Why You Shouldn’t Rush to Bring Your CRM System Online

By Geoffrey James

Once you’ve decided to go forward with a CRM implementation, you understandably want to get things rolling as quickly as possible. The most common way of speeding up a CRM implementation is to give the sales force access to a generic, out-of-the-box version of the CRM software while simultaneously working on the customizations that will align the CRM system with the corporation’s sales processes. That’s not an effective strategy, however, says Dan Star, chief marketing officer at Salesnet, a CRM vendor headquartered in Boston, MA.

Cutting corners in the system rollout schedule just alienates sales reps. “It’s like going to a dealership to test drive a sports car, only to find that all there is for you to try out is an SUV,” says Star, “You simply aren’t going to be happy with the experience and you certainly aren’t going to be ready to buy.” Successful CRM implementations – those that generate enthusiasm among the sales force – always begin with the customization process, followed by a pilot program with a small sales team and finally a gradual rollout.

The key element of this process is the pilot program because the sales reps that participate in the pilot then spread the word about whether the CRM system will be useful or not. The pilot program also offers the opportunity to get invaluable input from sales reps about problems with the system that need to be fixed before it’s rolled out to the larger sales force. The key issue to remember here is that word of mouth is your greatest ally. Sales reps are by nature gregarious communicators so any scuttlebutt about the CRM system is going to spread quickly.

To make certain the rumors and opinions are positive, you must actively cultivate one or more champions among your sales reps who will tout CRM around the water cooler. Taking the gradual approach makes it much easier to cultivate champions and develop a positive buzz about the system. Ideally, the best candidates for champions aren’t the young gung-ho techie types. Such sales reps usually are on board from the first moment the CRM system is announced. The people you want to cultivate as champions are the successful sales reps the rest of the staff want to emulate. This type of top employee is unlikely to be dazzled by technology for technology’s sake, which is why a staged implementation is so important.

Building enthusiasm among your sales reps means selling the CRM system to the sales team. Rather than thinking of yourself as a manager twisting the arms of employees, treat sales reps as customers who need to be convinced that your product will help them become more productive. That shouldn’t be too hard because, after all, the reason you became a sales manager in the first place was because you know how to sell.

As an experienced sales manager you probably realize it’s easier to make a series of small sales, each building on the previous, than it is to get a customer to buy a one-time, big-ticket purchase. Likewise, a gradual rollout emphasizes that the CRM implementation is a process rather than a pill sales reps must swallow. Robb Eklund, vice president of CRM Product Marketing at Oracle Corporation once put it this way: “Sales methodologies and motivational programs tend to change frequently and sales implementations need to be flexible enough to reflect new constructs without requiring reimplementation.”