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If you build CRM, they might not come

AMR Research Inc. recently completed a survey of 80 end-user companies plucked from leading CRM vendors' reference lists. Among the Boston-based researcher's findings was this: human resistance to change remains at the top of CRM buyers' concerns, and customers may not be taking full advantage of their CRM software makers' consulting references. How can you avoid those mistakes? Joanie Rufo, research director at AMR and the report's author, offers some insight.

Why are we finding that users' resistance to adopting CRM process is still a major issue? Are companies failing to send the right message?
When you think about the tools you use to do your job every day and consider how you would feel if someone told you to do your job differently, I think for most of us there would be some resistance. People still look at CRM and say, 'I can still do what I need to get done without using these tools.' And when this is the case, they probably won't use CRM tools without the right kind of encouragement. We're all human, and this is a fundamental issue of change management.

Where people took the time to really explain the advantages and benefits of using a new tool, specifically they showed users what the benefits to each of them might be, people had better commitment. But I have to admit that we were surprised to find this is still such a huge issue; it wasn't the idea we went into this report expecting to write about. So what is your advice to vendors that have customers struggling with the human element of CRM?
It isn't a product issue. I think the vendor community has done a respectable job as it relates to the products themselves. A lot of the vendors spend pretty significant amounts of money on usability studies [and] on redoing the GUI interfaces for their products. But it's almost like there is a gap between what a vendor's definition of success is and companies' definition of success. Think of it from the perspective that a vendor sells software, and once that software is implemented and integrated, it can be working fine and that is considered a 'successful CRM implementation.' But if no one is using it, there is no doubt that the overall project is a failure.

We think that there's a real opportunity for vendors to step up to the challenge and make users more aware of these issues going into the implementation phase. One issue to focus on may be a project implementation timeframe or a services offering that better addresses the human element. But it's hard to sell someone software while at the same time admitting it may be hard to get people to use it. It's largely a services issue, from what we've seen, so there's also an opening for consultants and [systems integrators]. What is your advice to the CIO in terms of getting workers to buy in?
Not every root cause is going to apply to every organization. If you look at issues such as whether it has to do with people using an old system, or whether you're just automating an existing process as opposed to changing that process, I think you can find some clues about how to move forward correctly. The No. 1 recommendation is simply to be aware of the issue. You have to recognize that you can go through systems selection, buy a CRM system, implement it, integrate it and it still might not work right anyway. If you haven't addressed end-user adoption or change management properly, you can fail. A lot of people prefer to wear blinders about this, and it only leads to larger issues. Another point you speak to is having executive sponsorship, as opposed to having executive accountability. Can you differentiate between the two?
There are a lot of cases we see, and sales is always the classic example, where a VP says, 'Yes, we need a new system,' but after deploying the tool they're not really responsible for driving it through their organization. Meanwhile, it gets left up to an IT team to complete the project, and goals can become muddled.

You need to make sure that the executives who own the business process that you're changing remain involved in using the application and getting others to do so. IT might be the ones who are implementing, but they typically don't know the business processes of a sales or service department. There are a lot of important decisions that need to be made as you're implementing, and too often we've seen where the business side of the house doesn't follow through. So would you recommend not investing in CRM software until the people or process issues are addressed?
Absolutely. We tell people they should be focused on business process before they're focused on technology. We've been saying for a while now that you can't just buy technology without understanding why you're buying it, but it does still escape a lot of people. End-user adoption has to go hand in hand with this. I don't think there has to be a sequential approach where you address end-user adoption first but, in some ways, if people don't know what they have to adjust to, the process becomes too esoteric. The study hits upon the underuse by customers of vendor references for professional services. Is this because users feel that consultants are more loyal to the vendors than they are to the real customers?
Yes, that's a factor. I think the other part of it is that this industry has been trained to use a vendor reference to confirm systems selection. That's where vendors will really push a reference to you. The point we wanted to convey was that if you really focus in on business needs, it really has little to do with a particular vendor. If people have problems with end-user adoption, it's usually not because of Siebel. Companies need to be very specific about what the strengths of their professional services provider might be. They should take advantage of the vendor references by finding the services provider that has the right set of tools for their own CRM needs.


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