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September 30, 2015
CRM change management best practices: How to address resistance
By: Matthew Johnson
Addressing Resistance to Change

New CRM projects can offer a lot of benefits, but they can also be very disruptive to your organization and your employees. In fact, the number one reason new enterprise CRM implementations don’t succeed is due to lack of comprehensive change management planning and execution.

It’s an unfair burden, but the fact is your organization’s people can make or break the project. If they don’t embrace the changes that come with the new system, neither they nor your organization will reap the intended benefits. And these lackluster results, not to mention the lost time, productivity and morale, is no easy pill to swallow after you made such a hefty investment.

So, if you don’t want to end up on the dark side of the CRM world, you will most certainly need an effective change management strategy.


At its core, change management is about investing in your most important asset — your people — by taking the time to understand their wants, needs, fears and hopes in regard to the new CRM program. You will always find people who are ready to embrace this change, others who are tentative about it but willing to give it a shot and others who refuse to change. It’s just the nature of the beast. People will claim they want better systems and processes, but not everyone wants to change to achieve that goal.

Today I’d like to focus on the latter two groups: Those who are tentative about the change (we can refer to them as followers) and those who refuse to change (we can refer to them as opt-outs). Looking at opt-outs in particular, you’ll find three types of people:

  1. Those who make it very clear they have no intention of changing the way they do their job and threaten to undermine the project or quit to avoid it altogether.

  2. Those who are vocal and try to engage others in their cause.

  3. Those who are passive-aggressive, giving the impression of going along while undermining the project and the changes to the network of people they can influence.

As a change management leader on your project, you need to take the time to identify the followers and opt-outs (and specify which opt-outs fall into which camp). Once you identify who these people are, you can then determine why they are resisting the change. Far too often project leaders never take the time to uncover the systemic drivers behind the resistance, and they end up treating the symptoms and not the disease. However, it is imperative to understand the root causes of resistance so that you can address the issues before it’s too late.

To achieve these goals, I recommend the following three initiatives:

  1. Readiness Assessments
    There are several proactive strategies you can use to navigate the challenges of change and identify systemic issues that create barriers to accepting change. One of the most important is a readiness assessment.

    You can conduct a readiness assessment by leading focus groups with key stakeholders at various levels from senior leadership to end users and/or by sending out quantitative surveys to all users. Both methods are highly effective in identifying risks, benefits, pockets of resistance and obstacles that you might encounter as you go live with the new program. They are also effective at identifying communication and training needs for your new CRM system.

  2. Communication
    In many cases, those who are tentative to change or actively resisting it feel they aren’t communicated to effectively or given a voice. As a result, they are often unclear about what the changes mean for them and fear losing authority or even their job once manual processes and the legacy system are gone.

    This lack of communication makes it easier for these users to resist the changes. Therefore, it’s important to unearth those issues and fears and work to address them prior to going live by sending regular communications to all users and by making sure they have a way to voice their concerns.

    Additionally, it’s imperative to make the change matter to everyone by clearly answering the “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) question. To do this effectively, link the vision and goals for the CRM program to each function. Doing so should help users see how they will impact the bigger picture and how the new CRM system will help them succeed.

  3. Change Champions
    Another highly effective initiative is to identify and train “Change Champions.” Ideally, these champions should be users who aren’t part of the core project or leadership teams. Instead, they should be managers or line employees who see the bigger picture and are respected among their colleagues.

    As Change Champions, these people will become the bridge between the project team and the key stakeholders (end users), helping share ongoing updates about the project, soliciting questions, providing answers and acting as a confidant and voice for those most impacted by the changes. In essence, they should be the trusted “middle” person that can make sure communications flow up and down and help ease the change.


Your primary objective throughout all of these efforts should be to help people realize it’s not too late to change by providing the right tools and highlighting the path to success.

That said, in reality, no matter what you do, some people will not change. And those who are unwilling to change will inhibit your organization from realizing all of the intended benefits of the new program. To mitigate the fallout, your leadership and project teams need to have a plan in place for how to best to deal with those situations. These plans are best when developed on a case by case basis so that they can take into account each person’s needs, impact on CRM implementation success and the appropriate next steps.

This advice should help get you started, but it’s important to remember that change management is not one-size-fits-all. If you plan accordingly, don’t cut corners and invest in your people, you will greatly enhance the usage and adoption of your new CRM program and be able to enjoy the improved efficiencies and productivity that will certainly come as a result.

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