It's all about the users: The single most important factor to CRM success is the implementation approach

Brian Diepold, Director of CRM, Santander Bank, N.A.
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Brian Diepold, Director of CRM, Santander Bank, N.A.

Much has been made over the years about the promise of ROI from CRM systems and yet many times, organizations find themselves let down by the post-implementation results. While this may be an ironic position to share in this publication, this dissatisfaction has almost nothing to do with the technology.

When we think of the value from a CRM, we tend to think of metrics like leads worked, appointments set, and sales converted, which ultimately lead to increased sales volume and revenue. It is also common to associate these benefits with functionality - 360 degree view of the customer, lead management, calendaring, referrals, pipeline management - and all the other core CRM capabilities. They are great; we all know them and love them. But we are CRM or tech junkies. These capabilities do not mean anything if our users don’t love them too.

A mentor shared a silly equation with me that described the real value of CRM as the product of functionality and user adoption, or a mass in motion for the physics-minded among us. Without falling into the pit of equations, the message is – it’s all about adoption. We can create CRM with the best functionality, but none of it matters if we do not see high adoption rates among our users.

  With CRM, we often find ourselves under time pressure to launch the solution so we can reap the rewards that CRM promises  

Putting the User First

The typical approach to CRM projects usually starts when the line of business identifies a gap in its ability to drive business. IT and possibly vendors are engaged to plan out the project and build or implement a tool that will solve the problem. Along the way, the sponsor will write requirements or an RFP, which serve as the basis for the deliverable. This approach overlooks the most important variable – the user – and the result is that often the user ends up with a tool they do not fully understand, does not fit into their daily processes, and does not deliver the value that the sponsor expected and promised. A better approach is to think about the user first and foremost and craft the business solution around the user’s unique needs. Before proposing a solution with requirements, the project leaders need to meet with users, spend time with them to understand how they work, and, most importantly, they need to listen. If you understand the users as people – their level of experience, their skill set, are they well trained, how long have they been with the company - these things will tell you what the user needs in the CRM. For example, if your organization experiences high staff turnover, then the software needs to be so simple that it requires no training. You need the TurboTax® of CRM and you can only know that by observing and listening before defining or buying the solution.

Making Form over Function Decisions

Once you understand your user, you will also understand how they see the software. Your CRM is full of invisible things – propensity models, technical stability, etc. The users never see those things. They only see the front-end and they are certainly going to infer the quality of the whole based on those visible parts. If your users are front-line bankers with high turnover that you cannot afford to keep training, you need their buy-in. And the user will not believe that the guts are top quality if what they see on the outside is just average. Remember, the value of your CRM is as much about adoption as anything else. If you can create a tool that is visually appealing, then your users will believe that it is brilliant as well. If it is visually appealing, they will want to come back and if it is simple they will use it as intended. All the big data analytics in the world won’t help if the bankers don’t come back for the basic appeal.

Listening To Your Users and Responding to Their Specific Needs

With those basics, the foundation is set for how to engage the users throughout development and implementation. The project team must commit to listening and responding to feedback throughout implementation. This can mean meeting with the users as the platform is being built to demonstrate the functionality. And it can mean taking a different approach to the rollout. With CRM, we often find ourselves under time pressure to launch the solution so we can reap the rewards that CRM promises. This translates to a small pilot with a subset of users before a full rollout. Before doing that, ask the users what it feels like to be part of a pilot. You will likely find that a pilot is something that we do to our users. A beta launch is often a better approach because, generally, people are eager to participate in beta launches. When Google® launched Gmail®, it was cool to be part of the beta group even though Gmail® barely had any features at the time. Your users will react in the same way. Start as small as possible in terms of features, but only launch to a select group of beta users. Make sure the beta offers something exclusive and then have the project team fully invested in the feedback. Beta needs to last longer than two to three weeks and it should last long enough for your development or implementation team to make real changes to the software based on user feedback. That feedback will ensure that what you rollout to the broader user base will incorporate the desires of the beta group. Now you have not only made your product better, but you have created evangelists. Use them wisely and adoption will follow.

Measuring Adoption

Many organizations, vendors and clients, will tout metrics like sales lift and ROI from their CRM implementations. While these metrics should not be ignored, you will not have them on day one or even by the end of the first month. Because these metrics take time to mature, start on day one by measuring users. How many of your users are in the CRM every day? How many customers are they interacting with daily? What features are they using more frequently than others? If you know the answers to those questions, then you can coach and lead the implementation and you can use that feedback to improve the next release. If 95 percent of your users are in the CRM every day, then you are on the right track to ROI. If you don’t know, then you are just hoping the promise of CRM comes true for your organization.

If you believe, like I do, that the ROI from CRM is the product of functionality and adoption, then focus on the latter. Functionality is ever-improving and there are great vendor solutions and in-house solutions that can meet your needs. Ultimately though, these solutions will not matter if you do not achieve front-line adoption. The best approach is a platform that is tailored for the user and by the user. Speak your user’s language; provide over-the-top service and response; make it simple and beautiful; let the field leaders lead; and above all, listen. That’s the secret to CRM success.

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