CRM’s Triumph of Hope Over Experience

6 September 2019


Samuel Johnson called second marriages the triumph of hope over experience. His quip works for CRM implementations too. Three decades after CRM’s advent, our new research finds most firms’ CRM implementations characterized by lower than acceptable return on investment, less than satisfactory user adoption, and lots of unrealized potential. Why then do sales organizations stay in bad CRM marriages, or decide to embark on new ones? What explains the sales organization’s undiminished ardor for CRM, which at this point belongs in the hope-over-experience hall of fame (perhaps alongside Larry Fortensky)?

Probably this: Those few sales organizations in which CRM works well are crushing the sales forces where it doesn’t. They have much higher (40% higher) levels of firm sales objective achievement, more salespeople at quota (63% on average compared to 41%), and are significantly less distracted by low value activities. These are happy marriages, with chickens in every pot and well-adjusted children. But they make up fewer than four out of ten CRM implementations.

For the others? It’s tears and broken dishes. In fact, our research suggests that many firms in which CRM adoption and ROI chronically under perform may well be better off divorcing CRM. In these firms, CRM destroys more value than it creates, by adding more low value work for the sales organization than it automates.

What is different in firms happily married to CRM and those with basket case CRM relationships investments? Our research identifies multiple factors related to implementation characteristics, technology strategy, management oversight, and support investments. In this and a few future blog posts, I’ll examine these. Want to learn more? Join us for a webcast on 17 September for a full readout of the research.

Maybe We Should Have Adopted

User adoption is a bellwether metric for CRM’s organizational value. As long as there have been CRM implementations, there have been managers racked with angst over the lack of CRM user adoption. Three decades later, less than one in three firms (30%) achieve complete adoption, where “everyone” in the sales organization using CRM. Fig. 3.

Complete adoption seems like the gold standard, as our research finds that many firms would be satisfied with less. In fact where CRM adoption meets or exceeds firm expectations, just 46% have complete adoption. That’s lower than we expected. Imagine if all firms expected all salespeople to use CRM. Satisfaction with CRM adoption rates would be substantially lower than their already unimpressive levels.

Will adoption improve in the coming year? “Yes!” say three in four firms (75%), compared with just 2% who anticipate decreased adoption. Adoption gains aren’t likely however in our opinion for most firms, given what our research reveals about adoption drivers. Let’s examine these, beginning with those adoption-influencing factors considered important by management.

What Influences CRM User Adoption?

Achieving satisfactory CRM user adoption means getting a lot right. Five adoption factors are considered important by 90% or more of firms. These are:

  • Ease of use (considered important in driving CRM adoption by 95% of firms)
  • Managers’ encouragement to use (95%)
  • Making CRM the “single source” of sales force information (93%)
  • Ease of data input (93%)
  • Assistance in managing pipeline (93%)

Twelve of 15 CRM adoption factors researched are considered important by half or more of sales organizations. So – many factors, often interrelated, influence adoption, and this suggests the daunting prospects confronting so many firms facing chronic adoption woes. Fig. 6.

Even less encouraging is firms’ track record delivering against these criteria. Only three criteria are effectively provided by a majority of firms:

  • Managers’ encouragement to use CRM (present in 60% of firms)
  • CRM’s usefulness in managing sales pipeline (present in 58%)
  • Management’s use of CRM (53%)

You Won’t Implement It if You Don’t Integrate It

Which of these is the best place to focus to improve user adoption? Most likely none of these. Instead, firms may be best served by focusing on making CRM a more integrated experience for users. We categorized these 15 adoption drivers into five categories: management influence, usability, features, application support, and integration. Of these, integration issues alone rated higher than average in importance, and lower than average in firms’ current effectiveness.

What constitutes a well integrated CRM? I’ll focus there in my next post on this topic.

Learn more about our latest research on Unlocking CRM’s value.

Research First Look: Unlocking CRM’s Value

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Bob Kelly

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