The shift to a new system typically represents not just a technical update, but a drastic change in organizational culture and behavior. Depending on the current state, adopting a CRM could mean a complete transformation into a transparent, data-driven and sales-focused business.
Our experience and the data suggest this is easier said than done. Research shared by WhatFix shows that only 40% of businesses claim a 90% CRM adoption rate, while the majority of businesses struggle to encourage system adoption.
When business owners and sales leaders underestimate the amount of change management, training and reinforcement needed to accomplish this type of transformation, they risk ending up with partially or wholly incomplete adoption – which means sunk costs, lost productivity and squandered opportunity.
In this post, we’ll dig into why CRM adoption is such a big challenge – and define tangible ways you can set your business up for successful adoption.
Resistance to Change
For most people, resistance is the natural and default reaction to change. Adopting a new CRM is no different.
Before we can address how to encourage team adoption, we have to acknowledge this truth and accept that, in all likelihood, this won’t be quick and painless.
Resistance can manifest in several different forms, from passive disengagement to active pushback, and is rooted in a fundamental discomfort with the new and unknown, fear of increased workload, negative past experiences or perceived threats to established roles and competencies.
Generative AI is almost certainly changing these dynamics in dramatic ways that will be hard to predict. For example, tools like HubSpot’s ChatSpot and Salesforce’s Einstein could make the technical barrier to entry lower for most users, but at the same time likely heighten anxiety about being replaced by AI.
While we’re not going to change the fact that most humans instinctively resist change, leaders can address this reality head on by being transparent, showing empathy and communicating clearly.
Yes, change is hard – but here’s why we’re doing it (share the vision), here’s why it’s a win for all of us (tie the benefits back to the employees and shared goals) and here’s how we’re going to make this transition as smooth as possible for you (build trust through planning and process).
Leadership and Change Management
The success of any technological adoption, including that of a CRM system, hinges on the effectiveness of top-down change management. When business leadership fails to actively drive and manage the change process, it will significantly impede the CRM adoption rates and overall effectiveness.
Leadership’s Role in CRM Adoption
Leaders do more than make decisions; their attitudes and behaviors signal organizational priorities and true cultural beliefs. When leaders are disengaged or indifferent to the CRM system, it sends a message that the new system is not actually a priority, leading to a lack of enthusiasm and commitment among team members.
When team members don’t perceive that leadership is making the CRM adoption a priority, businesses can expect lower adoption rates, inconsistent usage, open resistance and missed opportunities to improve the systems and technologies that drive scalable growth.
Rather than take a hands-off approach to adoption, leaders should:
Communicate to the entire organization that this is a priority they are personally invested in seeing through.
Clearly articulate the strategic vision behind the CRM and its expected benefits, linking them to team and individual goals.
Ensure that teams have the training and support they need to transition to the new CRM system effectively.
Publicly acknowledge teams and individuals who effectively use the CRM, reinforcing positive behaviors with recognition and rewards.
Investing in Implementation and Training
As a HubSpot technical consulting and training partner, we’ve seen again and again what happens when business leaders underinvest in CRM implementation in training. By the time they’ve come to us, they’ve already attempted some form of DIY or cut-rate approach that’s fallen flat and now they need an implementation specialist to help them do it right and properly train their team.
You can pay now, or you can pay later.
If you have marketing operations people on your team who are experts in your CRM, great! Set them up for success by making sure they have the needed resources and capacity to lead the implementation.
If you don’t have this expertise in-house, hire an implementation partner!
Rather than learning on the fly through trial and error, a highly proficient partner like Simple Machines lets you avoid the pitfalls and get to adoption faster by proving value out of the gate. As we tell clients, we’ve seen this movie before, and we know what to expect. This experience is invaluable in streamlining implementation and fostering positive attitudes about the new technology.
We’ve discussed the benefits of investing in professional CRM training in the past. This is probably the most undervalued and underestimated piece of the adoption puzzle, and if nothing else, this is where leaders can most positively impact adoption.
Remember: a professional trainer isn’t just teaching your team to push the right buttons; they’re developing the mindset, behaviors and processes that empower the users to use the platform for their unique goals.
By working with a trainer that’s certified by your CRM, you can better ensure you’re getting someone who’s vetted, experienced and knowledgeable.
Note: hiring an implementation and training partner doesn’t mean you can ignore the resistance to change or skip leadership’s role in change management. Outsourcing those pieces to a third party that your employees don’t know about probably won’t work. Those foundational steps must be addressed, and leaders help the partner succeed by validating the partnership from the top down, from the beginning.
Crawl, Walk, Run
Another common barrier to CRM adoption: compressing the adoption process (and overloading users) rather than taking a phased approach.
Through years of experience, we’ve found adoption is much more effective when we adopt a graduated ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach. This helps prevent users from becoming overwhelmed, solidifies foundational skills and builds confidence as users progressively master the system’s capabilities.
For example, depending on which teams will be using the CRM, their path might look something like this:
Crawl: Establishing the Fundamentals
In the ‘crawl’ phase, the focus is on establishing basic but crucial habits that form the foundation of any CRM system:
Entering Contacts and Notes: Encourage users to start by consistently inputting contact information and meeting notes. This simple step ensures that all customer data is centralized, paving the way for more advanced CRM functions.
Understanding the Interface: Users become familiar with the basic layout and functionalities of the CRM, such as navigation, search, and data entry.
Prioritizing Data Quality: Emphasize the importance of accuracy and completeness when entering data to prevent issues in subsequent stages.
This initial stage is all about building comfort and ensuring that every user understands how to navigate the system and perform basic tasks correctly.
Walk: Enhancing Engagement
Once users are comfortable with the CRM basics, the ‘walk’ phase builds on this foundation by introducing more complex functionalities:
Pipeline Management: Users learn to manage and track deals through various stages in the CRM, which is crucial for sales and customer management.
Forecasting: Teams begin to use the CRM for sales forecasting, which allows for better resource planning and management decisions.
Segmentation and Targeting: Users start to segment contacts and leads, enabling more targeted marketing and sales efforts.
This stage is about integrating the CRM into daily workflows and leveraging its data to make better-informed business decisions.
Run: Maximizing CRM Potential
In the ‘run’ phase, users are ready to leverage the full power of the CRM through tools like:
Automation: Implementing automation for repetitive tasks such as follow-ups and reporting saves time and reduces the potential for human error.
Advanced Reporting: Users harness the CRM’s reporting tools to gain deep insights into sales trends, customer behavior, and performance metrics.
Customization and Integration: The CRM is tailored to the specific needs of the business, and integrations with other tools are established to streamline processes.
By gradually building up to this advanced stage, users are less likely to feel overwhelmed and more likely to use the CRM to its fullest extent.
Beginning the Work
Again, CRM adoption isn’t easy – and for larger, more complex teams and organizations, this article really just scrapes the surface of what it might entail. That said, I hope this has provided a helpful way of thinking about the challenge and some applicable tools for making your CRM adoption successful.
Charlie is the Chief Strategy Officer at Simple Machines Marketing. When he's not doing the marketing, he likes playing guitar, hanging with his family in Chicago and lots of other stuff too but this seems like a good amount for a blog bio.