The Hard Sell: 6 Tips for Convincing a Tech-Averse Sales Team to Use a CRM


I like blank canvases—something that I can take responsibility for and build from the ground up. I like it, quite frankly, because it’s mine. I get to hire and grow and see businesses take off. In my years working in operations, I’ve had a lot of those canvases. But I’ve found that regardless of what the product is—whether making salami, countertops, dry ice, or even processing plastic pellets—it’s all about communicating with people and aligning resources. The particulars might be a little different, but it all comes back to those two things.

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing at W.O. Grubb. I joined the crane rental company last year after a lifetime of managing and building across different industries. 

I was brought on to find and track down leads for our sales team. These are guys who work at 100 miles an hour. They go from meeting to meeting, spending all day in their trucks, and taking calls from leads and managing clients as they drive to their next meeting. Many others get calls in the middle of the night.

So you can imagine it’s not easy for them to find time—and the willingness—to learn something new.

Software vs. Spiral Notebooks 

To make our sales team’s live easier—and move away from outdated processes and systems—we looked into CRM solutions. We took our time in the selection process, and even visited CRM trade shows to get fully educated on the CRM systems available. That’s when we decided that SugarCRM would be the best fit for our company. It seemed like it was the “simplest” software for our users. We were impressed with the ease of navigating it and its ability to connect and integrate well with other platforms that were already in place.  

At first, none of the sales force wanted to use Sugar. They already had a system in place: A spiral notebook on their truck dash with all of their notes. The busiest guys had up to three at a time. That's how they managed their customers. 

These guys also already thought they were productive (and many were). The last thing they wanted was someone like me telling them they could do better. But the reality was they could—every salesperson can do better. 

We have two different types of guys on our sales teams. Some people love technology and learning something new. To others, “change” is a four-letter word. 

Many of those tech-resistant guys weren't even using email until a few years ago. For me, this isn't a new game of selling a system that nobody really wants and nobody has the time to try, but SugarCRM was also brand new to me as well. Sugar will help them save time so they actually get a chance to take a lunch break which, for many, is a new treat. It also cuts down the time wasted writing incomplete and disorganized notes. 

Suddenly, they go from 10 minutes spent writing in their notebooks to 30 seconds dictating their notes on their phone. Then, they’re able to easily send that information to their branch manager just by clicking the “Send” button. No time is wasted. 

Company buy-in only happens when teams see value in the tools. @SugarCRM

Sugar is the filing cabinet in the passenger seat of their pickup. The spiral notebook is now their smartphone—talk to it and throw (save) it in that cabinet. It organizes their notes and makes it easy to find the right lead when they open it back up. It's all there. And those pictures they took and everything they said in the meeting is saved to their phone. Now, they have all those notes and they’re organized better than they could have ever done in their spiral notebook because they could overlooked some details. Often, they wouldn't have even written it down. 

Now, they’re being productive way beyond even what they thought possible. 

A Team Divided: Selling Your Sales Team on SugarCRM

A great deal of my time is spent convincing the sales guys that Sugar will help them and then making the results obvious. This has been a major undertaking. But whenever you introduce big changes to the workflow, the biggest component to buy-in from your team is understanding their needs and mindset.

Having been through this process, there are a few lessons that I can pass on to help get any sales team on board with a new CRM.

1) Start things off right: Our rollout with Sugar got off to a slow start. We organized a training session with our entire sales force. It was a huge undertaking and a major inconvenience to get everyone in the room. And midway through the day, the meeting crashed and burned because we didn't have Sugar locked down. Every salesman could see every other salesman's contact opportunity, and it was just a total fiasco. We had to stop our presentation and everybody went back home with a sour taste in their mouth. It's been a recovery mission ever since. We made sure that each guy only sees his contacts, his opportunities, his leads. We’ve had to rebuild from that first experience. Gaining confidence back from everyone has been a big challenge, and we still haven't won everybody over yet on that aspect. It’s important to have your ducks in a row before you present something of this scale to your team. Start things off right to build trust and confidence. 

