The Top 4 CRM User Adoption Best Practices


  • Users adopt CRM software when the pain of same is greater than the pain of change. The application must also deliver benefits that exceed the effort. That means users must get more value out of the software than the effort to enter data into it.
  • Users adopt this technology when the application delivers what's most important to them, what they identify as their performance, productivity and personal goals, or what we often call their WIFFMs (what's in it for me.)
  • Slow or low user adoption is a top cited contributing factor to implementations that fail to achieve their objectives or just fail outright. 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 application will fail to become sustainable.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Higher Adoption Equals Higher ROI

User adoption is a perennial challenge with most customer relationship management software implementations. That's important because there is an inextricable link between software usage and payback.

Simply put, the company will not realize the most important benefits if they fail to achieve broad and consistent employee adoption. If many of the users don't use the application, or don't use it correctly, it doesn't matter if the software was installed on time and on budget.

Fortunately, there are proven methods to gain wide scale and enthusiastic CRM user adoption. If you are planning an implementation, or looking to improve software adoption, consider the following four CRM user adoption best practices.


User Centered Design

User Centered Design (UCD) and CRM software are symbiotic. Together they make the application simpler to navigate, easier to use and more personally rewarding.

User centered design applies consumer and social technologies such as messaging, tagging, search, personalization, mobility and omni-channel engagement. It also applies design principals such as more white space, less clutter, visual cues, color coded intelligence, contextual menus, hover-over displays and responsive web design.

It avoids software bloat and the all too common practice of blindly adding features and functions at the expense of simplicity and ease of use. Expert designers know expansive and unwarranted features and functions are the enemy of simplicity. When it comes to designing for simplicity, less is more.

A CRM user interface is like a joke, in that if you need to explain it, it doesn't work. That's why user centered design seeks to make the application so simple it doesn't require training or manuals.

CRM User Experience

However, despite graphical guidelines and intuitive layout, software design is less about software aesthetics and more about satisfying the four user objectives of focus, simplicity, productivity and user experience. These capabilities go beyond the visual presentation and help users with what they say are the most important benefits. And these are the benefits that will most improve staff adoption.

If you would like to learn more, check out CRM software user centered design best practices.


User Benefits and Outcomes

The simple but often ignored truth is that most employees will not embrace any software unless and until it helps them do their jobs better. For many companies that means a shift from data input to information output. From feeding the system to getting value out of the system. Recognize that any application is more likely to be adopted when it gives something back.

What users most want are capabilities that directly aid their performance, productivity and personal goals. It's not out of the box functionality, but the application can be configured to deliver these benefits. Here are some examples for each of the 3 types of user goals.

  • A productivity goal is to increase staff efficiency. There are three ways to improve staff productivity. You can redesign processes to be more streamlined and effective, apply technology to automate manual activities, and develop analytics to work smarter. The technology possesses many ways to achieve these goals.
  • A performance goal is to increase customer retention. CRM systems can monitor customer behaviors and digital footprints to automatically calculate customer health scores. They can detect the conditions, events or triggers that can predict customer churn. For some industries and many businesses, reducing customer churn is the new growth strategy.
  • A personal goal is to expand quota improvement. This technique is designed to capture and replicate the actions, behaviors and best practices of top producers so that a broader percentage of the salesforce attains quota.

When working with clients we design and implement user improvements by role. Here are some examples for the salesperson role.

  • Automate customer research. Tools such as InsideView and LinkedIn Sales Navigator take a new lead name, harvest external information about that company (i.e., firmographic data, contacts, news and updates) and automatically import that data to the system, thereby saving each salesperson a lot of manual data entry and time.
  • Auto calculate sales qualification scores. You can improve account qualification with semi-automated or automated lead and opportunity scores. The applications can score qualification criteria from the lead, account and opportunity records and calculate a fit or score to provide guidance in making the Go- or No-Go sales pursuit decision. Ranking your qualified leads takes this a step further by prioritizing opportunities based on their probability to close.
  • Ease CRM data entry. Sales activity updates can be automated with Natural Language Processing (NLP) or AI. Sale activities may be spoken or phoned in so they apply a voice to text upload and automatically create the CRM software activity record. Another option is to sync emails to create activity records. Publishers such as Microsoft and Salesforce offer integration from Outlook so that any or all emails from a contact are automatically inserted to the account record.
  • Predictive analytics convert data to forward looking information such as next best offer, next best action or guided selling recommendation. Giving users something relevant that they don't know or giving them insights which aid their sales pursuits or decision making increases the software value proposition.

An alternative approach is to design user benefits with purpose built tools. There are use cases designed specifically for tools such as mobility, workflow automation, predictive analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

For example, AI can deliver user benefits such as lead prioritization, account intelligence, opportunity insights, automated data entry, guided selling and intelligent forecasting.

AI can calculate which leads are mostly likely to close, which channels generate the most customer dialogue, what content is most effective in advancing a prospect through the sales cycle, what actions will increase the likelihood of winning a deal and what price will maximize the close probability and company margins.

These are all examples where the application purpose shifts from putting data into a system to getting value out of it. These types of use cases elevate the system from an administrative tool to a sales advisor that directly aids salesperson and sales manager goals.

To see more use cases that apply technology to achieve staff performance, productivity and personal goals, check out the links between CRM software user adoption and CRM aided user outcomes.


Organizational Change Management

A new software implementation brings with it new processes, automation, information, roles and responsibilities. That's a lot of change, and the challenge with change is that it creates anxiety for many employees. And that anxiety directly impacts user adoption.

While change is endorsed by the few imposing the change, it is not always so well accepted by the many receiving the change. To bridge that difference, a change management program should systemically shift resistant staff 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 management events and artifacts that will lower resistance to change and increase user adoption include a change readiness assessment, communication plan, technology impact analysis, learning and training tools, post go-live intermediation measures and value realization measurements.

Change Management Process

You can see in the above journey diagram how change management activities can be rolled out to ensure resistance to change will not delay or derail technology objectives.

A change management program can be the single greatest tool to determine whether CRM user adoption is enthusiastic, sluggish or challenged.


Measure and Intervene

The path to adoption is a measurable one. CRM software user adoption dashboards bring measurability to application use and the realization of benefits.

CRM User Adoption Dashboards

A significant amount of data is available to measure results and guide the evolutionary process.

However, resistance to change will be masked by users who login to the new system and exhibit motions without results. Therefore, a best practice is to measure user adoption by measuring utilization and productivity; not just access to the software. Rather than just gauging adoption from logins or rote consumption, it is far more effective to view adoption in terms of productivity, automation and outcomes.

We want to know if users are using the technology as prescribed, or if they are accomplishing targeted objectives in different ways, or if they are failing to accomplish intended objectives. These types of metrics can be automated with dashboards or reports that link user roles with log files and audit trails.

When we discover capabilities not being used, or end-to-end business process cycles not being automated, we can revert back to the change management program for additional education, training, motivation or other intervention to achieve the realization of planned business benefits.


Remember, if you are not accomplishing user, customer and business outcomes, you're just creating another place to enter the same data. It's what analysts and consultants often refer to as repaving the cow path.

If the users fail to see personal value from software, they revert to the bare minimum operation, maintain separate shadow systems (often Excel spreadsheets), incur more manual effort, disregard data quality when entering transactions and make negative comments about the system to their peers. Most companies struggle with software utilization, which is why most companies use less than one-quarter of their CRM applications capability.

But if users find the application easy to use and achieve outcomes they feel are important, user adoption will flourish and the software will be wildly successful.

See the 4 most important CRM software user adoption best practices.

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