Your CRM represents your future

In the last issue, I covered the benefits of achieving better adherence to proper CRM protocols. These include Efficiency, Consistency, Responsiveness, Clarity and Visibility, among others. Achieving these benefits is possible, but it requires following a plan. Without a plan you’ll be reduced to cajoling your life science business development team—or maybe abject begging—in an effort to get them to adopt the proper behaviors. And that’s not guaranteed to encourage the kind of behaviors you need. 

Why does this matter? Because the data in your CRM represents the future of your life science organization. Odds are that a majority of your future customers are captured there already. But getting your team to capture the right data in the right way can be problematic. In a word, this is a problem of adoption.

A word about adoption

According to some sources, “adoption” comes from the old French word, adoptare, meaning “to choose for oneself.” And this is the challenge with adoption, isn’t it? We need everyone to make a choice. What are they choosing? To change, of course; to leave behind their old attitudes or behaviors and to adopt new ones. 

Understanding how people change is crucial if you’re going to help your life science employees change their ingrained attitudes and behaviors. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, change happens in six stages. The period of time it takes someone to shift from one stage to the next is much, much shorter than the time they will dwell within each stage. That dwell time depends upon a number of factors. Issues related to the individual’s situation are the most important determinant of dwell time, but in general dwell time is longer for earlier stages than for the ones in the middle or end of the change process.   

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, as people make a transition, they need education, inspiration and reassurance, in that order. 

The steps to proper CRM adoption in the life sciences

In the last issue, I outlined the 7 steps to proper adoption. 

  • Audit 
  • Dream (and Plan)
  • Organize
  • Identify 
  • Implement
  • Celebrate
  • Iterate

We went through the first step in the previous issue. Now let’s tackle the remaining steps.

Step 2: Dream (and Plan)

During this step, you need to identify the desired end state of this effort. Of course the overall goal is greater sales, but how do we break this down into its component parts? What does this look like for your life science organization’s business development efforts? For example, what information is captured, when, and by whom? A good way to start is to build on the input session you had with your team. It’s important to identify the positive behaviors you want to encourage, and the negative behaviors you won’t tolerate. Since these behaviors will be adopted (or not) by your team as they go through this transition, I’m going to spend a bit of time talking about teams and transitions.

Identify key roles

I write this assuming you’re not a CRM novice. In other words, I assume you’ve had a CRM in place for some time, and your problem is proper adoption, not setting up your CRM properly. If this is the case, then you already have certain things in place: you’ve mapped your business processes onto your CRM. And you’ve defined and assigned various roles—for example, someone to map these processes into your CRM (someone who knows your business processes inside and out), and someone else to train your end users (typically the role of your System Administrator). 

Besides the obvious roles and responsibilities, I want you to think about the non-obvious roles. Do you have an internal Positive Champion? How about an internal Negative Champion? These Champions are the people with lots of passion, either for the proper CRM use, or against it. Can you identify them? It’s important to note that the Positive Champion will be vocal. The Negative Champion will also be vocal, but not necessarily in your presence. If you held an input session (as I mentioned in the last issue), it’s likely that both Champions made their opinions and feelings known, overtly or covertly. Our goal is to help everyone make the transition, even the Negative Champion, smoothly and successfully. To do this, we have to understand what happens during a transition. 

The difference between change and transition

As William Bridges (the well-known author, speaker and organizational consultant) points out in his book Managing Transitionsthere is a difference between “change” and “transition.” Change is situational, for example: a new director of sales is hired, sales quotas are increased, marketing messages are shifted, the new website requires new content. In contrast, transition is psychological. It is the mental shift we undergo as we deal with the new hire, the increase in quotas, the new story that must be mastered or the need to create new content.