2) Make sure it’s personal: We have a team of about 40 sales reps. That’s a lot of ground to cover in order to give a personal touch. But, in my opinion, it’s the only way to do it. Everybody’s completely different. My boss and I have made it my mission to travel all of our 11 different locations spanning the whole mid-Atlantic region, from Pennsylvania down to South Carolina, to meet with each of our sales reps and site managers. I’m the Sugar Champion who’s teaching our teams one-on-one how to use the software.

3) See things from their perspective: Instead of just meeting with each of our reps, I actually ride along as they go on their sales calls/meetings. I talk to them about their needs and what tools would make their lives easier. I get to know them and make notes about different areas where Sugar could help them out. They tell me their concerns and I really hear them. For our reps, they also get to know me. I’m not some guy in an office dictating initiatives to them. I’m the guy beside them on their route, trying to make their job easier. 

4) Refine your sales pitch: Once I hear them out and they get to know me, I start by naturally commenting on ways Sugar will help them complete a time-consuming task much more effectively. I like to teach Sugar to them individually and in areas they have interest. If I'm over the top pushing the platform, they simply won't respond. But by showing how certain features can help—in real time as they’re in the middle of a more inefficient process—it starts to click. Certain functions, like dictating and sending their notes, are becoming more popular.

Spoon-feed new ideas to get even your toughest critics on board.

5) Listen to team feedback: I had to find out what the guys really want and what they’re lacking. Riding with them all day long, it became obvious what parts of the software they were tripping over. With all the tutorials they have access to through Sugar, they now see the productivity side of it. That's what all these guys want. They're trying to go 100 miles per hour and Sugar is something that can make it easier and simpler.

6) Get management buy-in: My first job with W.O. Grubb was and still is to post any new sales leads I find through several search engines that we are using. Now, I feed the sales force these leads exclusively through Sugar. This way it has a trickle-down effect because branch managers have to access the platform as well. To a certain extent, we’re driving them to use Sugar, but for clear, actionable results. It’s helping them to learn the platform naturally and I'm right there to assist whenever there is a problem.

Learning From Our Roll-Out Missteps

Sugar laid out a few steps that should be completed before the software gets rolled out company wide. In our excitement, we didn’t completely set that foundation. We didn’t define our mission or measurements as well as we could have. We didn't set up and compartmentalize the data so that each user could only see their own information. 

Before implementation, it’s worth sitting down with your Sugar contacts, select your champion and administrators, and everyone—including management—meet to decide how you want to roll it out. And then integrate that feedback. 

There were a lot of mistakes when our customer base got transferred over. Any minor errors, like in the spelling of a business name, for example, generates two or more accounts/leads instead of one. Our whole database had to be scrubbed, and it wasn't scrubbed very well, so we had growing pains there. If we’d set up the foundation before we launched, we’d be months ahead.

Get your ducks in a row before your CRM rollout. A false start leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Most importantly, Sugar suggested that we roll it out on a small scale first as a sort of trial, to see what kind of bugs exist in the system and fix them before we launched to the whole company. We opted not to do it. In hindsight, I think that would have allowed us to make sure we nailed the initial rollout. 

I’m learning more every day. And our Sugar support team, Faye Business Systems Group, helps me when I call, and walks us through problems. I can't say enough good things about them. They've been really amazing at providing me assistance and helping me anytime I reach out to make it work. 

Helping Everyone Win

We still have a ways to go before the whole team is using Sugar, but I’m confident we can get there. We’ll get to the point where many of our reps are using Sugar and they are seeing first-hand how it’s saving them a lot of time—which is their most cherished resource. 

On top of better equipping our reps, we’ll also be able to provide greater insights for our management team. When all our sales activities flow through one system, they’ll only need to go to one place to get answers. The organization that Sugar provides is eye opening to all that are using it. 

And while this is probably the hardest project I've chosen, I enjoy the hands-on approach of building this buy-in from the ground up. It’s all about getting it done. I’ve spent a lifetime doing exactly this, and I’m not about to stop now.