Tuesday’s Tip: Applying The Five Stages Of Adoption Towards SCRM Projects

Published on July 5, 2010 by R "Ray" Wang

Social CRM Faces Initial Adoption Hurdles From Management

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “Five Stages of Grief” in her book, On Death and Dying. These five stages can be summed up as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  When applied to disruptive technology adoption by organizations, the “Five Stages” framework provides clear insight in anticipating how likely an organization is ready to embrace change.  Recent conversations with line of business operations managers about Social CRM identify both lack of awareness and high levels of internal resistance towards adoption.  In a recent phone and in-person survey of 31 front office operations owners (i.e. sales executives, support executives, and COO’s) about their attitudes on Social CRM, 67.7% (i.e. 21/31) expressed denial, 16.1% (i.e. 5/31) felt anger, and 9.6% (i.e. 3/31) experienced bargaining, 3.2% (i.e. 1/31)  encountered depression, and 3.2% (i.e. 1/31) achieved acceptance (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Most Front Office Executives Live In Denial About SCRM

The Bottom Line For Buyers (Users) – The Kübler-Ross Model Provides Techniques To Expedite The Internal Acceptance Of SCRM

The five stages of SCRM adoption describes each phase, discusses the typical reactions, and addresses how to move forward.  Organizations can expect stakeholders to progress through the phases at their own pace.  Expect organizations to fall between a 10 month to 21 month range.  However, proponents can accelerate the process through both qualitative understanding and quantitative support.  Here are the five stages:

  1. Stage 1: Denial (Average duration 3 to 6 months).  Many executives will put up defenses and excuses when initially broached about the need for SCRM.  They may have a point should no quantitative data exist or may feel as strongly as my fellow Enterprise Advocate, Dennis Howlett does about SCRM.  Typical responses include,”Social CRM is just another XLA fad”; “None of our customers will ever use this stuff, just look at how much we invested in CRM”; “Is there really any return in these social things?”

    Proponents should share adoption trends based on SCRM Use Case #F1 – Social Customer Insights.  If the analytical data provides the quantitative support on social media trends, then expect both a heightened awareness of the market realities and a rapid progression towards the second phase.   In many consumer and classic B2C industries, the data will show that some significant population group is having a conversation in a social channel.  The next set of questions to answer, “Can they be influenced and will they buy?”  Now, if the data shows that customers, for example in classic B2B industries such as aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO), have barely adopted any social tools, then it will make sense to wait till social media adoption has hit a critical mass.

  2. Stage 2: Anger (Average duration 1 to 3 months).  As data flows in about where customers are having conversations about an organization’s product, the individual recognizes that denial can not continue.   “Outside” conversations happening without the supervision of the firm will most likely enrage the management team.  Executives will often ask, “Can these customers really do this without us?”; “Why doesn’t our existing efforts have the same effect?”; “Do we have to deal with another channel?”; “How come we have to waste all this time on SCRM”; “Who’s fault is this?”

    At this point, stakeholders will express their rage at anyone and anything they can.  Proponents should let the individuals vent their frustration.  From there, help the stakeholders visualize a time table and project plan to support the SCRM project.  Show them how to engage and influence the customer.  Let them know they no longer control the conversation.

  3. Stage 3: Bargaining (Average duration 3 to 6 months). Despite all logical arguments, stakeholders will begin to rationalize the situation.  Excuses to postpone taking action balance out the recognition of the urgency to adopt SCRM.  Quotes from the survey include, “None of our competitors are doing this, why should we?” “If we can hold out for a few more years, we’ll be okay and the market will be stable”;  “Can we just do one part and not the rest?”

    Begin the discussion on what impact could occur due to inaction.  Highlight the elements of a successful approach and the dependencies.  Layout the holistic point of view.  Encourage outside advisors to provide an alternative but independent point of view.

  4. Stage 4: Depression (Average duration 2 to 3 months). Realization that a lack of financial and labor resources will hamper adoption, forces depression upon front office executives.  Stakeholders express thoughts such as “We don’t have the funding, this will never go through”; “Social CRM is inevitable, but no one is trained on this stuff”; “By the time we put up the current version, the world will be two generations ahead”

    Walk through the timing of cost and benefits with an emphasis on ROI.  Apply good project management discipline to identify resource requirements and milestones.  Identify skill gaps among the team.  Highlight the road map and project plan again and show where phases could be accelerated.  Identify success factors from previous projects.

