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Adopting a CRM? How to Get Buy-In From Your Sales Department

Mona Bushnell
Mona Bushnell

Choosing a customer relationship management (CRM) system like Salesforce is complicated enough as is, but without buy-in from your sales force, you could end up investing in a product no one wants to use.

Fortunately, employee pushback is usually the result of poor implementation processes rather than unusable systems. If you approach it with your sales department in mind and follow the right steps to get buy-in early on, you can avoid future pushback and ensure widespread usage of your new CRM.

1. Choose a CRM that aligns with the sales department's current processes.

Unfortunately, some SMBs adopt technology without much thought about how new software will affect daily routines and processes. Without a comprehensive understanding of the sales department's current process, who does what and how job roles will change with a new CRM, you run a high risk of user pushback. It might be easier to make the final CRM purchase decision within a small group, but failing to consult senior managers in the sales department can have long-term consequences.

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Zach Hendrix, co-founder of GreenPal, experienced this exact type of pushback after the acquisition of a new company, when implementation of a CRM didn't go as planned. After a costly implementation process, he found that the sales department wasn't using the system at all, opting to maintain their own records across a combination of legal pads, Post-its, emails and spreadsheets. In short, it was a mess.

"We basically purchased the software and paid an IT professional to install it, and [the] result after six months was that nobody used it," he told Business News Daily. "In retrospect, what I didn't realize was that I was just adding one more task to our salespeople's list of things to do. It was like … 'OK, on top of everything else that you're already doing, put all of the information into the software so we can track it later at some point if we want to.'"

Hendrix didn't give up, of course. He analyzed his first approach and tried a different angle.

"Ultimately, after trying several different solutions, we went with a cloud-based CRM," he said. "To ensure a successful implementation this time around, I broke down the existing tasks and workflows that our salespeople [were] already conducting and replaced [those] tasks with new software-related tasks … we ended up getting the needed buy-in because we replaced one by one the analog tasks with digital tasks." 

2. Involve your sales department early in the adoption process.  

All the experts we consulted agreed on one thing: Failure to involve the sales department in the implementation process will cause problems in the future. Of course, high-level purchasing decisions aren't typically made democratically, nor should they be, but choosing a few tech-savvy members of the sales department to sit in on demos can help you get buy-in from other associates. Additionally, having senior sales staff and managers on board early creates a great built-in support system for associates who are more resistant to change.

Michael Tuso, the head of business development and enablement at Chili Piper, said he'd experienced both good and bad CRM implementations, and that the recipe for a positive outcome was closely linked to early involvement from the sales department. He told Business News Daily that, in addition to having a small group of tech-savvy sales staff pilot the project, he utilized those involved early in the process to get other staff on board.

"Because I had looped some of the most tech-savvy reps in early in the process, I had five salespeople saying this was a good idea – plus our VP of sales, other sales managers and entire tech department," he explained. "This made selling [the other sales staff] easy and enabled me to focus on delivering the very best training and implementation plan possible."

Pilot groups are considered a best practice in adopting any new software system, and since CRMs are heavily utilized by sales departments, it only makes sense to include sales staff in the process.

Additionally, the tech-savvy early adopters of the CRM are likely to feel ownership over the implementation process, which can be helpful when other sales staff express frustration or distrust of the new system. Hearing a colleague say the system will be an improvement is much more powerful than getting the same message from a higher-up who won't even be using the product. [See related story: Check out our top picks for the best CRM software.]

3. Publicize value early and often.

Pushback on a CRM can occur for a few reasons. Staff members who are set in their ways, and uncomfortable with technology in general, may resist a new system simply because they are afraid it will be hard to learn. Additionally, if sales staff believe that a new system will add to their workload and make their jobs more difficult, they are likely to be uncooperative during the implementation process.

Employers can preemptively combat pushback like this by selling the CRM internally and highlighting the specific benefits it will have for the sales staff. Once your team realizes a CRM can help them streamline otherwise long-winded processes and potentially increase their sales, they'll be much more open-minded.

Byron Matthews, the president and CEO of Miller Heiman Group, said that supporting data is key to selling a product in-house. "Most sales reps view tools like a CRM as a mandate, distraction and administrative burden. For sales technology to be embraced, it must be backed by proven sales methodology that guides the actions of sellers on the ground and helps sales reps improve their win rates."

Fahad Shoukat, the VP of business development at Skiplist and an expert in CRM implementation (having been involved in dozens of implementations throughout his career), told us that communicating value early and often is key. "There is no perfect CRM out there … The best strategy I have found is to start the discussion early and highlight the shortcomings of the current system." Indeed, several of the experts we spoke to mentioned that outlining current inefficiencies, and the way they could be eliminated by a CRM, helps get sales department buy-in.

Like Matthews, Shoukat said that getting select staff on board early is vital to selling the value of a system internally. "[Before an implementation] I strategically task a few salespeople (old-timers and new ones) to evaluate new options and help them understand the benefits … prepping sales way in advance and highlighting the need for a new system before implementation has proven successful every time," he told Business News Daily. "The questions that come after launch are more about training and learning the new CRM than opposing it. The experience becomes a team-building exercise."

Image Credit: Aa Amie/Shutterstock
Mona Bushnell
Mona Bushnell
Business News Daily Staff
Mona Bushnell is a Philadelphia-based staff writer for business.com and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT technician, a copywriter, a software administrator, a scheduling manager, and an editorial writer. Mona began freelance writing full time in 2014 and joined the Business News Daily/business.com team in 2017. She covers business and technology.