For about a decade, I’ve been focused on sales and marketing software. I’ve covered it as a journalist and as a content marketer, as an analyst and a consultant. And I wish I could say everything about these technologies is constantly changing.

But it’s not. Oh, the technology changes with a relentless consistency – today’s technologies are vastly more capable and more stable than they were when I first started covering them. What doesn’t change is the nature of the people using them – and, as a result, the reasons that technology all too often ends up being described as a failure.

Adoption Strategies of the Rich and SuccessfulThe number one reason any sales and marketing fails to deliver on expectations is not a long implementation cycle or a breakdown in functionality. It’s because of what has come to be known as adoption failure. People hate to change, especially if they see a change in process as “busy work” or as something that only benefits their bosses. It’s hard to realize a return on investment for software if no one ever uses it.

The trade show circuit seems to have a designated slot for sessions about adoption – Gartner Customer 360 last fall and CRM Evolution last month both had sessions dedicated to fighting the adoption battle, attended by audiences who were mired in trench warfare with sales reps and sales managers and marketers determined to hold their lines.

Once you’re stuck in the battle, things get really difficult – because the real moments of truth have long since passed.

In order to gain widespread acceptance and adoption of business automation, your campaign needs to start long before pushback can materialize. Smart businesses recognize that they’re not just replacing a process – they’re causing change, something people naturally fight. But if you know that push back is coming you can take steps.

The first thing smart companies do is to get users involved in the selection process – not all the users, but a few key people who can provide an informed “sniff test” of the options before your company. Not only are they perfectly positioned to judge whether a new solution will dovetail with existing processes, they provide some early expertise that they can share with other users. During roll-out, these people have a stake in the outcome and end up as cheerleaders for your new solutions, helping to set the right tone for adoption.

The next thing these smart companies do, once they’ve made a decision, is to get things implemented as soon as possible. Call it the “tear off the Band-Aid  fast” approach: the faster the new solution is put in place, the less pain there will be – real pain and anticipated pain. You don’t want your team talking about a looming change for weeks or months (or in some cases, years), because it’ll build up an unconscious resistance that’s very hard to overcome. That means picking a solution that has a short “time to value,” but it also means doing your own homework before the implementation starts. That usually means spending some time and some money getting your data into good shape before committing it to the new solution.

Next, make sure your team knows how to use the new solution. Training is critical – if you owned a luxury car but didn’t know how to drive, walking would still be your most reliable mode of transportation. The same goes for a software solution: it doesn’t matter how easy or intuitive the salesman said it would be, get your team some training. Some time spent training is vital not just in making your people proficient with the software but in breaking down their apprehensions about it.

Then, once the solution has been rolled out, smart companies watch the results – and talk up early successes. Adoption is really about selling the new solution to the users; the best way to do this is through “case studies” that make anecdotes of success a motivational tool. Your company probably already uses case studies to sell to customers – why not use the same approach internally?

It’s not always easy to utilize these concepts in the rush to solve a problem, but they work better and they’re a lot more fun to employ than heavy-handed measures like withholding commissions and other penalties for failing to use a solution.

And, once the solution is in place, be transparent about how the data it generates are used. Explain how managers benefit from it – but also spend time spelling out the benefits for the front-line users. And be cautious about using data about individual performers to impugn their performance – if a salesperson is called out for not using CPQ enough or for poor performance illustrated by what he entered into CRM, he may conclude that using the technology is akin to incriminating himself and stop using the solution all together.

Note that nearly all of the most effective steps in encouraging adoption happen early – waiting two years and then trying to shift behaviors merely reinforces the aversion to change that got you in trouble in the first place. Adoption is not an afterthought – it’s a vital consideration from the outset. Remember – the technology doesn’t run itself. You’re only managing a fraction of the process if you forget to help your people be eager and equipped to handle change.

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