According to Forrester, the most concerning threat in CRM projects is slow user adoption (49%). That’s a major challenge faced by organisations. So why is this the case?

End user adoption – the acceptance and use of software or apps to meet a specific need – is possibly the most important part of implementing a CRM system. It’s about as critical as it gets. Without it the project is doomed to fail.

Threats to CRM Projects

The problem is there are so many user adoption strategies put forward by companies trying to overcomplicate things and sell their consulting services.

CRM User Adoption Strategy

In my experience, a good strategy centres around three important factors:

In this post, I’ll share the strategies that I’ve refined over the past 10 years to successfully tackle user adoption challenges when working with international organisations such as Lloyds Bank and Stonehage Fleming.

1) Communication

Communication is the number one priority – get a plan in place, along with how you’re going to communicate out to stakeholders. It’s important when implementing a CRM system that employees know what’s going on (and why) and that the lines of communication are open. Here are some key points to bear in mind:

Involve end users in the project from the outset.

When implementing a new CRM system, pay close attention to the employees who are going to be using it day-to-day.

Listen to them. Understand what they need to do their job well. What’s difficult for them with the current process and what works well?

They’ll be able to tell you where the current setup is – or isn’t working.

Whilst you might not be able to take all their suggestions onboard, it’ll ensure that you don’t overlook any important requirements. It also gives you the opportunity to explain more about why the changes are taking place. Let them know that their input is important to the project’s success.

By making them feel part of the process they’re more like to come to you with ideas, tell you about problems or even highlight opportunities. There’s much to be gained for both parties.

Get the business involved.

Make sure you know who your key stakeholders are and get them involved. This could be everyone from board level and C-level executives to sales, marketing and administrators. But it doesn’t stop there.

The rest of the organisation needs to be aware of the project and what it means to the organisation too.

CRM systems often fail where senior management haven’t continually championed the software and its business objectives to staff.

By defining the business value of the new CRM platform, you’ll be able to provide a clear message on why adoption of this new system is so important. Regular updates on progress at key stages in the project should be communicated out to the whole business – with details of when they’ll receive the next update.

Be honest and open, but also celebrate successes together along the way.

Assign a project team

Let everyone know who’ll be championing the project and who they can contact if they have any questions.

Alongside the CRM project manager, there might be other people that will be helping with the project. This team should communicate timelines and updates for the project right through to – and beyond – the software being released to the users.

Training is very important as it’s where the benefits start to be visualised by staff and hands-on interaction with the software can take place. This could involve some employees being trained as super users to further champion the cause and support staff using the software to increase user adoption.

Having a team dedicated to the CRM implementation will illustrate that you’re serious about the project and that it’s important for the business to get right.

Communicate the downside

Let stakeholders know that without the right CRM system in place it’ll be difficult to track KPIs, to improve the sales pipeline or, indeed, the effectiveness of marketing.

Understanding the success of sales and marketing campaigns is essential to know whether the business is going to hit its revenue or other performance targets. Without a solid CRM platform, you’re not going to know if the team is spending its time wisely and delivering the necessary results. And likewise, end users are not going to be able to tell how close they are to achieving their goals.

Know how it impacts the individual

As with any new software system, employees will be worried about their position and what it means for them. People generally don’t like change – particularly if they’ve carried out a certain role or task the same way for a long period of time.

Start by understanding what motivates them.

Acknowledge their fears and help them see how they stand to benefit from the new CRM platform.

What part of their job will be made easier?

Let them know that they’ll receive training and support every step of the way and that if they have any concerns that you’re ready to listen.

Create a nurturing and supportive environment as this will help to encourage user adoption when the system goes live.



2) Technical platform

Choosing the right CRM solution for the business is the second critical factor.

In this step, it’s important to make sure that the chosen platform meets the needs of both the end user and the business.

For example, we work with a lot of offshore financial services organisations with up to 1000 users. They mainly want their data on-premise which makes Dynamics 365 a viable option over say, Salesforce, which is cloud only.

Get this right and you’re more likely to have happy end users that readily adopt the new platform because it has been communicated well and everything naturally leads up to this point.

You’ve already spent time with them, finding out what’s important to their role, how it could be made easier and to discuss any changes to their work processes to support the business better moving forward. The technical requirements are defined out of those conversations.

With this in mind, when choosing the system there are additional factors that you should keep in mind.

