Businesses often struggle to convince sales staff that customer relationship management (CRM) is a worthwhile daily time investment, despite the benefits it promises: increased revenue, insight into client behaviors and preferences and more effective marketing campaigns. However, CRM can be a significant investment, and it’s only effective when everyone in the organization - from the C-suite to sales - is engaged. Some organizations struggle to get sales staff to devote the time necessary to maximize that investment. Here we'll look at the top reasons for the employee use gap and what companies can do about it. (Read about some of the things that are happening in the CRM world in Top 6 Trends in Customer Relationship Management.)

CRM Viewed As A Technology, Not A Strategy

Businesses should proceed with caution if they are planning to implement a CRM solution without a buttoned-up strategy behind it. According to Forrester’s 2012 "Navigate the Future of CRM" report, a quarter of organizations surveyed reported poorly defined business requirements. Twenty seven percent of those problems stem from business process management (BPM) failures. You may read this ad nauseum, but it’s worth repeating: CRM is not simply a technology. CRM has all the bells and whistles, but organizations can’t simply implement the software and assume their work is done. Any successful CRM implementation is centered around sound business objectives. That's why businesses need to think carefully about what they want to achieve with CRM software and set benchmarks that support that objective.

Management May Not Enforce CRM Processes

The C-suite must direct the strategy, but it’s up to sales managers to enforce adoption. CRM cannot be successful in any organization unless sales managers actively monitor its use. Managers need to train employees initially but also should check in regularly with staff to answer questions and make sure employees know how to proactively use the information to make the best customer decisions. Also, to create more effective marketing campaigns, sales and marketing should collaborate to make the most of customer data.

New Technology Brings A Steep Learning Curve

Some employees may feel like a fish out of water when faced with CRM technology for the first time. That may be especially true for experienced sales professionals who have honed their craft for a long time and developed their own processes. Not only can sales pros feel like they’re being thrust from their comfort zone, but a steep learning curve often is associated with new technology. That’s why it is critical that companies carefully select the most user-friendly system and provide comprehensive training.

Another issue is that some sales pros may not be aware of the full breadth of the benefits of CRM to the sales process. Sure - they probably know that CRM software holds and helps organize customer data. However, they may not see the direct correlation between the software’s features and ability to connect with more clients and close more deals. If a business wants to implement CRM successfully, a sales team will be most receptive if they fully understand its capabilities and benefits. This is an area of implementation that is crucial but often overlooked.

If you could look into the typical sales guy’s nightmare, you'd likely see him buried under a mountain of paperwork and suffocating to a slow and painful death. Sales employees want to do what they do best - sell and make the big bucks, not sit at their desks filing reports. Management can encourage sales pros to fill out reports in CRM by showing how it increases their productivity, leading to more woo time with potential customers.

How Social And Mobile CRM Can Support Adoption

As social media evolves, companies have placed a greater emphasis on serving the social customer. And for good reason. Gartner predicts that by 2014, failing to communicate with customers via social channels will be as harmful to the relationship as ignoring emails or phone calls is today. Social CRM (SCRM) leverages social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, to collaborate with the customer. The more entrenched a workforce is in traditional processes, the more difficult it can be to become a truly social organization. But social integration means companies can gather critical customer intelligence more quickly and react to more nimbly to customer concerns and feedback. Once sales professionals experience that ability firsthand, they'll likely buy in more quickly.

And there's good news for all the road warriors out there: A study from Nucleus Research claims that access to mobile CRM applications increases sales activity by 15 percent. Companies can support employee CRM adoption by implementing mobile, iPad based CRM apps. Armed with the necessary information, employees can gather customer intelligence on the go, collect signatures and auto-complete invoices while meeting with clients. When users see the benefit of having this capability on demand, they may be more inclined to adopt the technology.

CRM Strategy: From The Top

Enforcement should come from the top. The C-suite should develop a cohesive CRM strategy, and managers need to provide training and mentorship. Last but not least, organizations must remember that, ultimately, increasing the chances of CRM success means gaining and keeping more customers. (To read more on CRM best practices, check out Why CRM Strategies Fail (and What to Do About It).)