In Bridges’ words, “Situational change hinges on the new thing, but psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and the old identity you have before the change took place.” (Bridges, William. Managing Transitions, 3rd edition. Philadelphia: DeCapo Press, 2009. Print, page 7)

Transitions begin with an ending and end with a beginning 

Bridges examines the three component parts of every transition. At the beginning, there’s the part in which we let go (which Bridges calls “The Ending”). In the middle is the part in which we actually make the transition (“The Neutral Zone”). At the end of the transition, there’s the part in which we begin to adopt our new processes (“The Beginning”). 

In his words, “Because transition is a process by which people unplug from an old world and plug into a new world, we can say that transition starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning.” (Ibid. Page 5.)

Planning for transition by planning the initial ending 

Given this reality, you have to help your Champions—and the rest of the team—make the transition; they won’t do it by themselves. To do this, ask yourself the following questions (which I’ve adapted from Bridges).

Have you identified what is at stake for everyone involved? Ask yourself if you have identified who is likely to lose what—including yourself. If you haven’t identified what is at stake for all the players, you won’t be able to understand their investment in the status quo and any resulting emotions. 

Have you specifically pinpointed the change and the transition? Ask yourself if you have identified to others (and to yourself) what exactly is over—and what isn’t. Without clarifying the difference you invite confusion. Examine the grid you built with your team during the brainstorming exercise. This should give you clues as to the specific items that you’ll leave behind. Identifying the items you’ll keep will take a little more thought, but it’s worth it. During this phase of the transition, life science team members frequently get the impression that someone is shouting: “Stop, stop.” In other words, “Stop this behavior, stop that behavior.” It’s helpful to balance this with a message of “Keep going, keep going.” 

Have you connected the change and the transition to a larger, meaningful context? Ask yourself if you have made it clear how the change and the transition you’re making is necessary. This is a good time to revisit the assessment you completed in the previous issue. It will point the way to the benefits you hope to achieve, such as capturing the right information consistently, keeping your information clean, utilizing a consistent process and enabling useful reporting. Drawing the link between expected behaviors and business and individual benefits can help your employees understand the purpose behind the actions that you’re asking the team to engage in. 

Most important, and related to all of the above, have you communicated clearly? Ask yourself if you are giving your team accurate information and repeating key messages over and over again. Confusion is the enemy of a smooth transition; simple, clear communication will help repel confusion. Don’t assume they’ll hear you the first time; you’ll have to repeat things over and over again. 

Step 3: Organize

Once you’ve identified the positive and negative behaviors you want to encourage or discourage, you should refer to these as you build the protocols you’ll be putting in place. These protocols will be different for every life science organization, so I won’t spend a lot of time on specifics here—except to mention that your protocol will need to address these facets: capturing the right information, doing so consistently, clarifying the process, sharing the understanding of the process, keeping your information clean and reporting on results.

Managing the Neutral Zone

The time during which you and your team are creating new protocols is a perfect example of what William Bridges calls “the neutral zone.” He notes, “I call it the neutral zone because it is a nowhere between two somewheres, and because while you are in it, forward motion seems to stop while you hang suspended between was and will be.”

When creating new protocols, you’re suspended. You’re trying to figure out what the new methods and SOPs will be, while still getting work accomplished. There are several dangers here. People’s anxiety rises. Their motivation falls. They can feel overwhelmed. They can become polarized. To mitigate these potential negative effects, ask yourself the following questions (adapted from Bridges):

Have I done my best to normalize this “in-between” time by acknowledging it as an uncomfortable period and explaining how it can be turned to our advantage? Ask yourself if you’re giving yourself and your team permission to treat this time as distinct from the time before (“the way things used to be done”) and the time after (“the new—and better—way we do things now”). 

Have I set short-range goals and checkpoints, with realistic output objectives for each? Ask yourself if you’ve outlined the next steps for your team, so they know what’s coming. For teams in a hurry, there’s a strong tendency to focus on the end deliverable, but doing so can encourage “glossing over” the intermediate steps that are so necessary for success. These intermediate steps might include: 

  • defining the new SOPs and protocols 
  • testing them
  • refining them 
  • locking them down

And they should definitely include:

  • training the team in the new protocols 

Assigning dates to each of these mini-phases will help your life science team members keep the big picture in mind.

