Making CRM training tolerable: The 10 Commandments

About Chris Zeppenfeld

Director, Database Marketing and Analytics, Charlotte Hornets

One of my favorite sales reps said this to me coming out of a CRM training session a few years ago.  I think it’s the best analogy I’ve ever heard about CRM training.

“Going to CRM training is like going to the dentist….no one really looks forward to going, but when you are done, you’re usually glad you went.”

Let’s face it, CRM training isn’t sexy.   Click here, do that, fill this fill field in, make sure you do that first, blah blah blah.   However, user training (and user adoption) is the most critical element of CRM implementation.  Here are 10 axioms to follow as you set up your user training for CRM.

1. Thou shalt not have 5 hour marathon training sessions.
I’ve probably conducted somewhere between 2,000-3,000 software trainings in my life.   If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t possibly hold a sales rep’s attention for longer than 45-60 minutes.  Maybe less.  An Indiana University study says that the average attention span of students is actually around 15-20 minutes.  Yikes! Make this a hardline rule right now:  Training sessions cannot be longer than 60 minutes.  The moment you hit 60 minutes…close up and stop training. Trust me, they’ve already stopped listening.

2. Thou shalt not cram all of the CRM training into 1-2 days.
We have a “CRM Boot Camp” that stretches across 10 (yes, 10!) days.    Why so long?  Repetition!   Repetition is the key in software user training.  I’d much rather have 10 shorter training sessions over a span of two weeks than to try to cram 2 marathon training sessions over a day or two. I purposely want my reps to go through the training, then go do something else not CRM related (aka forget about things)….and then come back the next day and see what they recall.   Remember, your reps need to know how to use CRM properly every day…not just this one time.   You’ll get much better rep recall when they run repetitive “sprint” sessions rather than “marathons.”

3. Thou shall not have “all staff” training sessions.
This one is brutal.  I cringe when I hear a VP/President instruct the CRM Manager to “grab everyone in a conference room and go through the whole CRM thing.”  Think back to the last time you had an all-staff meeting. How many people were fiddling with smartphones not paying attention to the speaker?  I did a quick survey with my own staff last time we had a non-CRM related all-staff meeting: 78% of my reps admitted playing with smartphones during a portion of the meeting. When the classroom size gets too large, it’s extremely challenging to make sure everyone is following along with you.

4. Thou shalt not intermingle departments.
There are two parts to training sessions: “This is HOW you do it.” and “This is WHY you are doing it.”  The first deals with compliance.   The second deals with buy-in and understanding.   How much you decide to dive in on the second part is the key.   With newbie Inside Sales reps, it’s often best to focus on the “click here, do this” part. They are still trying to comprehend the sales scripts they just spent 7 hours learning in role-playing. So, it might be information overload to start going into the intricacies of 1:N relationships in CRM.   My goal is to get newbie sales reps to do X correctly. For more experienced reps in Premium Sales, however, give them insight into why a certain form or process is being done the way it is.  Get buy-in and understanding from senior sales reps who have a far greater influence on the sales staff.  Sure, it might be “easier” on you to shove all of the departments into one training session.  However, the way you’re going to teach a “compliance” session is going to be much different than teaching an “understanding” session.

5. Thou shalt not have the CRM Manager move the mouse.
Think back to your teenage days learning how to drive a car.   Did you learn more from the passenger or driver’s seat?  Reps will learn far better if they are the ones behind the wheel. There is no prize in showing how quickly YOU can navigate CRM. It only matters how well they can navigate CRM. Have reps login as themselves on training PCs to mimic “real” experience in CRM. They see their My To Do List, their leads, their dashboards, etc.  Even in a group setting with multiple reps, always have the rep move the mouse on the screen. If they don’t do it, they won’t remember it.

6. Thou shalt make sure the rep’s boss is in the first few training sessions.
Nothing undermines CRM  quite like when the rep’s boss doesn’t show up for the first training session.   The typical dialogue between the rep and sales manager usually goes something like this, “Go see (insert CRM Guru here), s/he will run you through that CRM stuff.”   Remember, the reps report to Sales Managers, not CRM Managers.   When sales managers don’t show up for CRM training at least early on, it undermines the importance of CRM in their jobs. A special note to sales managers who don’t show:

What you are telling the rep is that while you say CRM training is “important,” it’s apparently not important enough for you to stay in this room and make sure the rep is paying attention.

7. Thou shalt not worry about anything else in CRM other than completing a phone call on the first day.
Everything the reps do in CRM falls into two buckets:  1) things they do about 100 times a day   2) things they do maybe once a day.  Guess which singular activity they do 100 times a day….phone calls!   The most important thing the reps have to do (correctly) in CRM is completing the phone call screen the way you want them to do it.  Don’t worry about anything else in CRM until you are 100% satisfied that they can complete a phone call correctly without you standing over them to monitor it.  Sometimes, you might get reps that will try to skip forward (how do I search this?  where do I go to do that?). Tell these over-achievers that you are purposely putting blinders on them and you’ll get to that training later in boot camp.

8. Thou shalt tailor the training to the type of rep in the room.
Especially when you are doing new sales reps onboarding with CRM, you tend to encounter three very different types of reps. It’s important that you identify which types of reps you have in your training room.

  1. “Soldiers” are the majority of your sales reps.   Soldiers come in with a “tell me what to click on, and I’ll do it” type attitude towards CRM.
  2. “Old Guard” are the minority of your sales reps.  Old Guards tend to be skeptical that what you are about to show them in CRM is going to be better than their “tried and true” methods.
  3. “Questioners” are the rarest of your sales reps.  Questioners want to know WHY something is the way that it is in CRM – and may not comply until they are satisfied with your explanation.

The people you should most be concerned with are the Questioners.   They are often the most influential about CRM to their sales rep brethren (positively or negatively). For more on this, check out my past S3 article that explains this in greater detail.

9. Thou shalt have mini-training sessions periodically with each department if you roll out a new feature.
Let’s say you roll out a new feature that can help them in CRM.   Maybe it’s a new view that organizes info better for them.   Maybe it’s a new process you’ve built in CRM that allows them to make appointments quicker.   Quick!   Grab the reps and huddle them together.   These mini-sessions don’t need to be elaborately planned.   It can be impromptu at their desks – or even better in a nearby conference room.   Your sales reps and managers might actually welcome it…it gives them a quick 10-15 minute breather from making calls.  I recommend doing these mini-sessions twice a month to refresh them on cool features they may have forgotten about and/or teach them new features that can help them do their job better.

10. Thou shalt make sure everyone can see the screen and read the text.
I know this one sounds really obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times this gets overlooked.   CRM from a UI perspective has a ton of small icons, menus, and fonts.  Even if you have a decent sized display for your CRM trainings (projector, large TV screen, etc.), it might still be difficult to read the text in CRM.   Remember, your software training deals with more than just icon and shape recognition….much of your training will involve the rep reading text and making an appropriate user interaction in CRM.  As you read this article now, take 10 steps back from your monitor/screen.   Can you still read this text?  If you can’t read the text, then your reps are too far away in your training room.

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