“I think it’s time to switch CRMs.”

Sound familiar?

Companies switch CRMs for a variety of reasons, not the least of which includes low user adoption. And, while switching CRMs can certainly lead to increased levels of user adoption, doing so is no guarantee of success.

In fact, failing to implement a rock-solid adoption plan is a recipe for repeat failure.

Let’s explore a few best practices to maximize the impact of your switch.

Why is your current CRM failing?

Pointing fingers at your current CRM seems like the easy thing to do. “It doesn’t have the features that we need to be successful,” says your top sales rep. “It’s confusing, and data is everywhere,” says your CRM administrator. “Integrating to our marketing automation system is painful and time-consuming,” says your marketing manager.

While all of these statements may be true, a more objective look at the situation could also uncover deeper problems than substandard features and data silos.

Here are a few reasons why companies fail with their CRMs, and, as a result, accelerate the downward spiral of their already low utilization rates.

Lack of upfront training and support

Some vendors try to make the CRM buying process feel like a trip to the supermarket. Just browse for what you need, load up your cart, pay your bill, and be on your merry way.

In reality, switching CRMs has very little in common with grocery shopping. Picking the perfect avocado, for example, requires minimal forethought or assistance. Selecting and implementing the perfect CRM for your business, however, should be a multifaceted process that requires adequate research, planning, and input from stakeholders across the organization.

A reliable CRM vendor walks with you (even after you’ve paid the bill) to ensure that you have a comprehensive onboarding experience, robust documentation, helpful online user community, and value-added professional services.

Questions to consider: How thorough was the training, onboarding, and support that you received from your current vendor? Did they make mistakes that contributed to your current situation?

Misalignment in system ownership

For many companies, delegating CRM administration to the IT department makes total sense. After all, your CRM houses the most confidential customer data, documents, and strategic insights. Maintaining tight control over user access and data integrity certainly falls within the IT department’s purview.

On the other hand, sales is the primary CRM user and is closest to the customer. Perhaps your sales director would like to customize the system without bothering IT, but, unfortunately, it’s complicated. Changes to one area might break something else. As a result, the sales team just tries its best to make things work as is.

Questions to consider: Who “owns” the success of your CRM? What does success actually look like? Do administrative bottlenecks reduce your chances of achieving success?

CRM stagnation despite rapid business change

Fundamentally, a CRM should make it easier for your teams to understand customers, engage them, and identify profitable business opportunities. That’s tough to guarantee when your business model is evolving faster than ever⁠—especially when your CRM can’t keep pace.

Granted, some CRMs are easier to customize than others. Customization for customization’s sake, however, can lead to unnecessary data fields that overwhelm users and create an unpleasant experience, which inhibits customer relationship management.

Questions to consider: What assumptions were made during adoption that are no longer valid? Was your current CRM customized too heavily (or not enough) based on one or more bad assumptions? Does your CRM vendor check in with you to make sure your setup is aligned with your business goals?

Planting your CRM in fertile ground

So, how can you avoid these types of issues and ensure your next CRM project is a success?

As a simple illustration, let’s compare your CRM implementation to that of planting a garden. Before you ever plant the first seed, there’s a considerable amount of tilling, hoeing, fertilizing, and watering that must be done. All of this prepares the ground to receive the vegetable seed, and, in turn, increases the chances of survival.

Now, let’s apply this analogy to your company. How can you ensure that your new CRM (the “seed”) bears good produce? Here are a few ideas to consider:

Build a cross-functional team

Don’t allow your IT Director or Chief Revenue Officer to operate in a vacuum and fail to seek input from other stakeholders. Onboarding a new CRM impacts multiple departments and teams; therefore, each team should have at least a seat at the table. Conversely, don’t try to do everything by consensus. The team is there to foster greater alignment, share ideas, and rally around a common cause. Ultimately, one specific team member should own the success or failure of the project. He or she should have more decision-making power and final say on important matters.

Set clear definitions of success

What does the team’s shared vision of success look like? What is a reasonable user adoption rate, and what reports are necessary for measuring progress toward that goal? Define key dates, timelines, KPIs, and accountability mechanisms. Ideally, your new CRM will provide native tools to help track success or failure.

Define roles and responsibilities

Adding new users. Assigning roles and permissions. Customizing contact records. Building automated workflows and integrations. Who in your organization should perform these and other CRM tasks? What is a reasonable turnaround for each task, and how will you measure deviations from the norm? Set clear expectations now to avoid unnecessary friction and misalignment later.

Leverage vendor-provided resources to the fullest

Don’t overlook the services and resources that are provided by your vendor. Be sure to utilize every coaching session, training webinar, how-to video, and support article to its fullest potential. Are you also entitled to ongoing support or a success plan as part of your contract? If so, implement safeguards so that users take advantage of such services in the future.

Weigh premium onboarding services vs. the cost of DIY

Some vendors offer add-on, premium onboarding, training, and support services. Although the cost is certainly incremental, the long-term savings could far outweigh the upfront investment—especially if your staff is already overworked. For example, Insightly offers several training and support plans that can get you up and running faster and with less effort from in-house staff.

Don’t just set it and forget it

By developing a healthy mix of people, technology, and vendor-provided solutions, you can give your CRM every chance to thrive. But remember, your company’s needs will be constantly changing, which means your CRM must constantly change, too.

Stay tuned for the next post which will explore how to ensure ongoing CRM adoption after a successful launch.