Am I encouraging my people to experiment and take reasonable risks—or am I punishing all failures? Ask yourself if you’re encouraging experimentation. If you aren’t, you should be. If you are, make sure the limits to the experimentation are clearly defined, including duration and scope. It is important to help your team members feel like they are playing a crucial role in the process, and the results belong to them. If you don’t, you won’t get strong adoption; if you do, you can achieve fantastic results—and we’ve got the experiments to prove it. 

Make it theirs

In his book Payoff—The hidden logic that shapes our motivationsauthor Dan Ariely discusses the makeup of the many factors that can help, or hurt, our motivation. He describes an experiment that he and his colleagues (Mike Norton of Harvard University and Daniel Motion at Tulane University) conducted. Participants were paid a nominal sum of money for folding an origami figure out of paper, using directions supplied by the researchers. 

Since the participants were relative novices at folding origami, “none of their creations was a terribly satisfying work of art.” At the end of the experiment, the people who participated (known as the “folders) were invited to write down the maximum amount they would pay in order to take their origami creation home with them. The experimenters increased the sophistication of the experiment by including another group of people, known as “buyers.” These people did not fold any origami, but just evaluated the origami creation efforts of others. They too were invited to indicate a maximum price they would pay in order to take home the exact same origami creations.

“It turned out that the builders were willing to pay five times more for their handmade creations than the buyers were.” (Norton, M., Mochon, D., and Ariely, D., “The IKEA effect: When Labor Leads to Love,” Journal of Consumer Psychology 2012). This interesting experiment shows “that when we work harder and spend a bit more time and effort, we feel a greater sense of ownership and thus enjoy more the fruits of our efforts.” (Ariely, Dan. Payoff—The hidden logic that shapes our motivations. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc. 2016. Print. page 41).

In a variation on this experiment, the researchers were able to make the task of folding the origami figure less or more difficult for individual participants, by varying the completeness and the accuracy of the supplied directions. When it came time to buy their creations, participants were willing to pay more for the creations that were harder to make. In other words, participants placed more value on their efforts if they worked harder. As Dan Ariely notes, “The more effort people expend, the more they seem to care about their creations” (Ibid. page 43).

This finding is congruent with the social science research summarized by Dan Pink in his book Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Dan Pink summarizes the secret to motivating people: give them Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. If we can tap into people’s motivations by helping them realize a sense of purpose, we can actually strengthen those motivations. 

If you’ve worked through the process to this point, you’ve got the right protocols in place, so you’re probably feeling pretty hopeful. You should. After all, these protocols represent a bright future, one without all the pain and heartache you’re experiencing now. But in the words of the futurist Paul Saffo, “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.” In other words, just because you can see the future clearly doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen soon. You’ve still got to get your team through the next part of the transition, the new beginning. 

Step 4: Identify

As you go through the process of defining your protocols, you need to align your personnel around the idea of a new, improved future. I’ve written about alignment of personnel using archetypes elsewhere. But in this case, you’ve got to get your personnel aligned around behaviors specific to the sales and marketing functions, not the organization as a whole. For example, your life science organization may have chosen the Explorer as its archetype, with attributes related to Independence, Self-sufficiency and Innovation, but when it comes to adopting proper CRM procedures, you probably don’t want individualistic, independent behavior as much as you want behavior that is detail-oriented and process-focused. These behaviors would be closer to the Engineer than the Explorer. 

But you shouldn’t choose a separate archetype for a smaller team. Instead, relate your existing archetype to the behavior that’s needed. In this case, you might cast the need to redefine protocols as the need for Innovation, which then would result in a finalized protocol that would enable everyone to behave Independently, without direct supervision. 

As you bring your team into alignment, it’s helpful to ask yourself the following questions, again adapted from William Bridges:

Do I accept the fact that people are going to be ambivalent about the beginning I am trying to bring about? Ask yourself if an approach of “my way or the highway” will be productive. You’ll probably need to adopt the persona of a cheerleader more than dictator at this point in the process. Have you clarified the benefits that you’re striving for? 

