How to Apply CRM Strategy to Surge User Adoption, Business Outcomes and ROI


  • Research shows that a poor or missing CRM strategy leads to a poor and disappointing CRM implementation.
  • The CRM strategy must define, and the CRM software must design the meaningful business outcomes to satisfy users, customers and the company.
  • Failing to satisfy these three constituencies will result in poor user adoption, low software utilization, low ROI and an unsustainable application.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

CRM Gone Wrong

The Customer Relationship Management Failure Report found that a well-designed Customer Relationship Management strategy highly correlated to technology ROI and growth of company revenues. On the flip side, the data also showed that a poor or missing strategy was a top contributing factor to implementations that disappointed or failed.

The importance of strategy is also referenced in a Forrester report titled, Assess CRM Capabilities to Pinpoint Opportunities, and advised that "Disappointment with CRM is usually the result of poorly conceived strategies that don't increase revenues or reduce costs."

A successful CRM strategy engineers user, customer and business outcomes. However, that is easier said than done. To provide some help, this post will drill down into satisfying these three constituencies.

Satisfy Users First

User adoption is a perennial challenge with CRM 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.

When users fail to see the personal value from technology, they revert to the bare minimum operation, maintain separate shadow systems (often Excel spreadsheets) and marginalize the new system.

Too many executives see the signs of slow adoption, but naively believe the users will ultimately come around. Experience shows the opposite is more likely. The longer it takes to achieve acceptance, the more probable the software will fail to become sustainable.

If you are not improving user outcomes, you're just creating another place to enter the same data. Industry analysts refer to this as repaving the cow path, and it's a frequently cited source of CRM implementation failure. The best way to engineer user and business outcomes is a Design Thinking workshop.

Design Thinking for CRM

Business process redesign is another opportunity to improve users' lives.

Without process redesign, the new system becomes the old system with a different user interface.

Before you can digitize you first need to simplify, streamline and standardize, in that order. Lifting and shifting suboptimal processes will deliver suboptimal results.

Business Process Automation

Staff productivity is enabled with technology, but not achieved with technology alone. Business process automation ― which is the result of process design ― is the #1 contributing factor to increased employee productivity. Increased automation allows staff to spend less time entering and fixing data, and more time using that data to better serve customers and make more informed business decisions.

Agile Value Stream mapping is an ideal approach to process design. It doesn't just improve your existing processes; it measures the value of what you do in order to eliminate non-valued added steps and activities and redefine business processes to be directly mapped to user and business outcomes.

For customer facing processes, it also assigns customer value to each step and eliminates processes that don't contribute to an outcome. If your processes don't create value that customers care about or are willing to pay for, it may not matter how efficient, fast or cheap they are.

Agile Value Stream Mapping

Solve for the Customer

If your strategy does not define how customers are better off with your technology, then your application is unlikely to improve customer relationships. CRM software provides the data and process automation to deliver differentiated customer experiences. But that only works for customer focused companies.

Saying your company is customer-centric doesn't make it so. Virtually every company says its customer centric, but most are product-centric or self-centric.

While 80 percent of companies believe they deliver superior experiences, research shows only 8 percent of customers agree (source: Bain & Company.)

Self-centric companies define Customer Relationship Management from an inside-out perspective, that is solely from the company's perspective, and thereby craft a strategy or objectives designed to create the most efficient and low-cost business processes possible, or other goals that serve only the company's interests. Customer-centric companies define CRM with an outside-in perspective, which means learning what customers want in order to grow business with vendors, and including some of those objectives in the strategy.

When the application design fails to improve customer relationships, adopters revert from CRM to what I refer to a CDM, which stands for Customer Data Management. The company simply captures more customer data in a system, and while that can be somewhat helpful, by itself it isn't going to improve customer relationships or revenue growth from customers.

If customers are not better off after your software implementation, they will eventually gravitate to a customer-centric competitor.

Deliver for the Company

For too many companies the objective of installing CRM software is to get the application to run. That's a case of installing technology for technology's sake and is certain to underwhelm.

The software becomes strategic when it directly supports your company's top priorities. Most company's priorities include things like achieving double digit revenue growth, realizing a customer-centric culture, delivering unique customer experiences and the like. Most companies don't have a top business priority of getting software to run correctly.

If your application isn't designed to directly aid important company objectives, then it's not strategic, and probably relegated to delivering departmental efficiencies or incremental cost savings.

Another opportunity to serve the company is to use the application to improve your products or services.

These systems have the tools to engage customers and learn how to create better products and services. Customers will tell you what they want, and how to improve your products or services, if you ask them. Companies that collaborate with customers during product design, manufacturing, distribution, sales, service and returns create more valuable products and services. We're in the age of the social customer.

The technology can also be used to transform data into information. Research shows that companies which implement software in a vacuum – that is without an accompanying strategy – use less than 5 percent of their data. Data is an asset if used and an unproductive expense if not. Every person, process, information system and decision in your company is improved with more relevant data.

For example, with data the system can answer simple but often unanswered questions such as what 20% of customers generate 70% of my margins and profits? Or what 20% of customers deliver 80% of the referrals that result in new sales? Or what 5-10% of customers contribute negative profits?

Only when the application is directly aligned to user, customer and business outcomes will the technology earn high user adoption, achieve high software utilization, deliver an impressive ROI and become sustainable.

See how CRM strategy and software align to deliver the most important user, customer and business outcomes.

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