User Adoption

If your company has deployed a CRM application, but user adoption levels have turned out to be lower than expected, it’s not too late to achieve all of the benefits that were originally projected. While users typically receive adequate training on system navigation, some issues and attitudes about user adoption may still need to change. Only by addressing the needs of the business units responsible for using the CRM application can companies realize their ROI targets. Companies that have achieved high levels of user adoption clearly communicate the business reasons behind their decision to purchase a CRM system and the specific system tasks that users are expected to perform on a day-to-day basis. These CRM management teams have developed strategies to deal with stakeholders that feel ignored or threatened and may therefore become bent on ensuring the system will fail. The management team must also have disciplines in place to consistently reinforce new behaviors at all appropriate levels of the organization. Here are some successful methods that have worked well to increase user adoption at several organizations. Each of these best practices is designed to establish demand from the users so that they pull the system into their daily business processes for their own benefits — rather than the more typical situation where managers push the system out to the users, and where users often end up pushing back!



Perform an in-depth review of the existing system deployment. Since the CRM system has already been deployed, the first step is to perform an in-depth analysis of the ways that users and managers currently work with the information in the application. This analysis forms the foundation for each of the best practices that follow and serves as a benchmark to measure future progress. It’s important to conduct interviews with both users and managers from each of the primary business units in order to build an understanding of how these individuals currently view the system, how they feel the application is currently aligned with their business processes, what queries and reports they are generating, how often they may be synchronizing with the central server, how frequently they are inputting new information on customers and prospects, and whether or not they are reviewing client and prospect information prior to making a sales call. Discussion should also include whether a more streamlined business process may be better suited to leverage the features and functions that are already available in the CRM application.



Identify the primary user adoption tasks. The next step is to define the primary tasks that need to be completed for the user adoption project. This is best done through a half-day workshop with members of the project team and select members of the primary business units. Once the primary tasks are defined, responsibilities and completion dates need to be assigned. In some cases, the user adoption project may require relaunching the application, while in others it may simply be a matter of adding new features and functionality to the existing application. In all cases, it’s important to think through the primary components of the project and incorporate these into a detailed project plan. But keep in mind that this plan will most likely go through a series of updates as the project evolves, and new information on user needs is uncovered.



Carefully define the performance objectives for each business unit. Once the high-level requirements are defined for each business unit, conduct workshops to define the detailed performance objectives and the expected behavior for each major job type within every business unit that is using the CRM application. These workshops are designed to allow members of the business units to brainstorm and define user requirements in an interactive setting, and also provide a good way for users to begin assuming greater ownership of the application. The first half-day workshop should includemembers of the senior management team and focus on developing a clear understanding of their primary business objectives and original expectations for the CRM application ­essentially, why they made an investment in the CRM application and the changes in user behavior they were expecting. The participants for the second full-day workshop include midlevel managers responsible for the business units or sales regions. Their mission is to translate the high-level objectives of the senior management team into actionable performance objectives for each of the affected business units by creating a detailed definition of how specific job types should be interacting with the application, including:

  • What new information users should be able toaccess from other applications.
  • What new information they are expected to add for clients and prospects.
  • How data quality should be maintained.
  • Who is responsible for developing and distributing reports.
  • How the performance objectives will be managed and monitored on an ongoing basis.

Another objective of the midlevel manager workshops is to identify the features and functions of the application that can make each user’s day-to-day tasks faster, easier, and more powerful, and then determine whether or not these features and functions are currently being used.



Define a comprehensive user adoption retraining and support strategy. While the CRM application may have already been deployed for some time, it makes sense to analyze each user’s competency with the application and then decide what additional user training and support may be necessary to increase user adoption. The detailed retraining and support strategy needs of each business unit should cover:

  • Who will need additional training.
  • On what specific subjects they will need further training.
  • Whether eLearning and/or instructor-led training is most appropriate.
  • When and where the training will occur.
  • What additional technical support is needed by each business unit.
  • How users will be supported.
  • How users will access technical assistance.

Computer simulations of the CRM application can include short on-line tests that objectively evaluate each user’s skills. Users can then receive tailored training that focuses specifically on the areas where they may be weak.



Define a change communications strategy. Users typically assume the worst in an information vacuum, which is why user communications are a critical element to improving user adoption. One of the primary goals of the change communications strategy is to ensure that end users clearly understand why their company has invested in the CRM application ­amessage that may not have been clearly communicated during the initial roll out. The communications strategy is essentially an inhouse marketing communications program designed to build support and enthusiasm for the CRM system. The communications strategy should include a branding name and a logo that immediately identifies the system to users. The strategy should also define the required communications vehicles for each of the primary business units, including e-mail newsletters, road shows, company meetings, or any other communications vehicles that may be effective. Focus on subjects that will demonstrate specific and tangible benefits from using the system. For example, describe reports that answer specific types of business questions, or proposal templates or on-line literature that can help users save time. And ask successful users to document their experiences and thoughts on the system. If employees hear positive things about a new application through their peers, they are likely to feel less apprehensive and more accepting.



Develop user adoption retraining materials that are aligned with the primary performance objectives. If the training program for your original CRM deployment only covered how to navigate in the application, then you probably missed an excellent opportunity to communicate the advantages of the application to your users. The components of the training program should be tailored for each unique business function and should embed the performance objectives defined earlier in the workshops. These objectives can be communicated through exercises and examples that use the company’s data and business processes. That way individuals can clearly see how they will need to use the system once they return to their desks or hit the road. If these are new business processes, then more in-depth information on the advantages of the new process should also be included in the training materials. When you begin to review what a retraining effort will entail, it is important to focus on the best selection of training components to do the job. Consider any combination of reference guides, instructor guides, job aids, classroom guides, a special training database that features realistic data, computer simulations, distance learning, or any other eLearning tools that will clearly demonstrate to users how they are expected to use the application on a day-to-day basis.



Define an on-site assistance program. Once the CRM application is redeployed, it is important to continue providing training and support to any user that may need it. This includes working with individuals on a one-onone basis at their desks. On-site assistance can also take the form of setting up one-on-one meetings with each user in a proactive mode, or simply serve as a resource that users can call or visit when they experience problems. This assistance should be continued for several weeks after the system is deployed, or as long as required to ensure that utilization is not negatively impacted because individuals simply don’t understand the performance objectives.



Monitor progress on the performance objectives after the system has been redeployed. Once the system has been redeployed, monitor system usage to ensure that users are adhering tothe performance objectives defined by the management team. This monitoring can take two forms. First, specific system usage can be defined through the systems administrator, including how often users are synchronizing or how many new contacts, activities or new opportunities they are adding. It is very important that each user has a clear understanding of the performance objectives from their managers, and that they will be evaluated on how well these objectives are met. Second, the performance objectives can be monitored directly by each user’s manager. If managers require that users input a minimum number of new opportunities per quarter, for example, then this information should be automatically rolled up to the manager’slevel. If the user is not meeting the performance objectives, then the manager can take immediate, proactive measures to change the behavior.


This article is adapted from a white paper, Post Deployment Strategies to Improve Adoption: Helping to Leverage Your Customer Relationship Management Investment, written by Stephen Gondert, who has worked in the CRM industry for over fourteen years serving as a both a sales rep and a marketing manager for several high technology firms. The complete paper is available upon request from Market Builders.