You’re invited to a CRM party

Implementing a CRM system is a bit like organizing a party.  You’ve done all the planning, the venue looks great, all the invitations were sent out on time and you got loads of response back.  Yet… on night of the party as the hands of the clock tick on to the advertised arrival hour the guests still haven’t arrived.  The feeling of anticipation as you await that first knock on the door…  Why?  Because inspite of all the kind words or encouragement, the smiles of acceptance, if people dont want to use your system they don’t have to.  Nothing can force them.  It’s not like a payroll system or accounts receivables.  If you don’t use those you don’t get your salary or you don’t get your invoices paid.  Yet the harsh truth is that professional services firms survive (and thrive) without truly adopting that brand new shiny CRM system.  And yet… If you can get them to use it, to embrace the discipline of systematizing their approach to sales & marketing the benefits do come.   So how do you get your internal customers to come to your CRM party?  Time to roll out a very old analogy; the carrot and the stick.  A combination of coercion and encouragement can work wonders for your usage adoption rates.

So let’s imagine for a moment that from a technical standpoint everything has gone according to plan.  You’ve developed a pretty usable system that has been deployed across your business.  All of the software pieces are in place and those bright shiny servers and multicoloured network cables are just humming in anticipation of fresh, clean customer data.  First of all let’s just ask ourselves a few simple questions and qualifying statements

  1. Is our CRM system standalone and not integrated with other parts of our practice management infrastructure?
  2. We just migrated the data we already had when we migrated it onto the CRM system.  A perfunctory level of cleansing and de-duplication took place
  3. Our partners and staff are still not measured and coached on the basis of the data on the system.  They like to bring along their own spreadsheets to sales meetings and performance management sessions
  4. Sales & Marketing data is still massaged to ensure it is correct before it goes up to senior firm leadership
  5. The corridor gossip I hear is still that the system has too many faults to be usable.  Perception is reality
  6. There are still a few other “CRM” systems out there like crafty pipeline spreadsheets or contact databases people have squirreled away

I’ll stop labouring the point but all of the above act as barriers to both adoption and endorsement.  Some of which are easy to change; others less so.  But if you still have the energy and the budget to change the way things are it is possible to work on improving usage and adoption of your system.

Step 1 – Back to basics on the business drivers

Firstly, recall why you implemented the system in the first place.  Those reasons may no longer be relevant.  It’s entirely possible that the business need and place in your business for effective CRM is even more pressing.  A business environment in which the fees just walk through the door is even more reason to beef up your sales and marketing capability. This is even more of a driver for why you will want to look and see how your system can satisfy this need or needs to be adjusted accordingly.  The kneejerk reaction is to blame the system and start looking for a new shiny piece of software to solve what is essentially NOT a software problem.  If the kneejerk reaction proves too strong my advice is to go with the flow rather than down with your ship.  But make sure that if a new system is to be put in place that the necessary conditions for success exist in the new program.  Otherwise history will start repeating itself.  Time for your carrots and sticks.

Step 2 – Grow your carrots

The carrots are the things you can do to enhance the perception of the end user towards your system.  They won’t force usage but can certainly facilitate it

  1. You are building a place where you want people to visit.  Which is intuitive, attractive and easy to use.  You’re not building Facebook but then again you’re not building a 1980’s version of an accounts payable system.  Consider the user journey “in the round” where is starts and where you expect it to finish.  I’m not an expert of User Experience and UI design but there are many many companies that are.  This is often an area that gets its budget trimmed when the going gets tough (if some budget was put in there in the first place) but the power of a good user experience is truly differentiating
  2. Part of your customer journey planning should focus on making sure that the data people need to do their daily business is front and centre on the screen.  Spend the time with your customers to understand what data they need to see and alter to make their lives easier.  If you have segmented your customer (user) base then not all users will need the same data.  If you can provide the capability to users to drive what data they see and where then all the better
  3. If the data is not clean then the system will lose a significant amount of credibility. This one issue can make or break adoption.  It is a case of less truly being more.  With ever increasing levels of data in the system the greater your headache in keeping it clean.  If you have the budget and the integration capability consider external data sources of known, clean data (like BoardEx or BoardMember.com for key contacts for instance) as your golden record source.  The less data you have to clean the better.  Likewise, account structures and graphical representation of client account structures can help.  Also recognize that sometimes the data will be wrong.  Acknowledge this is give users the chance to prompt or point out where and more importantly how data should be improved.
  4. Your CRM system needs to be part of the daily habits of your client facing staff.  In the sameway that email and calendars are.  Therefore integration with day to day office functions like mail clients, calendars etc. really help in keeping the system front and centre when you are looking for people to update and interact with the system.
  5. Constant reinforcement of the need to use the system and the value created by it is a necessary but not sufficient condition to stimulate usage.  You’ll need to make sure that the hygiene factors above are in place before you ask your senior partners to place their heads above the parapet and promote internal usage.

