How to Get Your Reps to Use Your CRM System

By Geoffrey James

Nobody wants to have an expensive, unused CRM system. However, many CRM implementations never become a part of reps’ day-to-day business because sales management didn’t ensure their sales reps would embrace the new technology. Here are some quick guidelines to get your sales staff on board and productive quickly.

Rule #1: Keep the design focused on the sales force.
CRM originally was viewed as a way for sales management to obtain more detailed control over the sales process by having salespeople enter data that management could later collect and review. Most sales reps couldn’t care less about management reporting, though. According to Erin Kinikin, vice president of CRM research at Forrester Research, for a CRM system to be accepted by the sales force it must provide value to the sales force, which means providing sales reps with information and services that help them sell.

Rule #2: Don’t train reps on a generic CRM system.
Once sales managers decide to go forward with CRM they understandably want to get things rolling. A common strategy for speeding up a CRM implementation is to give the sales force access to the out-of-the-box version of the CRM software, while simultaneously working on customizations to put the CRM system into alignment with the corporation’s sales processes. But this approach alienates sales reps, according to Dan Star, chief marketing officer at Salesnet, a CRM vendor headquartered in Boston, MA. “It’s like going to a dealership to test drive a sports car, only to find out all they’ve got for you to try out is an SUV,” he explains.

Rule #3: Use a pilot program to tune the system’s functionality.
To generate enthusiasm among the sales force, always begin a CRM implementation with a pilot program that involves a small sales team representative of the end user community. The pilot program offers the opportunity for a handful of sales reps to identify problems with the system that might alienate the larger sales force if the system were rolled out without first fixing those problems. In addition to troubleshooting, pilot participants are likely to feel a sense of ownership for the success of the CRM system and, ideally, will spread positive buzz about the technology, thereby laying the groundwork for wider acceptance.

Rule #4: Don’t bother with strong-arm tactics.
In the past, companies have tried to enforce CRM usage with strong-arm tactics, such as denying commissions to sales reps who don’t enter all the required data. The problem with this approach is that the sales reps who need the most convincing to use a CRM system are the ones who are too busy selling to spend time monkeying with a computer. On the other hand, marginal sales reps are all too happy to futz around with CRM rather than going out to sell. To capture the interest of your top performers you must offer them real benefits, according to Joe Galvin, vice president of CRM at Gartner.

Rule #5: Change your CRM system as your sales processes change.
Selling CRM to your sales force is a never-ending job. To ensure sales reps will continue to embrace CRM, the system must evolve and change as your sales processes evolve and change. “Sales methodologies and motivational programs tend to change frequently. Sales implementations need to be flexible enough to reflect new processes,” says Robb Eklund, vice president of CRM Product Marketing at Oracle Corporation.