CRM User Adoption Best Practices


  • Users embrace and adopt CRM software when the benefits exceed the effort.
  • Application utilization accelerates when the technology aids employee performance, productivity and personal goals.
  • CRM ROI (only) grows with the accomplishment of measurable business outcomes.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

User adoption is a perennial challenge with Customer Relationship Management software deployments. Slow or low user adoption is a top cited contributing factor to software implementations that fail to achieve their objectives or just fail outright.

The single greatest reason for failed CRM software user adoption is lack of user value. Too often, IT leaders believe the implementation goal is to get the software installed. That's shallow thinking, as evidenced by the highly touted failure statistics from the analysts.

Without specific and measurable user, customer and business outcomes, you're just creating another place to enter the same data. You're repaving the cow path.

When users fail to see the personal value from new technology, they revert to the bare minimum operation, maintain separate shadow systems and incur more manual effort. Installing CRM software by itself isn't going to improve user or business outcomes any more than putting a new engine in your car will make you a better driver.

Most companies struggle with software utilization, which is why most companies use less than 25% of their CRM applications capability.

When considering user adoption, consider these change management truisms:

  1. Many users prefer the familiar to the comfortable, and
  2. Many users prefer the comfortable to the better.

The first truth reveals that even though the current technology may not be liked, many staff are reluctant to change to a new system. In other words, the familiar is less threatening then the unfamiliar.

The second truth means that even if staff are presented with compelling reasons to change behavior, some will resist because they are comfortable with how they currently do things. They also prefer the known over the unknown. The promise of improved results may not be enough to motivate the change.

To counteract these truisms, new behavior needs to become both familiar and comfortable. Here's some techniques that can help.

5 Best Practices to Improve CRM User Adoption


Begin with Strategy

When staff see and agree on a CRM strategy that shows how specific and measurable user, customer and business outcomes will be realized with the CRM system, and how they personally contribute and benefit, they become motivated to be part of those results.

But one big caution, if objectives are technical or software specific, and not stated in user or business outcomes, staff will not be impressed. CRM strategy is about prioritizing new capabilities. It identifies what's important and what's not to the users. Internal technology is really not that important to them.

The strategy must apply to each user group. Below is an example of a CRM strategy designed for the marketing group.

Marketing Best Practices Blueprint

For companies without a strategy, a short-term alternative is a Design Thinking workshop to identify the most important and highest impact user and customer outcomes.


CRM Design

Unfortunately, most implementors design CRM from a software perspective and not the users' perspective. They get it wrong for two reasons. They fail to focus on what's most important to staff and they don't appreciate the difference between the user interface (UI) and the user experience (UX). Below are some recommendations to do better.

    • Focus on the user outcomes that most matter, according to the users, as determined in the Strategy or the Design Thinking workshop.
    • To achieve software simplicity, recognize that less is more. Implement the fewest features that contribute the most impact. Don't succumb to the practice of implementing more and more software features and functions as this makes the application more complex and difficult to use.
    • State your goals in user terms, not software terms.
    • Emphasize software usability, not just aesthetics.
    • Apply design to user experiences, not the software interface.
    • Configure the app for user experiences, not software features.

A CRM user interface is like a joke, in that if you must explain it, it doesn't work. Therefore, it's important for implementors to understand the differences between the UI and the UX.

The UI is focused on simplicity and the visual presentation. The UX is much more than that, as it contributes to an emotion that either enhances or degrades the continued use of the application. To achieve a positive emotional connection, the UX should precede the UI so that form follows function and utility is aligned with user-centered design.

What that means is that the UX begins by engaging users to understand what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. Any attempt to achieve a UX objective by hiring designers or dressing up existing applications with UI facelifts – without first understanding user behaviors, expectations and prioritized use cases – will not be worthwhile.

Most technology design tends to focus on software and not people, aesthetics and not experiences, and be applied near the end of the development phase (when it's too little too late.)

A better approach is to bring design – of user experiences and business outcomes – to the beginning and identify the most important project objectives in people and payback terms; not in software terms. This approach gets the users excited as we're now talking about objectives and benefits in their terms, not in technology terms.


Staff Training

Johnny Grow shifts training from learning how to use software to showing how to achieve user outcomes (productivity, performance and personal goals). The training curriculum focuses on the top user outcomes identified during Design Thinking and the role based WIIFM (What's In It For Me) capabilities identified in the Change Management program.

CRM Training

In contrast to traditional classroom style training, we use a concept we call Just-enough-learning which applies shorter learning sessions and Just-for-me-learning which delivers specific content to targeted audiences (which often aligns with a day in the life approach for each role.) Another fundamental difference is that trainers are not software instructors focused on software utility. They are Business Analysts focused on output, outcomes and results.


Change Management Program

The technology will immediately do what you tell it to do. The people 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.

However, the bulk of users often view implementations with skepticism and caution. And that's understandable as some short-sighted companies use CRM as a surveillance tool to micromanage the salesforce or get reporting used to brow beat staff.

CRM user adoption depends on your ability to articulate specific benefits to the people who use the system. The change management program will define these benefits and WIIFMs and demonstrate how the value exceeds the effort. It's easy to describe the organization-wide benefits of new technology, but it's harder to boil them down to the benefits bestowed on each person.


CRM User Adoption Dashboards

CRM software user adoption is an iterative process. It must be measured, analyzed and continuously improved. Many managers see the signs of slow adoption, but naively believe the staff will ultimately come around. In fact, experience shows the opposite is more likely. The longer it takes to achieve acceptance, the more probable the software will fail to become sustainable.

Resistance to change will be masked by some users who login to the new system and exhibit motions without results. Therefore, a best practice is to measure user adoption by monitoring software utilization and staff productivity; not just access to the application.

Rather than just gauging adoption form logins or rote consumption, it is far more effective to measure utilization, productivity, automation and outcomes. We want to know if employees are using the technology as prescribed, or if they are accomplishing their objectives in different ways, or if they are failing to accomplish the intended goals.

These types of metrics can be automated by linking user roles with activity records, audit trails and key performance indicators displayed in dashboards.

CRM User Adoption Dashboards

When the application is directly contributing to important user and business outcomes it becomes sustainable. Otherwise, it's only a matter of time before users and managers recognize the system isn't worth the effort.

See the 5 Best Practices to increase CRM software user adoption, which then increases software utilization and ROI.

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