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Yet Another List of 7

One of the common questions I hear from my clients and prospective clients goes something like this, “what the heck do we have to do to get the dang salesforce to use that frigging expensive Salesforce Automation system we gave them?” Some of the words change a bit from that version, but the question is popular, and I seem to be hearing it a lot lately, so it is time to put something down in writing.

There are a lot of lists out there and they seem to be multiplying like rabbits on Viagra, but I feel compelled to create a list of factors that contribute to sales people becoming more likely to adopt the software they have been given to perform their jobs better. And, honestly, I did not set out to come up with seven items on the list, but it seems that these kinds of lists have 7 or 10 items, which probably is influenced by whether you watch Letterman or Leno.

But seriously folks, the content within the list below can make the difference between a CRM program that thrives or fails. One further observation about the items on the list is that they range from organizational, through individual, and onto highly technical factors, which is somewhat of an indication of the broad spectrum of effort required to get this stuff right.

Pipes Quad 1

So, here goes – The 7 Key SFA Adoption Factors:

1. Management Sponsorship – We start right off with a tough one. Many will argue with this, but a significant amount of research has demonstrated that the biggest influence over an employee’s attitude is his or her boss. If your direct supervisor does not care whether you use a system at work, and you don’t have a good reason to use it, you won’t. If you are a Regional Sales Manager and your SVP of sales does not push you to have your team utilize a system they complain about, you won’t push. That is how this works. Unless all of sales management is visibly supportive of the system, utilization will be in the toilet. Game over.

2. Business Requirement – Very much related to the item above is the need for business requirements to be met by the SFA system. Do you have to create a pipeline report every Friday afternoon so the sales function can submit a weekly forecast to finance in order to satisfy Wall Street requirements? That is a great example of how the use of an SFA system meets a business requirement and drives individuals to high adoption. When you have to use a piece of software in order to perform your job, you tend to use it more often than not. And if your boss checks to see if you have performed the task, such as consolidating weekly pipeline reports into a forecast, your compliance tends to be high. When there are no compelling business requirements, adoption is optional.

3. Individual Benefit – One of the top mistakes made by organizations when deploying SFA systems to their sales teams is to only satisfy business requirements with the software with no concern to the individual using the software. This issue is in somewhat of a conflict with the factor above. You can read about this issue in multiple entries on this site, but suffice it to state here that if the individual sales rep does not perceive a benefit from the SFA system, they will find ways to avoid using it. At a minimum they will find ways to put in the least amount of effort possible, thereby meeting the business requirements, but not gaining full advantage of the benefits of the software for themselves or the company.

4. User Maturity – This factor is a bit complicated because it involves both the individual and the work culture that influences his or her behavior. Maturity does not refer to whether the sales person still has acne or has moved into the white hair stage. Rather this factor involves the ability for the user to utilize technology either from the perspective of actual competence or attitude toward using technology to perform a work task. Some sales people have deep experience using computers and sales systems from previous jobs. Some sales people have been selling for 20 years and have never opened a laptop. The former are going to have a greater likelihood of adoption versus the later. Another way of thinking about this factor is “inclination toward technology”.

5. Data Reliability – One way to really kill an SFA program is to load the system full of bad data, or allow data entry practices that cause customer information to be incorrect, incomplete, redundant, or in general untrustworthy. If sales people don’t trust what is in the system, they won’t put much effort into either entering more information or using the information that is there. The interesting phenomenon with this topic is that the software meant to make collecting customer data better is the cause for the bad data proliferation – primarily because the software does not know the difference between good and bad. This is becoming so big of an issue that an entire industry is forming to resolve it.

6. Functional Usability – Back in the late 90’s when we were all talking about the Y2K bug one of the bigger problems with SFA was clunky software. User interfaces were not great, functionality was still limited, and navigation required a sextant and bright stars. Today the software is light years better, but this problem still persists. One thing that can go wrong is giving too much functionality or trying to satisfy too many stakeholders with one package. Complexity has become the issue rather than clunkiness. When sales people have to perform a task with a computer that takes longer than doing it manually, they will find ways to work around the system. They are devious, and they are creative, but they are not stupid – software that makes the job harder or take longer to perform will be avoided as much as possible.

7. System Performance – Thin pipes, clogged servers, inappropriate queries, poor data architecture – you name it, there are a fairly sizable number of reasons that drive system performance to be unacceptable. When people see hourglasses on their screens they quickly look for ways to do their job without the computer. If you want adoption to be high, you cannot allow for delays between clicks. This issue is especially critical for the sales team, either road warriors who suffer due to poor connections at hotels or for the telesales team who cannot tolerate delays with a prospect on the phone. These folks have to have top system performance or they will find a way to work around the system.

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