CRM Is Getting More (Gasp) Usable

Ann All

Updated · Sep 11, 2014

Stability, security, scalability: For years, these were the primary criteria companies used in selecting enterprise software. Usability, if considered at all, was given short shrift.

That is beginning to change, however, with the dawning realization that users who do not like enterprise applications can cost companies real money. The Wall Street Journal reported in December that Avon Products canceled a $125 million deployment of order management software after sales representatives found it “burdensome and disruptive.”

This story is notable due to the emphasis given to unhappy users. Past reports of failed software projects, especially those that resulted in a lawsuit, tended to focus on cost and budget overruns, largely attributed to undue complexity.

Yet you don't have to read too far between the lines in those stories to understand the importance of user adoption. When I wrote in 2011 about a $61 million damage award for a failed ERP implementation, I made the point that many organizations underestimate the need for change management, a key practice for bringing users on board with new applications.

CRM Getting More User Friendly

Software vendors are increasingly making usability a central part of their sales pitches. A company called Base, for example, uses the line “the sales and CRM software your team will actually use” on the homepage of its website. When I interviewed Andy Byrne, CEO and founder of startup Clari, a provider of sales productivity software, he stressed the company's emphasis on mobility and user-friendly UI. “Most enterprise software is boring,” he told me, noting that Clari's is not.

Gartner analyst Robert Desisto wrote that the “most impactful” elements of Microsoft's latest update of its Dynamics CRM offering, as identified by customers, included an improved user experience.

It's no surprise that sales and CRM apps are some of the first in which businesses appear to be paying closer attention to the needs of their users.

Because of the on-the-go nature of their work, sales reps were among the first at many companies to get mobile apps. A Nucleus Research study published in 2012 found that adding mobile access and social features to CRM apps increased sales productivity by 26.4 percent. Last year Gartner predicted an almost unbelievable 500 percent growth rate for mobile CRM apps.

Getting Sales to Use CRM

But giving sales people mobile CRM apps and getting them to actually use them are two different things. Sales folks prefer to spend their time pitching clients, not entering data.

Byrne told me Clari tried to address this issue by consulting with sales people during the design phase to determine the kind of information the software could push to reps to make selling easier and the type of data that could be automatically captured to eliminate manual entry tasks. One of the resulting capabilities is a predictive analytics feature that reviews data enterprise systems such as Salesforce, social channels such as LinkedIn and other disparate sources to “surface information about relationships and deals that helps sales reps focus on the right things to close deals faster,” Byrne said.

This kind of automation is a terrific idea, though it's not always possible. I found some great tips to boost adoption of CRM software from consulting firm Allium on its website. Though specifically geared to Salesforce, I think the tips would work as well for just about any type of CRM software, mobile or otherwise. The tips:

  • Make CRM workflow as simple and intuitive as possible. It mentions “keep[ing] the sales people in mind when planning, better yet, test and review with them before you launch.” It seems somewhat obvious, but I'd add that it makes a lot of sense to bring them in during the design phase, not just for testing.
  • Offer navigation that can be performed in three clicks or less, by including only fields that are truly needed. This can be tricky, as developers often seem to succumb to the temptation to include every kind of functionality they can. The site wisely advises: “Find the balance of what is needed and what is nice to have. The views should be customized for user profiles, making the information that is most important to them easiest to access.”
  • Make sure you give sales teams features that will benefit them. If you design CRM software primarily to benefit managers, sales people may passively-aggressively protest by just not using it.
  • Keep tweaking the CRM software, even after implementation. The site advises creating a user committee to conduct a post-implementation review of the software and offer suggestions for improvements and maintaining “a solid support system” for at least 6 months after deployment. Dig it: “Making small adjustments based on user experience post implementation often solves small problems before they become large problems.”

Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.

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  • Ann All
    Ann All

    Public relations, digital marketing, journalism, copywriting. I have done it all so I am able to communicate any information in a professional manner. Recent work includes creating compelling digital content, and applying SEO strategies to increase website performance. I am a skilled copy editor who can manage budgets and people.

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