CRM implementation: Change is hard but it's worth it

change management
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There has been a fable making the rounds since the 1990s about a group of monkeys. In the fable, five monkeys were placed in a cage, with a batch of bananas hanging from the ceiling (beyond the reach of the monkeys) and a ladder right underneath it.

It only took a few seconds for one of the monkeys to begin climbing to grab the bananas. As it did, a researcher sprayed it with a stream of cold water. Soon, each of the monkeys learned not to climb the ladder. Furthermore, if any of them started to, the others would hold them back forcefully.

The story continues that once all five monkeys were conditioned that no banana is worth climbing that ladder, the researchers introduced a new monkey and removed one of the original monkeys. And wouldn’t you know it -- the new monkey spots the great bananas and starts going up the ladder. The other monkeys -- knowing the drill -- jump on the new monkey, and beat him up.

Slowly the researchers replaced all the original monkeys with new monkeys who had never been sprayed with cold water, but, as the story goes, none of the new monkeys would go up the ladder either. The rules had been set, because, “That’s just the way we have always done things around here.”

You can see where I am going with this, right? The point of the fable, which has its basis in an actual experiment, is that we learn from each other and we don’t want to let down our friends, family and colleagues. It is rare that we stop to examine the rules we have been handed.

Implementing new CRM like Salesforce requires stopping and examining your processes. Implementing new technology to support old procedures or mimic a legacy system could have a huge cost. Much more than the cost of the implementation, it stalls progress. It defeats innovation.

I think that addressing and implementing the change comes down to three things: involvement, value, and good management.

Involvement

People don’t resist change per se, but they do resist being changed by others. Your staff should be involved in the implementation process from the beginning. In many cases, the end users are the ones who have a deep understanding of the day-to-day operations. They know what will work and what won’t. Get them involved as early as possible and constantly engage them for feedback. Create a group of people who can champion for the implementation and encourage them to share the value of the change.

Value

“What’s in it for me?” Your staff must benefit from the change in ways that are important for them. A financial reward is an option but it is much more likely to succeed with a non-financial reward. Your new CRM should provide better tools to do the job more efficiently. Some examples are:

  • A friendlier user experience that makes it easier for the staff to enter information.
  • Customizable reporting tools to allow your staff to extract data when they need it.
  • Automation to make the system work for your staff.

Good management

A good change management program should be planned down to the last detail; however, it should be flexible enough to change. An old military saying is that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Change cannot be a command; it should emerge from everyone who is involved with the new CRM.

At the same time, managers should set a good example. I have seen too many implementations when managers are mandating a system's use but not using it themselves (have you ever asked to see a report in Excel instead of just looking at a dashboard/report in Salesforce?).

These principles may apply to any process of change, not just to CRM change. Making change happen and making change stick requires a structured, phased approach to change management:

Step 1: Prepare and analyze

During this phase you will asses your staff's capability to implement change and identify the key people who will become your change agents.

Create your change team from within your organization and provide them the tools to lead the charge. Each person should have a specific role in the process including executive sponsor, project manager, system administrator, power users, and end users. During this step you also want to use the team to start building the momentum and promoting the change.

Step 2: Go live

This is a celebratory step to recognize the hard work that was done and the value from the new CRM. This step is crucial because it recognizes all those who were involved in the implementation and also marks the boundary between the implementation of the system and the post go-live support to ensure that your CRM is included in the daily operations of your organization.

Step 3: Maintain and optimize

This is an import step because it hands over the responsibility and ownership of the new system to the users. The step should last as long as it is required to embed the change into the organization.

While we often talk about user adoption as a factor in failed CRM implementations, a change management program can literally be the difference between success or failure.

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