand what's in it for them in order to commit.

Salespeople are wired to be competitive and are driven by results (or output); not process (or input). But traditional IT change management techniques such as communication, training, resistance countering and individualized support usually focus on input (e.g., how reps' work is changing). So while these techniques are necessary, they must be built with output in mind (i.e., change management should emphasize how sales can make more money).

At the most basic level, CRM ROI for sales reps goes like this: They can close more deals and close deals at a higher dollar rate with an effective CRM.

This makes a lot of sense when we realize that salespeople are trained to present the value proposition from the customer's perspective; or, "What's in it for the customer?" So it's reasonable that reps should talk in the same terms. Put simply, CRM needs to be sold and not just taught to users.

In the context of a customer relationship management (CRM) system, "What's in it for them?" has several components. At the most basic level, sales reps can close more deals at a higher dollar rate with an effective CRM. With a CRM in hand, they can get better visibility as to where customers are in the sales cycle, and what they have purchased. This enables salespeople to actively move indecisive customers through the sales phases, cross- and up-sell other products,  or simply deepen the relationship to continue to sell successfully over the long term. Well-managed CRM systems can also provide valuable data that can flow among departments and enable a variety of business operations—from more successful marketing, to more accurate invoicing, to better service and delivery systems. And what I've described here is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ROI of CRM systems.

Implementing an IT change management strategy focused on output

Nearly three years ago, we started our sales CRM implementation at Reliance Home Comfort. As with any new system implementation, we put together a cross-functional group that designed, developed, tested and signed off on the technology. We then moved to a pilot with a select number of users. A few salespeople were already using their own cloud-based CRM subscription, so they were happy to switch to the company-sponsored alternative. A couple of months into the pilot, we saw improvements in closing rate and customer satisfaction, so we subsequently rolled it out to the rest of the company. Unfortunately though, results did not remain as favorable.

In retrospect, I realized that the pilot went well because we didn't have to sell the solution to users; they knew what was in it for them before we gave them the tool. The improvement in results was probably related to greater motivation and engagement.

Our change management strategy included plentiful communication, training and re-training, shadowing, ongoing support and so on. But we did not clearly address how CRM would contribute to each salesperson's bottom line. Our other oversight involved spelling out the ROI for sales managers. We assumed they would immediately make the connection between better visibility into sales reps' behavior and higher sales effectiveness. But training and communication were not enough to establish that connection. Again, these managers need to be sold.

Thankfully, talented individuals on our team understood this issue and adjusted course accordingly. They created humorous videos featuring real cases of salespeople increasing commissions by pursuing inactive customer prospects using information from the CRM system. They spent time one-on-one with sales managers, showing them how to use CRM data to determine where to focus their coaching to maximize closing rates for their teams. Once salespeople and sales managers were convinced (i.e., sold) that CRM helps them make more money, adoption improved dramatically.

Perhaps change management is essentially about explaining what's in it for users so as to better facilitate successful change. This is typically done in stages, starting by explaining why change is necessary, then clarifying how work processes will change, and finally by addressing concerns to support users. This is a well-thought-out methodology and it's effective when done right (or at all).

But when it comes to salespeople, you can often skip some steps and jump straight into what's in it for them. For example, show them how to make more money by using the tool. They will likely figure out the rest on their own, given their results-driven nature. The same applies to sales managers. They may not all use the system in exactly the same way or at the same pace, but unlike in manufacturing or operations, consistency is not critically important with CRM; adoption is. In summary, to get your salespeople selling more with CRM, take the time to sell CRM to them first.

Next Steps

Where are the bottlenecks in your change management strategy?

How CIOs can facilitate change management processes

The role of CIOs in change management: An FAQ

This was last published in April 2015

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