In my previous post, I examined the importance of managing your sales activity instead of your pipeline -- delving into the impact that data and accurate forecasting have on sales. And I was gratified to receive a reaction from reader Roger Brennan, who addressed what is arguably the biggest challenge facing today’s sales force: CRM user adoption.

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“How do we address the challenge of [the] lack of user adoption among a team of reps?" Brennan wrote. "Without consistent usage of a CRM [customer relationship management system] by a rep to update information, we end up with a ‘garbage in, garbage out’ scenario.”

Great question, Roger. And you’re probably not the only one looking for an answer.

This article, then, lays out the reasons CRM user adoption is low, and offers tips on how to ensure your reps actually make the most out of your CRM.

The challenge: time and data

CRM systems are extremely user-centric and driven solely by the people who use them. That said, these systems are effective only if used . . . properly. As I always say, manually entering data into a CRM is time consuming, and sales reps would rather spend time on selling or strategy instead of data entry. Of course they feel that way! They’re in sales and want to make money, and that’s what you're paying them to do.

But there’s a greater impact to low utilization of CRM than the unproductive time it takes to update records. What about the data itself? A CRM system is useless without the data inside it, or if that data is not reliable, comprehensive or accurate. In sales, things are constantly moving, and as mentioned, entering sales activity into a CRM isn’t usually the first thing on a rep’s mind after a meeting or call with a prospect.

Because of this, it's a significant understatement to say that reps don’t always input their activity -- i.e., calls made, appointments set, notes from calls, etc. -- in a timely manner. When they do input their activity, their comments are often very general and optimistic (e.g., "Great call with Bob, follow-up next week").

So the data that does make its way into a CRM by reps is almost always speculative and outdated. The result is an inaccurate pipeline that fails to represent reality.

This then creates a Pandora’s Box of challenges for managers, executives and reps. To start with, inaccurate or incomplete data reduces sales managers’ ability to manage team performance because they don’t know which activities result in desired outcomes, or which deals are really going to close, as opposed to which still require heavy lifting.

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Managers can’t manage based on subjective probabilities; they need actual, accurate activity to benchmark and manage to a standard.

Lack of reliable CRM data also creates a significant gap between what Sales is doing and what executives are seeing. These types of indefinite estimates and forecasts can diminish executives’ confidence in sales leaders, and lead to mismatched expectations. This is the “garbage data in, garbage results out” Brennan referred to.

According to a recent report from Accenture, "Powering Profitable Sales Growth -- Five Imperatives," the adoption of tablet devices by sales representatives has increased by 400 percent in the past year, but their use is often limited to checking email and conducting administrative tasks, rather than leveraging them to fulfill strategic business needs. Yikes!

User adoption andautomatic data capture -- a win-win for all

Clearly, CRM systems have become an integral component in sales. They house all the data, which -- if it’s accurate -- managers can rely on to forecast, train and measure performance. User adoption shouldn’t be an issue when keeping in mind the benefits the system provides. But, the reality is, it is.

To ensure that your reps properly use your CRM, here are a few tips to instill across your teams:

  • Simplicity and automation: Make data-capture effortless, and usability a key part of sales on-boarding and training.
  • Senior management buy-in: Stress how and why using the CRM helps reps sell more easily and effectively, which in turn leads to more money in their pockets.
  • Focus on behaviors of top performers: Understand the strategies of your reps early on and continue to obtain feedback from them on what’s working/not working/

Valuable data is out there, and it can be captured automatically for reps, eliminating their need to manually enter activity into a CRM. In addition, technologies such as speech recordings and analytics, which monitor the number of dialings made, the sales conversations and the outcomes, can match call activity with accounts in the CRM.

This is especially important for dispersed sales teams that rely on the phone for selling.

In the end, the name of the game is keeping the lines of communication open between managers and reps. Any evaluation of a CRM system must include a way of capturing this information reliably and accurately, with minimal rep work. Otherwise, that evaluation defeats the purpose of what the CRM was intended to provide the rep in the first place -- enhanced productivity -- and to provide the executive -- accurate, reliable forecasting and resource planning.

How is your organization addressing CRM-user adoption?

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