Have I communicated a clear picture of the intended outcome? Ask yourself if you need to reinforce the benefits that will accrue to both individuals and the entire team. You’re probably sick of hearing them, and sick of saying them, but good managing requires clear communication and constant reinforcement of a single set of messages. 

Have I ensured that everyone has a part to play in the transition management process, and that everyone understands their part? Ask yourself if each member of your team realizes that their role is important. From experimenting to testing to documenting to training, there are many roles that must be fulfilled. 

Step 5: Implementation 

With your protocols defined and your life science team aligned, it’s time to implement a full-scale prototype. Use the new system for two-to-four weeks, and then test your team’s performance by revisiting the assessment I outlined in the previous issue. Here are those questions again: 

  1. On a scale of 1-7, how completely do you capture the information you need in order to manage the sales process effectively? 
    • 1: We’re lucky if we record any of the information we really need; consequently, our database isn’t very useful. 
    • 7: We record everything we truly need, and nothing we don’t use. 
  2. On a scale of 1-7, how clearly defined is the process for qualifying new leads?
    • 1: Not clearly defined, for example, we don’t use common terminology.
    • 7: Clearly defined, for example, the terminology we use to label things is clear.
  3. On a scale of 1-7, how well is the process for qualifying new leads understood by your entire team? 
    • 1: There is no shared understanding about how leads are qualified; everyone has the own system. 
    • 7: We all follow the same system, and we review the system periodically to ensure that we’re all compliant.
  4. On a scale of 1-7, how clean is your database (lack of duplicate records, all information is accurate)?
    • 1: Our database is a mess! 
    • 7: Our database is clean, and we do regular maintenance to keep it that way.
  5. On which of the following topics do you run regular reports out of your CRM?
    • Sales cycle report, showing the length of your sales cycle
    • Pipeline report, showing how your leads are progressing through the buying cycle, and what opportunities are pending
    • Sales forecast report, projecting future revenue
    • Sales conversion reports, telling you what percentage of leads convert into a closed deal
    • Pipeline Next Steps, showing the next steps for each open opportunity
    • Note that this issue addresses sales, and so the technology I’m focused on is the CRM. For this reason, I’m not including in the reports above the valuable information such as Campaign effectiveness rate, or Conversion rate, as these all originate with your marketing automation system, not your CRM.

How did you do? You can compare this assessment to the one you took before. If you’ve managed the transition successfully, you’ll get a clear sense of where you’ve improved, and what you still need to focus on. Before you focus on the negative, it’s worth celebrating the positive. 

Step 6: Celebrate your successes

Successfully managing a transition is full of opportunity—opportunity to get it right, and opportunity to get it wrong. But when your team gets it right, it’s worth celebrating. In fact, I urge you to build into your plans some occasions for quick successes to help people rebuild their self-confidence. This will also build the image of the transition as a success.

Step 7: Iterate

Now it’s time to stop and take stock. How are you doing? Are there any things you need to improve? You can iterate through the process—in whole or in part—to fine tune your efforts. 

It’s worth noting that these two final steps—celebrate and iterate—haven’t received a lot of attention in this issue. That doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. Celebration is an important time to take stock of how far you’ve come. And then you can iterate, diving back in to keep your team’s focus on the challenges still ahead.


Your CRM is the lifeblood of your life science sales efforts. If you don’t have good data, your visibility into the future of your life science organization’s pipeline will be murky at best. And you won’t capture good data if you don’t have protocols that are written well. They must be clear enough to encourage compliance, but not so strict that they make compliance painful. Your business development team needs to be brought on board, which means you’ll need to lead them through the three phases of the transition: the ending, the neutral zone and the beginning. 

I wish you the best of luck. In the next issue, we’ll look at the effective use of case studies in marketing and sales, and I’ll point out where most life science organizations get it wrong.