Today we tackle a topic that every company deploying CRM wrestles with – how to get users to actually use the system! In this super-sized episode, I am joined by my long time colleague Tim Koehler to talk about user adoption. Tim is a recognized expert in the topic and, more importantly, co-author of the CRM On Demand Deployment Guide.


Back in the Siebel days, and even before then, Tim led efforts to develop materials and formalize an approach around adoption strategy. He’s now a director of CRM On Demand product management and still working with customers and partners to drive system usage.

First, why do we care? Is adoption really important?

Most companies say that adoption is important, and many even set specific targets to measure it. But why does this matter so much?

When companies say they want high adoption, what they are really saying is they want value from the system. They want to meet some business need; perhaps increased sales, better productivity, higher customer retention. Usage measures become a proxy for these.

A company must first understand what the actual business goals are and how adoption / usage help them meet those goals. This in turn can really help narrow down exactly what you are measuring – raw log-ins, number of activities, frequency of updates, etc.

So adoption, in some sense, is a symptom of employing a process that, if well defined, should have some positive business outcome. But beware – high usage may not at all correspond to business value. A lot of people actively using a bad process or focused on the wrong data isn’t going to produce business results. The alignment of processes with results needs to come first.

Let’s assume we’ve got that alignment figured out… now what should companies do to help ensure adoption?

Define the benefit – WIIFM?

This is a phrase that I think most folks are familiar with – what’s in it for me? Why should I use this application? Unfortunately it’s still something too few companies put real thought into much less take the time to define in concrete terms.

The usual areas we expect to see benefit:
i. Productivity – automate some tasks, reduce time for some.
ii. Better data about customers – help to guide planning.
iii. Simplified reporting – consolidates many activities into one place where it can be easily reported on.
Once you understand the benefit, you need to articulate it to users clearly. For example, a sales deployment may often replace multiple systems with one, reducing error rates in order processing and streamlining data entry. That can mean more time selling!

Of course, it isn’t always that clear-cut. Usually it is pretty easy to state the benefit to the company, but if you can’t clearly figure out the benefit to the end user, then it’s a sign that you may be facing some challenges ahead. Perhaps its even worth considering adding features to satisfy this need. For example, I once worked with a pharma company that required extensive activity tracking by their reps. Compliance was low even though usage was mandatory. Once they figured out how to give the reps something of value – in this case by pumping regional drug sales data into the system – adoption improved.

Start Small

I think this is one that plays to the strength of SaaS and CRMOD in particular. We can very rapidly deploy selected sets of functionality.

That hits two key adoption criteria – getting it out quickly and giving users something of value. We always encourage companies to think critically about a “big bang” approach because typically these take a long time, incur more risk, and attempt to pile too much on the users. A better approach is to dole out valuable function quickly to users in an iterative fashion over time. Users see the progression, don’t get overwhelmed by it, and research shows that adoption improves.

Plus, this allows you to gather feedback and make minor course corrections as you go. This can have a positive impact on adoption as well as reduce cost of potential re-work.

Usability matters

Simply put, easy to use gets used. Your deployment should plan for usability testing, not just defect testing.

By usability we’re sometimes talking about fairly subjective criteria. Does a function take two clicks or four to complete? Is the screen layout intuitive? That’s why I think it’s important to involve real representative users in this testing. The more the merrier.

Another factor we see in usability is automation. CRM OD provides an increasing amount of control over the user experience with workflow, field validations and sales process coach. This can be used to improve usability for sure, but over-use can have some negative consequences.

Most noticeable can be performance. We had a customer that loaded up on Opportunity validations / workflows and just trying to edit a single field was taking several seconds. They also had multiple workflows which would prevent an opportunity from being saved without all the right entries – good idea, but it proved incredibly frustrating to users.

So we definitely need a balance between control and usability here. User testing is the best way to uncover these.

Data Quality Matters, too!

Our experience is that users, when faced with bad or outdated information will often turn away from the system. Tim points out in the Guide the three “C’s” of data quality.

Customers should ask:
i. Is my data complete? Am I loading everything needed (and not much else)?
ii. Is my data current? Do I really need years of historical data?
iii. Is my data clean? Am I just porting over junk data or have I taken steps to analyze and improve it?

Of course, the need for complete, current and clean data has to be weighed against the cost of achieving it. It may be worthwhile to invest here to gain the benefit of higher adoption.

Managers and Executives need to use it!

CRM On Demand has some awesomely powerful reporting and analytics capabilities. Companies that use these tools clearly get the most benefit.

And when it comes to user adoption, we see a direct correlation to manager / executive use of analytics. We’re talking about the daily / weekly / quarterly metrics that they need to see – and that they should ultimately rely on to run their business. When users see that the data in the system is important to management and gets viewed and acted upon, it creates an imperative to use the system and ensure accuracy.

Articulate an adoption strategy

So how do we wrap all this up? Of all the specific items we’ve covered, I think the most important thing to do is… something. That is, you’ve got to make this a priority and plan for it.

A lot of companies simply don’t do this until they are ready to launch or worse, afterwards. Anyone you ask will say adoption is important, but too often they don’t take the next step of putting tangible plans around it.

We’ve talked about several elements, but the first step is to not only recognize adoption as a goal, but to recognize the need to explicitly plan for it. This will mean different things to different companies, but essentially you need to understand (and document) the organizational changes required, expectations of the users, and a plan to communicate these – before, during and after the deployment.

And every plan should go beyond deployment, to ongoing support for adoption.

Episode Wrap-up

This is such a big topic, it’s clearly too much for one podcast! Luckily, I have Tim’s number and he’s agreed to join me again. We still need to cover program management, change management, communication strategy, measurement approaches… wow!

Big thanks to Tim Koehler for sharing his wisdom. You can read more of it in the CRM On Demand Deployment Guide.

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