Virtually every sales person today uses some kind of system for customer relationship management -- whether it's a sophisticated, company-wide, cloud-based CRM
platform, or a simple file system with personal notes, or even their Blackberry with all contacts at their fingertips.
The goal for most companies, large and small, is to offer the sales team a CRM system that helps manage customer relationships effectively and uniformly -- with the ultimate goals of boosting customer satisfaction and increasing sales.
We spoke with a number of CRM industry experts, from a variety of consulting firms to makers of contact-center software, about some of the specific challenges companies face today with implementing CRM effectively.
Challenges: Historic and Modern
We asked Saby Mitra, a manager at ZS Associates, a global sales and marketing consulting firm, for his take on the biggest challenges in deploying and using CRM software today.
"Historically, non-intuitive user interfaces, poor data quality, and lack of offline access have been the top organizational barriers towards the adoption of CRM solutions," Mitra said.
While these challenges still exist in some CRM implementations, he said, the ease of data integration through cloud technologies and the availability of mobile platforms have addressed some of these barriers in the recent past.
"The bigger challenge towards sustained CRM usage however continues to be inadequate change management practices," Mitra said. While a CRM solution may be decently designed and implemented, if the organization does not make a proactive effort to articulate the value of the solution to the sales reps and help them understand 'what's in it for me,' user adoption will continue to suffer.
Driving User Adoption
We heard more about CRM challenges from partner Marshall Perez of Chief Outsiders, a Houston-based HR firm that specializes in placing chief marketing officers. He told us incorporation into daily routines can be very difficult, especially if a company does not have a centralized CRM platform.
"It requires a change in habit. Unfortunately, many sales professionals do not embrace centralized CRM, often because the good sales reps already have their own personal CRM systems," Perez said. And, some may be "reticent to embrace a centralized CRM because of job security considerations." Information is power and giving sales management and other reps access to valuable sales contacts can be seen as a source of concern for reps trying to protect their own assets.
Perez noted that many reps do not have confidence that the information they put into a centralized CRM will be used effectively or appropriately, putting their personal relationships at risk. For that reason, many reps still use the old-school method of a paper file or day planner with handwritten entries to manage their customer activities and relationships.
Of course, many reps now also use their smartphones and laptops to manage their customer contacts, Perez said, and that introduces a host of other problems for managers trying to implement uniform sales and service procedures.
Other problems emerge, Perez said, when "technology-constrained companies try to modify their in-house technology for CRM purposes because they do not want to invest in a stand-alone CRM [system]." Sometimes this occurs because of concerns that stand-alone CRM programs will not be compatible with other programs already in use.
A Deeper Problem?
Mitch Lieberman is vice president of strategy at Sword Ciboodle, a company that develops modular CRM software used by contact centers worldwide. He sees a deeper problem: CRM has come to mean so many things to so many people that expectations are out of whack from the get-go.
It might sound obvious or overly simplistic, but forget the software for a moment and focus on what it means to actually have a relationship with a person, and then that person becomes a customer, Lieberman said.
You have to ask, "What do they need before the sale and what do they need after the sale?" and focus on building an actual relationship.
To be successful, CRM systems need to put these relationships first, serving as a central repository for all the information salespeople need to best manage their customer relations.