Each of these directly impacts user adoption and could result in their refusal to use it:

  • Inputting data should be quick and save time
  • Keep dropdowns and mandatory fields to a minimum
  • Make sure the CRM is accessible everywhere via a mobile device
  • It should be easy to use without having to go through different systems
  • Integrate with key systems such as email (which we’ll cover in the next section)

Making sure that all data is stored in one central system where it’s incredibly easy to access, should be the primary goal. This is an opportunity to automate, reduce unnecessary processes, and generally make CRM much more efficient.

In addition, it’s important to bear the following factors in mind:

Take a phased approach

Don’t do everything at once. If your implementation is going to take 12 months you can be sure that something will have changed during that timeframe.

You might have grand ambitions for your CRM project but start small when it comes to implementation. It also helps to ensure that end users aren’t overwhelmed – as well as the project manager!

Upgrade the infrastructure

You’ll need to check that the new CRM platform will operate on the existing IT infrastructure – or plan for an upgrade. Make sure this has been carried out prior to go-live. It will reduce the likelihood of end user adoption issues because they can’t gain access to use the system.

Take time to test 

Testing the CRM software is always a good idea.

You can get dedicated people to do this – or even better, involve end users. That way, you can collate their feedback on any issues and problems before go-live. It also gives them a chance to try out the software, and again be part of the process. You can see what’s intuitive to them and what’s not.

Are there any major issues? It’s best to find out at this stage so that all critical problems can be fixed. The more you can reduce potential issues in a live environment, the better.

Carry out regular process analyses

As your company evolves over time, so too will your CRM software.

If you find your employees are no longer using parts of the system, it could be because their work processes have changed.

Therefore, it’s important that the project team plan and adopt continual improvement processes to optimise the CRM system and its workflows. After all, this will help your business run faster and more efficiently.

3) Integration with business systems

No software system should sit in a silo – and that goes for CRM platforms too. Integrating it into the organisation’s core business systems is, therefore, a must:

Make CRM accessible

One of the roles of integration is to make data easily accessible to the end user as quite naturally this increases take-up of the system. Allowing them to access and record data from within Microsoft Outlook, for example, means they can work in an environment that’s very familiar to them.

Being able to carry out their tasks without even having to leave their favourite tool or app makes it more likely that the CRM system will be regularly updated – and that leads to a higher quality of information.

Integrate with other core systems

Organisations may have key business systems that would benefit from being integrated with the CRM platform. These could include marketing automation, accounting software – and depending on the industry, they could also include client matters and other industry-specific solutions.

Integration with these systems ensures users are empowered with all the key information they need to know to provide the best sales and customer service to your clients. It reflects on the interdependency between departments.

Simple reporting can then assist management in their business decisions by providing answers such as: How much has that marketing campaign directly affected sales? Which customers have received certain promotions? Bringing data together can help the business monitor trends for sales and marketing purposes or see spending across different customer bases when looking to target promotions.

Make it mandatory

If a user has to use the system adoption issues will reduce. For example, if the sales team gets commission, change the business process for calculating commission to use the CRM data. That’s one way to ensure the sale team keep their data up-to-date.

Got a client take on process? Make sure it’s triggered from CRM when the new business is won and remove any existing process that may be in place. This can be as simple as a few workflows to send out emails to full integration to create accounting and time and billing data in the external system.

If users have the ability to do their work outside of CRM your project is likely to have an adoption issue, period!

Plan integrations carefully

Once the CRM platform is in place, then phase in integration projects one at a time. This way you’ll ensure that end users are familiar with the core platform before layering on additional functionality, features and solutions.

Making incremental changes in this way not only makes implementation more manageable, it also ensures that end user adoption for the original project has been deemed successful. It’s all part of the continual improvement process.

At the end of the day, user adoption is like a relationship – it takes effort to make it work. It means communicating well and then taking the relevant actions (and implementing solutions) that reflect discussions.

Get this right and all the hard work will pay off, evidenced by the high rate of user adoption achieved.

Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. But you’ll eventually get to that point where people, processes and technology will be in harmony as the transformation becomes ingrained in company culture.

What do you think?

I hope you found this article helpful. If you have a question about user adoption – or there’s a different approach that you use – please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.


Zachery Walsh O'Brien

Written By: Zachery Walsh O'Brien

Zachery is a Web Developer with a great eye for front end web development. He has studied Graphic Design, received a Higher National Diploma in Visual Communications, and interned as a Graphic Designer upon leaving college in a digital design agency in Ireland. Zachery originally focused on WordPress web design but has now diversified his skillset towards a web development role being able to leverage many front end languages and frameworks.

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