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UX and CRM - How to make them a match

When talking about CRM systems, people – especially managers – mostly think about functions, features, and control. How can a process be supported and managed? How can I get good analytics out of the system? Does it fit into the existing IT landscape?

These and many similar questions take precedence when it comes to selecting software systems. Usability and UX are often only an afterthought or, even worse, lip service. The result of this is often an abysmal user adoption of systems, as they do not do what the users want, don’t help them or, on the contrary, cause even more work than the users had before.

The CRM Sales and Impact report 2021 study by Arlington Research shows that on average 52 per cent of sales leaders report that their CRM platform is costing them revenue opportunities. This average increases up to 65 percent in specific industries.

On the other hand, a study by UsabilityGeek finds that it is beneficial to fuse UX and CX. Similarly, according to research by Jacob Nielsen, when good UX design enhances the customer experience, companies see an average increase of 83 percent of the measured KPIs across marketing, sales, and service. Apart from the revenue boost, benefits include increased and accelerated adoption, higher productivity, improved customer satisfaction, reduced training time and lower support cost.

Therefore, the main question to ask is not whether, or rather in how far improving the UX does improve the acceptance, use, and helpfulness of a CRM system. Instead, one needs to ask what it takes to come to a better UX and what the inhibitors are.

This blog post is based on the CXChangersTalk that I had with Tim Holm. He currently works at SAP and his experience stretches both sides of the aisle. He worked – and works – in sales, also in non-software sales and at different software vendors. This helps him to analyze this problem from both sides, and vendor independent. It also made him a vocal advocate of having great CX in CRM systems.

This is, because UX becomes visible in nearly everything employees, in particular do. How long does it take to enter and track activities or opportunities in the system? Or how hard is it for sales reps to get all the information they need for their work out of the system? The stories of sales reps who literally spend nights to create a quote are galore.

For Tim, user experience encompasses “everything from how we use something, how intuitive it is”. This sounds simple, but has a lot of implications, not in the least that the CRM system should work for the user and not the other way round. And in the end, the benefits are not only more productivity and user satisfaction, but at the end also an increased customer experience and -satisfaction. Using the preparation of a quote as an example again, the time to create it could come down to an hour instead of days. The customer gets it that much faster and should have a better experience with it; at the same time, more quotes can be created, leading to more possible revenue and definitely increased productivity.

The 1-million-dollar question

Why then, isn’t UX looked at so late, if at all, in the life cycle of a CRM system? Why don’t companies make it a core theme?

One of the answers lies in inertia. It is quite difficult to replace, or only change, a historically grown system quickly. A lot of business is depending on it and then business might still thrive. Therefore, there is less feeling of urgency than in situations where a capability does not exist, or something breaks. And although studies as the ones quoted above give KPIs and strong evidence that good UX is beneficial, it still is difficult to build the corresponding business case.

In Tim’s words “the urgency is not seen as too big as somehow the overall business is running but the question is where you want to go”. And this question often is not asked the right way.

So, what are some good KPIs? In sales, one of them is very obvious: Additional revenue. Another one is productivity – how much time does it take to create a quote? In other business areas there will be different KPIs to look at.

However, another main KPI that Tim sees is employee attrition. He says “I also met colleagues who left a company because they were so yeah, frustrated by the processes. And because they do not see any worth in spending like more than 50% of their time with just administrating the software instead of doing the real business for us as sales, which is selling stuff”.

This statement rings true for other departments that are not customer facing, too, and includes finance, or HR, to name but two.

In the end, the main point is that every user “need an intuitive tool to do the task; you are working with it on a daily basis and have to do so in an efficient way. For example, when you're working in customer service, you need all your information of your customer, who's calling you, at your fingertips. When you're working in marketing, you need a tool to easily send out marketing campaigns”.

Having systems with a good and consistent UX in place, companies are creating a virtuous circle. Having good UX gets good data; good data improves the usefulness of the system and the outcomes. This, in turn improves the data, as the users are actually using it. And, btw, an end-to-end solution helps here as it fosters a consistent UX across user groups.

If good UX is so helpful – how do we get there?

One main lever is an alignment of business department priorities and an alignment with IT. Departmental implementation decisions to reduce a pain point are not helpful and cause a fragmented IT landscape and data silos, which in turn lead to a degradation of the customer experience. The challenge that Tim often sees is that “IT teams are so overloaded with so many different projects, not only for the for the sales business, that actually the CRM topic is deprioritized because of some other project, for example, in the ERP space or supply chain”. To achieve this, it is critical to maintain cross departmental communication and prioritization. “Create a feedback loop. Speak to each other and see where can you have quick wins and how you bring different teams together to make actually in the end, all teams happy”.

The second part is to avoid trying to boil the ocean while not going for standalone solutions. Instead, companies need to start small and fix challenges on a strategically aligned solution. As an example, if there is an urgent problem with lead recognition, implement the lead management process first, maybe on a new system that is intended for all relevant departments to use. Or go for quick wins or capabilities that need to be built up. From there on, identify the processes that need change and collaboratively prioritize them. Deliver frequently, so that the user groups see that things are moving into the right direction. This is important as taking the first step might actually lead to an initial degradation of the user experience as the employees might need another system, but by moving more and more capabilities into the new system, the benefits will accumulate.

Third, apply change management. Most humans are reluctant to change. All of us see this for ourselves, e.g. if Spotify moves a button or iOS gets an updated and generally improved UI. Change management makes sure that “people have UX in mind from the first day. It helps changing the mindset of all users, getting them to use the new tool, because the worst thing that can happen, is that you implement a new tool and nobody's using it. Even more so, if has a good UI”.

Which leads to the fourth point. What is perceived as good UX changes over time. Therefore, it is important to move into the cloud. Given you work with the right vendor, this ensures that “you will get all the new functionalities, all the new user experience, the design. You will get it on a regular basis. So you do not have to take the struggle to make sure that your system is always up to date”.

Is it rocket science? No. Are UX and CRM a match? Yes!

The benefits are clear and the way to go there is, too.

We just need to take the first step. 


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