  5. Stage 5: Acceptance (Average duration 1 to 3 months). With the facts in hand, a plan in place, and change management in effect, stakeholders may have turned the corner.  A realization that customers in social media channels are here to stay.  This “social thing” is cultural not a fad.  The tenor in hallway conversations shifts from stages 1 and 2 to “It’s going to be okay, we can make this work.”; “I can’t fight the social trend, we may as well prepare for it and win.”; “Let’s put some money behind this but continue to monitor and test”; “Get that team ready to go.”

    Don’t celebrate yet!  Put the plan in place.  Apply continuous monitoring and testing.  Fail fast.  Put those learnings back into the next iteration.  Coordinate the ecosystem for success.

Your POV.

Having trouble convincing management its time for Social CRM?  Did your last CRM project fail miserably?  Are you in the market for social CRM solutions and have a question?  You can post or send on to rwang0 at gmail dot com or r at softwaresinsider dot org and we’ll keep your anonymity or better yet, join the community!

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  • Cute article, but actually… the 5 stages of grief (as applied to grief) have been widely discredited, including by Kubler-Ross herself.

    The 5 stages are sort of an old-fashioned way of looking at grief that everyone in clinical care thinks are useless now and has largely been abandoned even in academic settings.

    I know that’s not your topic, but it’s a little bit like getting excited over sliced bread or a fax machine. Not impressive in a technology context, which requires up-to-date information.

  • Suzanne – best to address this upfront in the planning team. what we find is once proponents understand the culture issue, they can more effectively manage the change management process. Only power through if it’s being mandated but understand where resistance is to mitigate the damage. Good luck and keep us posted! Anyone else facing the same issues in their organization? – Ray

  • Excellent approach. I am conducting grant research on the potential of social media for the finance industry this summer. And, in my research, I have found time and again how much emotions sways the internal debate “to engage social media or not to engage social media.” They may be numbers-based and talk much about ROI, I have heard just as much emotional-based decision making as not. Thanks for getting your arms around this a bit more than I’ve been able to lately. The question is do we/they deal with it upfront (before engaging)? Or just power through?

  • Nigel, Let me know how it goes and if you have any best practices to add! Good luck! – Ray

  • I guess I’m sold on social media becoming a major communication channel – and this post will certainly help me to guide clients through the process. Thanks very much Ray!

  • Ellen – thanks for the compliments and suggestion for a Stage 0. Avoidance is different than denial. I’ll be thinking through this as we work with our clients. Anyone else want to comment? -Ray

  • Paul – agreed. Invest in the Social Customer Insights to have data driven analysis that can provie logic behind the movement towards Stage 5. #f5 is the key and foundational use case. Any suggestion from fellow readers? – Ray

  • Ray,

    Nicely done. I think that there are a number of ways that customers progress through SM acceptance. This is a good cut at the emotional side. It seems that it would be much less painful for organizations if they just started with Step 5 and got going. The faster that they get to this point they can get moving on to the actual implementation stages.

  • This is a really down-to-earth and useful piece –

    I wonder if there is a 0 (zero) stage (which might be 1, I guess). But it’s avoidance, disacknowledgment, head-in-the-sand of the whole social media world, twitter, online communities, etc. as a whole – let alone proactive SCRM approaches, more specifically.

    I think there’s alot or orgs/corps that will wait another year or more before they even get TO the denial phase.

    Like the slow spread of Websites. As we saw with that, those without a Website suffered greatly as being significantly less consequential.

    This will alot faster than that though (in terms of impact, I think) – already has.

  • Esteban – Thanks. you are right. YMMV is true. some have moved quickly, others will take some more time. Back to the old Type A to Type C customers. =) – Ray

  • Ray,

    This is a great analysis and a very valuable piece for companies trying to understand their path to SCRM.

    Thanks for doing it.

    My POV is that times are mileage, vary from company to company. Some of them may be longer in one stage than the other, but I generally agree that for Early and Mainstream Adopters, your times are very well thought out. Within the next 24 hours the larger majority of the business population will probably go through the five stages above, more or less.

    Well done

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