The Distribution Blog

5 Tips for Successful Adoption of CRM for Wholesale Distribution

March 8, 2023

Table of Contents

All the promises and possibilities of a customer relationship management (CRM) system sound good. But is it just too good to be true?  

You’re not alone if your experience with CRM for distribution leaves you wanting. Chances are, you’re experiencing some of the challenges of CRM adoption and need some tips to turn it around.  

CRM software is a single system containing all your customers’ information to track customer relationships and interactions at every stage of the buyer journey.  

In a perfect world, CRMs allow anyone from anywhere on your team to see the products customers bought, when they interacted with your company, how they prefer to browse and shop, and the best times to contact specific people. CRMs promise to break down traditionally siloed departments by storing customer data in a central location.  

Yet, with all this promise, distributors typically struggle with off-the-shelf CRMs. In fact, according to a Distribution Strategy Group study, only 50% of distributor sales reps and leadership regularly use their CRM. We’ve found that when distributors invest in technology that isn’t designed to support their complex selling process, the result is low ROI, frustrated sales reps, and a tool that goes unused.  

Purpose-built CRMs are the second-most adopted CRM solution among distributors while ERP-provided CRM adoption has shrunk, according to the same Distribution Strategy Group study.  

Many distributors are seeing lackluster results from their chosen CRM. Instead of customizing the software to be effective for their organization, many adopt basic CRM systems and push out-of-the-box features to their teams. Unfortunately, this leads to sales reps spending hours inputting data without seeing any benefits in return. In these cases, distributors use their CRM as reporting software instead of a tool to improve customer understanding and enhance sales.

A distribution-specific CRM, designed for your needs, will make it easier for your business to grow and drive sales while increasing customer satisfaction and employee productivity. The first step is selecting the right CRM for distribution.  

But even with the right tool, there can be resistance to adopting any new technology. Let’s identify common concerns with new technology adoption and steps you can take to boost your CRM success.  

The Challenges of CRM Adoption

Much like with any new organization-wide change, especially those that require learning new technology, there are challenges associated with CRM adoption. Organizations that don’t plan for and appropriately address these potential weak spots will suffer through CRM implementation and may fail.

Common pitfalls of CRM adoption include:  

  • Various levels of resistance to change within the organization.

Do you hear that low rumble? It’s your employees expressing fear and uncertainty about utilizing a new tool. When there’s a lack of proper understanding of how a new tool can benefit them (rather than adding more work to their plate) and their business processes, it’s not uncommon for leaders to resist adoption.

  • Lack of understanding or training on how to properly use the CRM.

An article from Harvard Business Review found multiple barriers to employee adoption of new tech tools, one of which was a need for more training. Building in the time and space for showing employees how to use — and benefit from — a CRM is critical for distributors.

  • Data quality or integrity issues.

CRMs that require a tremendous amount of manual entry leave distributors open to data integrity issues. With these systems, a wrong keystroke can have catastrophic effects. On the other hand, if the CRM itself spits out poor or inaccurate data, your sales team will be led astray, following the wrong leads and missing out on crucial sales.

Tips for Driving CRM Adoption

To ensure a successful CRM adoption, it helps to take advice from those who have already gone through the process before you. Here are some best practices to follow:

  1. Involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process.

For distributors, the key stakeholders are often the managers who train their sales reps on best practices. Once managers realize the benefits of CRM for distribution, their energy and enthusiasm will trickle down to the rest of their team. Also include sales reps who are respected by the rest of the team in the design and testing process to ensure that the CRM works for them to increase buy-in. As a distributor, you want to select a CRM that gets managers and sales reps equally excited. One that acts as a system of action that will guide reps to meaningful interactions with prospects and customers.  

  1. Provide clear communication and training.

Flip a common challenge into a well-executed and detailed plan for training. Clearly articulate what the CRM is, how it works, what each team will gain from using the tool, as well as the implementation plan. During training, tie the benefits of the CRM to each team’s function. Outside sales reps will want to learn where to find customer information at a glance before a customer visit, while customer service reps will be interested in learning how to find similar item recommendations to suggest product alternatives when items are out-of-stock or backordered. Communication ensures everyone is on the same page, and the right training can boost adoption rates.  

  1. Implement a phased rollout.

It can be easy to get swept up in the excitement of a new tool, but dropping the bomb of implementation across the entire organization at once can create unnecessary havoc. Instead, start with a small group of people, then slowly roll out to a wide group until you’ve encompassed the entire company.  

A phased rollout allows you the time and opportunity to test the CRM with a small batch, work out any friction, and get feedback on areas of improvement before you continue to a larger group.  

As the Harvard Business Review says: “A piecemeal approach to tech adoption and implementation may feel like short-term progress, but will not lead to the creation of a digitally-focused mindset, and it will not result in a clean departure from legacy systems or attitudes.” Think baby steps to achieve great dividends and ROI later.

  1. Foster a culture of CRM use.

Along the same lines as getting leaders involved, instill a culture that embraces new technology. Make it seem less daunting and burdensome by outlining its benefits. Explain why you are introducing new technology and how it will help them. Acknowledge problems distributors face with traditional CRMs and explain how the one you’ve selected is different. Be sure to align the “why” to each team member’s role, such as the ability to raise commissions for sales reps. You could also embed incentives for employees to encourage using the CRM. A little healthy competition never hurts!  

  1. Set goals and continually measure progress.

Every good plan starts with long- and short-term goals. Why are you adopting a CRM? What do you hope to achieve organization-wide? Goals like these are the drivers and spearheads behind the overall plan and will help everyone stay on track.  

Set measurable metrics for success before you begin CRM implementation; these metrics will provide insight into where you can improve. For example, how effective are your salespeople at upselling and cross-selling? Research the percentage of successful pitches and the average revenue generated per pitch. With these numbers, you can determine where you want to be and how your new CRM can help you get there.  

These tips prepare you to realize the benefits of CRM for distribution. With a CRM purpose-built for distributors, you will always have the most up-to-date customer information at your fingertips to anticipate your customers’ needs. By breaking down the silos with one integrated CRM, you can increase efficiency and drive sales.  

Ready to see all that a CRM purpose-built for distribution can do? Schedule a demo with our team today.

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