The first step: project sponsors and their expectations
Once upon a time, in a corporation of the industrial sector, the board decided about implementing the CRM system in the company’s Polish branch. Their dream was to have a system to solve any sales issues. I will skip the name of the corporation, as it is irrelevant. Let me only mention that the company works effectively until today in many countries across the world. CRM is well-polished in it, and no one imagines daily operations without it. When I was invited to participate in the CRM implementation project in Poland, the system was already launched in many other branches. It turned out it was also configured for us. Unfortunately, no one used it.
After joining the project, I had to get to know the system. But before I started figuring it out for good, I asked myself quite an obvious question, “Why do the company want to implement CRM from scratch, since the employees do not use it?” In the first place, I went for answers to the people who invited me to cooperate, that is, project sponsors. I recognized their motivations and expectations. It quickly became apparent that the implementation of CRM in this organization cannot be based on the management authority. Changes in the formal procedures cannot force employees to use the system, especially to share information they own in it. I understood this thanks to the empathy, and it was empathy that did not allow me to stop at only one side’s point of view.
The second step: empathy for users
Empathy is the ability to see the world with other people’s eyes and to understand their problems. It is not only a true sympathy but the experience of someone’s feelings and identifying with someone’s situation; the desire to support in overcoming difficulties. Empathy means accepting other humans the way they are, without trying to manipulate their needs. For me, empathy is closely related to respecting the other person.
When I let myself get the empathy a word in edgewise, it slipped me the question: “How will this implementation affect potential users?” I did not know the answer. Meanwhile, the empathy was telling me to focus on users even more and wonder who they are, their issues and fears, and what could disturb them in accepting changes of the existing processes.
On the subject of future implementation, the sales department goes first. It did not facilitate my job that, in the heavy industry companies’ sales departments, work specialized engineers with huge technical knowledge and unbelievable capability to build a relationship with customers. However, empathy helped me – thanks to it, I sought out persons who feel the system’s implementation effects the most sooner.
At the initial workshop meeting, I asked the future users questions prompted by empathy. And it was also the empathy that helped me better understanding what I found out from the users.
The third step: how empathy has helped me?
It appeared that the sales process in the heavy industry is very stretched over time. From the first contact with a customer to signing the deal, even a few years pass. The process of delivering the equipment, which is expensive, custom-produced, and often tailored to the specific customer needs, also takes a couple of dozen months. A long sales cycle is related to costs as well as to the fact that customers are companies, and their decision process is highly complex.
Everyone in the sales team had seen the need for the CRM solution implementation; they had too much on their heads while leading several negotiations simultaneously. Sometimes, they were missing tiny but essential details such as the necessity to contact a potential customer at a certain time after the offer presentation. On the flip side, the salespeople feared that CRM would be the tool to control their performance by their managers. They were afraid of their own incompetence in computer skills; they would not handle the modern app. The sales team wondered if they would have enough time to build relationships with customers if they were occupied with entering data into the system. Eventually, the salespeople relied on the argument that they sell equipment for years, and they know how to do that without any CRM support.
The fourth step: time for communication
When I already gained the above knowledge, I could start planning actions that would help me to allay employees’ fears and reduce their resistance. It was the right moment to include in project communication with a wider range of stakeholders. I focused on what the empathy told me – on presenting their personal benefits from the successful CRM implementation to future users. I prepared trainings that relieved the anxiety of computer incompetence and showed them in different light how the system works and how the processes are performed in it.
The empathy combined with communication turned out to be a good team that convinced project sponsors to change their narration toward the future users as well as to free resources to introduce modifications in the system configuration, crucial for users. Additionally, my efforts resulted in selecting in the sales team natural leaders of the announced change. These persons remained in a position of authority, both in the engineering area as well as in sales. Leaders supported the communication I have planned, and their role was fundamental for the project’s success. It was the natural change leaders who familiarized the rest of the team with, in their opinion, the best practices that were worth including in the new processes.
The fifth step: implementation without imposing
The project was over, the hyper-care period passed, and it was time for a recap; I found out that the attempts to implement CRM had been made unsuccessfully two times. Even worse – it happened over three years preceding our project. The reminiscence of failures still has lived in the stakeholders’ minds. They underlined that this time, they started using the new system because, finally, someone paid attention to their expectations and worries. At last, they felt like participants, even like the ones responsible for beneficial changes in the organizations, not only the subject of imposed solutions.
Would it be possible without empathy and communication? I highly doubt it. Previous attempts of implementing CRM were made in a standard way: new procedures were proposed, the local system configuration was defined, trainings and data migration were completed. But the most essential was forgotten – to ask the users how they perceive the change.
So if empathy and communication are that important, how the business analysts can develop their skills? This question, in my opinion, deserved a separate article. Let me already invite you to read it!
- Business Analyst, Team Manager
I have been working on business analysis for many years. My passion for process optimization, breaking down problems into smaller components, was the result of interest in mathematics, especially logic. The customer and relation orientation allow the effective implementation of projects, also complex ones. I am eager to share my knowledge by inspiring the team to develop the competencies necessary in the work of a business analyst.