Step 3 – sharpen your stick

The stick is the sharp end of usage and adoption.  It really means how you enforce usage through making CRM a mandatory element of your sales & marketing activities.  Most of the stick items begin with P for some reason.  You’ll have to excuse the alliteration

  1. Introduce policies & procedures that enforce usage of CRM for all of the sales & marketing activities that are covered by its footprint.  This could mean making sure that no marketing communications of any kind take place from lists that are not generated and managed by the system.  There are very very good reasons for doing this not least data protection, eMail marketing laws and data privacy reasons.  I have personally seen examples of old spreadsheets used for marketing, that because they were not properly purged included deceased contacts; and the communications were sent to their spouses.  This is very bad at a whole number of levels.  The polices and procedures within your CRM system are there to prevent this from happening.  Likewise every touchpoint with a potential customer or current client needs to be optimized; it has a cost. Poor and old data damages your brand and makes your marketing costs more expensive than they need to be.  The sanctions you choose for people not following such policies and procedures are up to you – but you do need them documented and in place
  2. The next one is a challenging one.  I am in two minds about it but I know it works.  All professional services firms probably have two core processes that everyone must abide by when starting to do work;  quality assessment and approval and financial sign off and approval to set up a charge code.  Imagine if these two things were not possible unless you had a corresponding pipeline entry on your sales and marketing system.  Process integration with your back office systems (the mandatory ones) is probably the biggest driver to adoption because it shifts CRM from a sidebar system to one that is at the origination point of all chargeable work.  Get this right and things can run very smoothly.  Get it wrong and you have a revolution on your hands and potentially the opportunity to spend more time with your family.  Once again the motto of “less is more” applies.  There will be pressure to flood the system with data.  My advice would be truly to focus only on requesting the data you need to manage performance.  Likewise, if you can remove and duplicative effort in this process then you can make the lives of your fee earners much easier.  Prototype, test, feedback and sign-off; critical activities
  3. The last major stick is performance management.  All partners and client facing staff are assessed on utilization and sales.  Some also have profit targets.  Any metric (and I mean any metric) that should be owned by your CRM system for all elements of performance management should come from the CRM system.  At coaching sessions, sales meetings, performance appraisals etc No data at all should even enter into the discussion unless it has originated from your sales pipeline and reporting system (your CRM system).  No spreadsheets on the side or hand written notes are permitted.  It sounds draconian but it has to be the case.  Likewise – management reports need to be massaged in the system by getting the data right in the first place rather than massaged offline.  Otherwise you have a vicious circle of declining data quality

Step 4 – see if it is working

Now I don’t want to state the obvious here but if you don’t measure success you can’t achieve it.  Your work on getting people to use the system is never done.  It is a constant process of selling, training, nudging users towards better practice and seeing if your efforts are bearing fruit.  Track the usage of the system against metrics you consider to represent your measures of success.  Here are a few for starters:

  1. Weekly and monthly logins by unique user – breakdown by grade, location, office if you can
  2. Time spent in the system
  3. Contacts created, activities added, meetings etc
  4. Marketing activities – contact touchpoints, communication volumes
  5. Pipeline metrics, conversion rates, lapsed opportunities, movement in the funnel
  6. Client feedback (if you have any emarketing, social media integration)

Look for patterns in your data (i’ll write a post soon on what your data can be telling you) and see what actions you can put in place to shift momentum in the direction you are looking for.