Keys to CRM System Adoption – Pay for Play

In a previous article, we discussed how high rates of user adoption maximize the benefit of a CRM system to every system user in an exponential way as every key process in the business; planning, marketing, selling, servicing, and analyzing, is enriched by the increased information and functionality of the CRM system. This article is another on what organizations can do to drive user adoption of the installed CRM system. There are 5 key areas to investigate and correct: executive involvement, pay for play, EASE, commitment, and coaching.

Pay for Play is a sophisticated version of the “carrot” (positive action or reward) that many organizations routinely use to influence employee behavior. It is well documented that employees take behavioral clues from the compensation and reward/recognition programs offered by the company. In short, if you want an employee to play the game (i.e. use the CRM Application) by the company rules, you must pay them to do so. If your company is experiencing user adoption problems for your CRM Application, investigate whether or not your compensation and/or rewards and recognition programs have a neutral or even worse, a negative impact on user adoption. Start the investigation with these questions:

  1. Is use of the CRM Application specifically mentioned in the compensation agreement established with all employees who are licensed to use it?
  2. Is the expert use of the CRM Application specifically detailed in the company’s rewards and recognition programs for these employees?
  3. Is the expert use of the CRM Application specifically part of formal employee reviews?

Next ask these questions:

  1. Is there any portion of the compensation plan that might conflict with use expert use of the CRM Application? For example, are sales reps compensated for the number of calls rather than the quality of calls? Are Customer Service Representatives paid strictly on improving measures such as average handle time, average talk time, and calls per hour?
  2. Is there any portion of the rewards and recognition program that would encourage using non-standard business process to earn recognition or a reward? For example, are sales reps inadvertently rewarded for their own prospecting disproportionately instead of following up on marketing leads? Can a Customer Service Representative be rewarded for using unofficial channels to resolve a common customer issue?

If you answered ‘No’ to any of the first 3 questions and ‘Yes’ to either or both of the last 2 questions, then by definition you have a Pay for Play problem that might be the source of reduced user adoption for your CRM Application. The good news is that you have found the issue; the bad news is that finding that there is a problem is easier than pinpointing the various solutions that it will remove these roadblocks from user adoption.

If you have found from the analysis in questions 1, 2 and 3 that you are not rewarding the use of the CRM Application, your company is faced with the need to create compensation plans that reward this desired behavior. That is usually a difficult task for any organization because it is difficult to establish the value of the enhanced information and benefits from a new or re-released CRM Application. In addition most companies are already at either an optimal or even sub-optimal compensation ratio, so adding even a little more cost to employee compensation is difficult to manage. This is where the importance of having executive sponsorship and comprehensive system planning prove to be so important. The return on investment planned for the system should be adjusted for any planned increase in compensation costs. In addition, a change to the compensation program that is concurrent with a CRM Application release can send a powerful message that a system is being put in place to enhance customer experience.

If it truly isn’t possible to make immediate changes to the compensation program to provide financial rewards for expert use of the CRM Application, then be sure to include recognition in any local/regional/corporate recognition programs. While this is not the most effective Pay for Play option, it can be very effective if done correctly.

Some creative suggestions for rewarding CRM Application usage that have been successfully used:


  • Create a rating system for effective usage and tie a certain portion of future base pay increases to positive ratings
  • Offer different rates of incentive compensation (commissions) based on the way a sale is documented in the CRM Application
  • Offer compensation to employees who convince current customers to act as references and document this properly in the CRM Application


  • Create a rating system for effective usage of the CRM Application and award employees who consistently attain those levels a small memento/award that they could not obtain any other way than through this program
  • Set aside a small portion of every rewards ceremony to recognize effective CRM Application usage

Finally, if you discover that your current compensation and/or recognition programs discourage CRM Application usage, take the opportunity to modify this with any new or re-release of the CRM Application. If this cuts across the grain of your current company culture, remember you are introducing the CRM System to build a new customer oriented culture and this is certainaly the best place to start.

Remember, if you truly believe in the CRM system and continue with the appropriate levels of commitment, the cost of the additional rewards and compensation will easily be recovered in the increased benefit of the system to your company. In addition the message sent throughout the organization will help enhanced Customer Experience become part of your company culture.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant
Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

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