We have all heard, and many of us experienced, that many CRM solutions do not provide the value that those investing in them expected. There are multiple reasons for this. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share some of the often overlooked reasons and hopefully provide some insight into how to avoid these traps. I’ve lived through (barely surviving!!) nine different CRM implementations, during my last 15 years in sales and sales management. While my current role is tied to helping others avoid these mistakes, everything in this series is taken directly from my observances from “the inside”, while I worked for the company implementing the CRM solution.

First I will re-state the most over-used cliché’ in IT. “Technology is never the problem. Poor requirements are always the problem”. I’ve said that myself many times, but in reflection, it just isn’t true.

Developing extraordinary requirements that are followed precisely during development of a system, in no way guarantees a successful solution. People have to use the system!! Sounds obvious, right? You knew that. Everyone knows that. That’s why we spend endless hours debating “the carrot vs. the stick” approaches to getting the sales reps to use the CRM system. But…. (insert drumroll here) How much time and effort is spent debating how we will get management to use the system? Below is a real world scenario that happens daily in organizations of all sizes. I’ve personally lived through it at three different firms. The consistency of how things played out at all three firms is almost eerie. The steps are in chronological order as the typically occur.

1. Management of the firm decides a CRM solution is needed, so they can know what is going on in the business at any point in time. (You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. That’s what they always say!)

2. The firm goes through the process of selecting, designing and implementing a CRM system. Let’s assume for this discussion that they do an excellent job.

3. The next several months the management continually requests updates on:

  • Whether or not the sales people are “using that system we spent so much money on?
  • Who’s not using the system? This question is followed by an emphatic “I want names!”
  • Are all the opportunities and customers entered into the system?
  • Are we going to meet the deadline I set for having all of the information in the system up to date? "I just had someone check and there is one opportunity that I know closed yesterday and it isn’t shown as closed in the system", they say. 

4. Sales feels the pressure and begins doing a pretty good job of using the system.

5. Many sales reps and sales managers begin seeing the power of the tool and begin using it beyond the minimum requirements management has put forward.

6. Everything is settling in fine. The system is really looking like a success.

7. Management sends out an urgent email to all sales employees stating, “I need your forecast by the end of the day. Please fill out the attached spreadsheet and have it back to me by 4:30. This is not optional”. (The subject line of this email is almost universally “FIREDRILL!!!”)

8. Sales people and sales managers frantically scramble to get their information out of the CRM system and retype it all into the spreadsheet provided in the email.

9. Approximately 24 hours pass.

10. Sales managers and sales reps gather in small groups in the hall, or chat on the phone and the comments are pretty consistent:

  • “Everything they asked for is in CRM. Why don’t they go look at it”
  • “They beat us over the head with that CRM system and THEY don’t even use it!”
  • “They told us the main reason we should use the new system was so “we would never have to have firedrills like that again. I actually believed them!”
  • “Why should I take the time to enter all my information in the system if no one is going to look at it”
  • “Now you understand why I was the only one who held out on using this CRM stuff. I’ve seen this a hundred times before”

11. Over the next month or two, steps 7 through 10 repeat three or four times.

12. Usage of the system starts to diminish.

13. Sales managers start going back to “the old spreadsheet” as a way to get the forecast from their team. It saves them time because their boss will want to see it that way. They have to either choose this option or tell their team to keep using CRM and take the brunt of manually putting 10 different reps’ forecasts into a spreadsheet that doesn’t even have the same fields as CRM.

14. Another 6-12 months pass

15. A new sales rep joins the firm and asks his manager, “what do we use for CRM here”. The sales manager responds, “I’ll send you the spreadsheet”.

16. CRM dies.

And it wasn’t because of poor requirements OR bad technology.

The moral to the story: Sales reps adopting the system and entering all of their information is not synonymous with successful adoption of a  CRM solution. Someone needs to use the information that is there!

P.S. It is very important to note that I have used the term “management” as the major culprit here and not the term “sales management”. That was intentional.