The CRM Industry’s Dirty Little Secret

2019-03-13 Blog

User Story

As a CRM decision maker, I want to understand why user adoption is very low or non-existent with existing enterprise CRM implementations so that I can recognize better solutions as they enter the market.


There’s a dirty little secret in customer relationship management (CRM) that nobody wants to talk about. Sure, CRM systems are great in theory for improving forecast accuracy, speeding deal cycles, and reducing selling costs. But the dirty little secret of CRM is, outside of call centers, sales reps are not using the systems. There are many reasons why this is the case.

No Value for the Rep

From the sales reps’ perspective, CRM systems ask for a whole lot of information but don’t help make the sale. Since sales rep’s live and die by their numbers, CRM systems are an impediment to be gotten around rather than a life preserver to be embraced. The reality is a Sales Rep who makes his or her number but doesn’t use the CRM system will be kept on while the Sales Rep who doesn’t make his or her number will be let go no matter how religiously they use the system.

CRM Systems Are for Managers

At heart, most enterprise CRM packages are management reporting and control tools.  According to Forbes, 88% of sales reps are unable to bring up critical sales material on their smartphones in a sales call[i].  In fairness, CRM systems were designed to solve significant organizational problems starting with improving the forecast accuracy of a diverse geographically distributed field sales organization. However, it’s also another dirty little secret of the CRM industry that sales reps don’t purchase CRM systems, sales managers do. Not surprisingly, the functionality of the system has traditionally been tailored to the needs of the buyer and not the field sales organization as a whole.

Tenures of Sales Reps is Limited

A recent CSO Insights survey found that sales reps are only in the same job for an average of 2 years[ii].  Since the same study found that it takes about nine months for a sales rep to ramp up, the time when they can make effective use of a system is minimal.

CRM Systems Ask for Too Much Information

Given the command and control nature of CRM systems and the short tenure of most sales reps, traditional CRM systems tend to ask for a heap of information. As a consequence, according to the same CSO Insights survey, reps spend only 35% of their time selling externally. This low figure is caused, in significant part, by the heavy organizational demand for information.  CRM systems are also not convenient for someone on-the-go to enter a lot of data.

Reps Don’t Trust the System

Since at the heart of today’s CRM systems is forecasting and the sales forecast is used to determine whom to fire, reps don’t tend to trust CRM systems. Reps have even been known to forecast non-existing deals to give them more time.  More successful reps sandbag the system when they have deals, they are pretty sure of, but not absolutely certain of, to manage the expectations of their bosses.

Too many tools to do their job.

Sales reps are not the only ones who want to look good on the job. Product managers and software developers also want to prove themselves. How they do this is by adding new feature after new feature to the existing CRM system, regardless of the Sales Reps need for them. Over the years the result can be bloatware that offers many features but not much value.


Being a sales rep is one of the most challenging jobs in modern business. Many reps see themselves as just a cog caught in the unfeeling gears of a CRM system. Savvy sales managers are concerned as well about sales rep adoption. Among management’s top concerns are seeing more sales reps making the plan, faster onboarding and ramping, and reducing sales rep churn. Sales reps deserve more from a CRM system than just a stick to beat them with. They deserve a system that will help them do their jobs and that they will look forward to using.

[i] (2019). Salespeople Are Burning Out Faster Than Ever — Here’s Why. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Mar. 2019].

[ii] (2019). Michael Schultz’s Presentation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Mar. 2019].