Understanding the Role of Learning and Development in CRM Implementations

October 30, 2018 5:09 AM | Lovina Akowuah (Administrator)

Written by SEWI-ATD Guest Blogger Tresha Lovell Program Manager at Johnson Controls.

As sales organizations experience growth, in both size and revenue, many companies invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions with the intentions of: standardizing sales processes, increasing efficiency and productivity, and to ultimately increase the organization’s revenue.  Depending on the size of the organization, CRM implementations typically require a project team and significant capital and human resource investments for system design, implementation and adoption. Although many CRM projects are funded and approved, it is estimated that 33% of all CRM implementations fail (Tabor from “What to Do When Your CRM Project Fails”). According to Faye Business Systems Group, failure can result from a variety of root causes, including: lack of clear objectives for the project, poor planning or project management, insufficient training & support and incomplete, erroneous or bogus data in the new Software. (Faye Business Systems Group).

Once ‘Vesuvius’ metaphorically erupts, the following questions may emerge: “Is there a way to turn a failing project around?” Or, “how can we prevent this from happening again?” (Tabor). In this article, we’re going to explore key areas that are directly ‘owned’ or ‘impacted’ by Learning and Development in CRM implementations, and the need for project teams to both fund and effectively engage Learning and Development over the course of the project. By understanding the Learning team’s scope of work, providing the needed resources required to execute the training project plan, and engaging Learning and Development throughout the project, the project team will provide Learning with the tools and support needed to influence the project’s success.

Understanding the Role of Learning and Development

With any new system implementation, Learning and Development has vital roles to play over the course of the project to: help teach learners how to effectively use new resources, “[empower] users to make changes on their own,” motivate learners to become change advocates and “[arm] them with the tools needed to be successful” (Rinke from “Training Can Influence the Success of Your CRM Implementation”). Key areas of responsibility for Learning may include: creating and executing the learning strategy, leading or co-leading change management efforts, learning deployment, end-user support, and measuring the effectiveness of the training and/or change management strategies.

For these core tasks to be performed effectively, the project team must understand the value of the Learning function and include Learning and Change Management in the project charter and as a part of the project team at the onset of the initiative. “Far too often businesses will dismiss training as a superfluous line item that isn’t tied to the success of a project,” (Rinke). TJ Coyle, the Chief Learning Officer of Alphanumeric, states the importance of including training throughout various area of the project life cycle:

“Which comes first, the end user training plan or the software roll-out plan? This is not a chicken/egg question. Consider buying a piece of assemble-it-yourself furniture. Open the box; throw away the assembly instructions. Helpful? No. Yet that is the attitude you radiate to everyone on a project when you don’t have the complete scope and sequence of an end user training plan in place as you work through the software roll-out checklist” (Coyle from “How to Develop an End User Training Plan Before Software Roll Out).

Engaging Learning early (and often throughout the project) helps to mitigate risks associated with low user adoption and possible failure of the implementation. It is essential to the implementation for project sponsors and managers to understand the Learning function, it’s value, and to include the team early in the implementation process.

Does Learning and Development Have the Tools Needed to Be Successful?

For Learning to meet the expectations of the stakeholders, the team must be given the resources required to execute the training strategy for the project. Although this list is not comprehensive, it does provide key point considerations when creating a training plan:

1. Has the business goals for the project been clearly stated? According to the Faye Business Systems Group, this is one key reason why CRM implementations fail: “Not defining clear objectives for the software implementation is a commonly cited contributing factor associated with failed implementations. “A successful project is one that attains its objectives, but it is amazing how many business entities undertake a CRM solution with vague, unidentified, immeasurable goals” (Faye Business Systems Group). Clear project goals enable training professionals to align learning objectives to the project and create accurate metrics to measure success.

2. Is Change Management included in the project plan? It is true that CRM roll-outs include process changes; however, “it is actually the employees of your organization who have to ultimately change how they do their jobs. If these individuals are unsuccessful in their personal transitions and they don’t embrace and learn a new way of working, the initiative will fail” (Prosci).

3. Has a budget been allocated to training that provides sufficient funding to execute the training plan? Given the scope of work for the project and the expectations held by the business, Training must have access to the resources that are needed. If a budget has not been allocated for either function, training and change leaders will need to assess their ability to provide the expected deliverable given budgetary constraints and communicate any concerns to the project team ahead of time. “CIO magazine did a study and found that a good training program should account for 10 to 13 percent of the project spend. From my experience of having done this for more than 28 years, very few projects invest anywhere near this figure, and suffer the results. Successful training is highly correlated to CRM software adoption, software utilization and technology payback. Plan accordingly” (Schaeffer from “CRM Software Training Best Practices).

4. Has the processes for using the ‘old system’ and the new CRM been provided? How do these processes differ and how impactful is the change to each user group? To create training that is tailored to each user’s experience, processes need to be documented, understood and provided to the training team prior to content design. “Training should flow according to role-based business processes, not software screens. Users learn best when training is presented as part of their daily context…emphasize end to end business process efficiencies and effectiveness – and how staff can do their jobs easier and better” (Schaeffer).

Support from project team and access to the required resources needed to execute the learning strategy are essential to the success of the training strategy. Without it, the effectiveness of the Learning and Development team will become minimal, leading to the potential marginalization of the team members and possible failure of the overall project.


- Tabor, David. “What to Do When Your CRM Project Fails.” CIO by IDG, IDG Communications, 18 Sept. 2017, cio.com/article/2381909/customer-relationship-management/what-to-do-when-your-crm-project-fails.html.

- Faye Business Systems Group. “Top 10 Reasons Why Software Implementations Fail.” Faye Business Systems Group, FBSG Inc, 17 Oct. 2016, fayebsg.com/2016/10/the-top-10-reasons-why-software-implementations-fail/.

- Rinke, Linus. “Training Can Influence the Success of Your CRM Implementation.” Upcurve Cloud, Upcurve Cloud, 24 Mar. 2016, upcurvecloud.com/blog/how-training-and-change-management-influence-the-success-of-your-crm-implementation/.

- Prosci. “Thought Leadership Articles: What is Change Management?” Prosci, Prosci Inc, prosci.com/resources/articles/what-is-change-management.

- Schaeffer, Chuck. “CRM Software Training Best Practices.” CRMSearch, CRMSearch, crmsearch.com/crm-training-best-practices.ph.

- Coyle, TJ. “How to Develop an End User Training Plan Before Software Roll Out.” Alphanumeric Systems Inc, Alphanumeric System Inc, info.alphanumeric.com/blog/develop-end-user-training-plan-before-software-roll-out.

About the Author

Tresha Lovell is a Talent Development professional with over 7 years of  corporate learning experience. After starting her career in IT and business development, Tresha transitioned into training and development and has used her ability to design and implement learning solutions in various organizations, including Johnson Controls, Northwestern Mutual and SoftwareONE. Tresha's experience includes delivering training for complex technology solutions, systems, and consultative sales methodologies. A proven communicator and presenter, Tresha's passion is to equip both individuals and business leaders with the skills needed to uncover and fulfill their purpose.

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