A Proven CRM Change Management Program


  • According to the U. S. Department of Labor, staff productivity decreases up to 75% during unmanaged change.
  • However, for many companies, embracing change is not the norm and is a difficult journey. Change management programs can help and ensure that resistance to change will not delay or derail CRM implementation objectives.
  • In fact, a managed change program can be the single greatest tool that will determine whether user adoption is enthusiastic, sluggish or challenged.
  • Unlike software, people are not so configurable. But early adoption of a change program will directly impact implementation success and business transformation results.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting


A new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system brings new processes, automation, information, roles, responsibilities and control, or oftentimes an actual or perceived loss of control. That's a lot of change, and the problem with change is that it causes anxiety for many users.

Change Management Statistic

And while change is endorsed by the few imposing the change it is not always so well accepted or is even contested by the majority receiving the change. To facilitate that difference, Johnny Grow applies a change management program to systemically shift individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a defined future state while mitigating productivity loss during the transition, creating an environment for sustained change, and realizing the benefits of change more quickly.

Some of the change events and artifacts we use include a change readiness assessment, communication plan, user experience design principals, business and technology impact analysis, learning and training tools, post go-live intermediation measures and value realization measurements. When these steps are orchestrated, they ensure resistance to change will not delay or derail implementation or post-production objectives.

Change Management Process

Change Starts with a People Perspective

Customer relationship management software will immediately do what you tell it to do. The users not so much.

Acceptance of change varies by role. Executives and managers are top beneficiaries for most deployments. They're on board. They have to be, as they need visibility, information and reporting that comes from the application.

There is often an irrational but predictable human side of incurring change. Even the best planned CRM implementations incur many cautious or resistant users and a few users who are adamantly opposed to change. This later group may be initially difficult to recognize as they generally cast doubt in private forums outside of management visibility. If uncontrolled, the hidden agendas and failure to embrace the needed change will significantly challenge the project, and at the minimum cause time and budget overruns.

To proactively head off this common occurrence, we often start with an early assessment of change readiness and a Plan which includes executive sponsorship activities, a solid business case which everybody can understand and a change control program.

We also recommend management consider creative (generally non-financial) incentives and a WIIFM (What's In It For Me) personalized education for users who on the fence or who are not on board. Early detection, a solid plan and timely follow-through with the right responses are the three key factors to minimize resistance to change.

The CRM Implementation Change Management Lifecycle

Change is a process not an event. That's why CRM change management plans must adapt and be tailored to each stage in the implementation life cycle.

The below change evolution diagram is simple and immensely powerful in forecasting resistance to change and planning your change program.

Change Evolution Diagram

At project kick-off, staff emotions span from trepidation to excitement. Expectations are moderate but elevate during the design phase after hearing the project vision and learning the project objectives.

During the build or development phase, staff expectations and emotions begin a downward trajectory. The project challenges are realized. CRM implementation success is uncertain. Scapegoats are planned. Some staff and even managers may begin to distance themselves from the project. This is a critical time for the project team to gather feedback, understand the link between project plan deviations and staff associated with those variances, increase active communication, and deliver key messaging as prescribed in the Communications Plan.

Most staff are impressionable. Some will be looking for executive sponsorship and management leadership while others will be considering fight or flight. The change sponsors must step up to reaffirm the project vision, provide perspective and forecast the journey ahead. The effectiveness of these efforts will have a material impact on both the project progress as well as the realization of business objectives.

The deployment phase will begin a gradual upward trend. Training and software usage will increase user confidence and reveal new capabilities. If the go-live event is well planned it will incur some stress, and likely some bumps in the road but no significant setbacks. Some users will sit the sidelines waiting for others to form opinions. Some users will resist the change.

User resistance will not be blatantly displayed but instead masked as red herrings. Application monitoring and utilization measurement are critical at this stage. User adoption dashboards, such as those shown below, are essential tools.

CRM User Adoption Dashboards

The Operate phase is a journey of continuous improvement. Most of the process and technology benefits designed during the deployment phase will be realized in short order. However, it is critical to remember that CRM is a journey and not a destination.

Even after realizing the benefits targeted during the implementation, most businesses are using less than one-quarter of the application potential. This is the time to activate a user committee made up of cross departmental users and managers to take ownership of the application and focus on continuous improvements and getting more payback from the technology investment.

The most visible difference between managed and unmanaged change is the pace in which resistance to change obstacles are resolved. As illustrated in the below diagram, proactively managing resistance to change will raise the productivity slope trajectory and accelerate time to value and ROI.

Change Evolution Value Gap

See how a CRM implementation incurs resistance to change, and the benefits from a change management program.

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The Only Constant is Change

For most companies, managing resistance to change is a prerequisite to successful CRM software adoption and business transformation. More importantly, as markets converge, new competitors emerge and industry disruption increases, the pace and magnitude of change creates greater impact and thereby makes change management a necessary core competency for corporate viability.

Charles Darwin first discovered that, "It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change." Adapting to changing customer behaviors, leveraging new technologies, outpacing competitors or shifting to a growth culture all reinforce that business change is a constant, and can thereby be planned for.

It can be followed or led. If followed, challenges from change come as a surprise. They are often initially discounted or dismissed. But change resides within your people and people don't like to be discounted or dismissed. That doesn't make the obstacles go away. The challenges grow, deteriorate the benefits and ultimately take time and resources away from the mission.

If led, change is proactively addressed with a proven program. Challenges still occur, but they are addressed early and remedied before they consume time and resources and negatively impact the mission.

Organizational change management provides the strategy and execution to proactively respond to the natural resistance to change, mitigate productivity loss during the transition, minimize disruption during business transformation, ensure the desired objectives are realized, create an environment for sustained change and demonstrate a real commitment to the organization's most valued asset – it's people.