6 Ways To Help Form a CRM Habit

“Does CRM have functionality that enables it to become a habit for users?”

Lack of user adoption has killed many an implementation. More than a decade and a half of research on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems has churned out consistently troubling failure rates for CRM implementations. Since Gartner’s 2001 study found a 50% CRM failure rate, study after study has reported failure rates between 30% and 70%.

These numbers make a lot of would-be CRM adopters understandably nervous. After all, CRM is not cheap. (Quanta, CRM is Not a Magic Wand)

So, has CRM got the functionality to help us form a habit and increase adoption? I’ll look at how habits are formed and the CRM functionality that could help in this formation.

During this blog I’ll identify

  • What a habit is
  • How we form habits
  • If CRM has functionality that enables users form a CRM habit

Knowing this will enable us to deliver CRM solutions that are adopted by users and provide a return on investment.

What is a habit? 

R Andrews provides a definition. He suggests that from the standpoint of psychology a habit is:

‘a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience’ (Andrews, B. R., 1903)

How do we form habits?

Many studies have been completed about how we form habits. The Seger, C.A. and Spiering, B.J. (2011) article reviewed existing research on habit-formation, and concluded that it is encompassed by five characteristics:

  1. Inflexible: habit-learning has been described as relatively inflexible, in comparison to both goal-oriented behaviours which may be more pragmatic, and context-dependent learning.
  2. Slow: However, the author challenged this generalisation, suggesting that the speed of habit-formation is affected by a range of individual factors
  3. Unconscious: They suggest habit-learning is a form of non-declarative memory.
  4. Automatic
  5. Reinforcer Revaluation Insensitivity: once the habit is formed, it is difficult to alter.

The Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C.H., Potts, H.W. and Wardle, J. (2010) study aimed to contextualise habit-forming theories in real life. They found that repeating a behaviour in response to a cue appeared to be enough for many people to develop a habit. The range of times to reach a plateau shows that it can take a large number of repetitions for an individual to reach their highest level of automaticity. This means creating new habits will require self-control to be maintained for a significant period before the desired behaviours acquire the necessary automaticity to be performed without self-control.

Another study completed by Lally, P., Wardle, J. and Gardner, B. (2011) ‘Experiences of habit formation: a qualitative study’ analysed habit formation in a real-life context; in this case, participants were enrolled on a habit-based weight-loss programme.

It confirmed that ‘with repetition, the behaviours became more automatic and less effortful’. In real-world habit-formation, structuring behaviour around cues at the workplace is an effective strategy. It showed that removal from a specific schedule, for example at weekends, does have an impact on habit performance, but the habits returned when people went back to the workplace. It also showed that, in the habit loop, ‘cues’ can involve events, people, locations, activities and times.

But how long does it take to form new habits? A study completed by Kaushal, N. and Rhodes, R.E. (2015) ‘Exercise habit formation in new gym members: a longitudinal study’. looked to increase understanding relating to: (1) exercise behaviour, (2) habit formation and (3) habit predictors, in relation to gym-going. They found that exercising at least four times per week for approximately 6 weeks was required to establish an exercise habit. ‘Affect’ and consistency were most significant in this context in forming an exercise habit; either seeing positive effects of the exercise or exercising consistently enough to make the decision to exercise more of a sub-conscious one.

For the purpose of this paper we will use Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habit’ to identify the key aspects of habit formation. He has used many of the previous studies mentioned and views habits as a process adopted by the brain to ‘power-save’. Research shows that brain activity changes when habits are formed; reduced activity due to a lack of conscious thought. (Duhigg, C. 2013)

Duhigg suggests that habits are formed through the ‘habit loop’ process

1)   Cue – First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use.

2)   Routine – Then there is the routine, a set of actions which can be physical or mental or emotional.

3)   Reward – Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

All aspects of the loop must occur for a habit to form. (Duhigg, C. 2013)

Duhigg also suggests other elements that help us form a new habit and uses several examples from advertising and experiments to develop an argument that the habit loop above in itself is not enough for new habits to form. Cue, routine and reward are the components that need to be present. However, a new habit is only formed if there is fuel to power it; craving.

Changing someone’s habit still seems a huge task even if there’s a craving. Keystone habits suggest that success doesn’t depend on getting everything right, but instead relies on picking one or two priorities, delivering them and using them as powerful levers, or “small wins” that set the scene for other small wins to happen. Keystone habits are foundational behaviours that you can build on to create a cluster of good habits.

A cluster of habits could be described as a routine. Good or bad routines are difficult to shift and are often completed subconsciously. At this point a habit is just something you do and can be difficult to describe when somebody asks. Changing a whole routine is difficult, Duhigg suggests book ending new with old habits. Embedding new habits into old ones helps make the new one just part of the routine. Especially if they create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.

This fresh sense of identity can be even more powerful if the habit was formed as part of a society. Movements don’t happen because everyone suddenly aligns. They begin through friendship, they grow through communities and they are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self.

Bringing it together – The six ways to help form a habit

We understand that a habit is essentially made up of three key elements (Cue, Routine, Reward). Its difficult to change a habit but the use of cravings, identifying keystone habits, book ending new habits with old and making it social all help us to form new ones.

How could we form a crm habit?

  1. Work out the key parts of the habit loop you want to modify – What’s the cue, routine, reward and craving. Routines are usually easy to identify as they’re observable behaviors, by and large. For example, if you’re looking at your sales process the
    • Cue would be picking up the phone to close a deal
    • Routine would be the sales process you follow during the deal
    • Reward would be the commission you get at the end of the process

All this could be built on a craving to earn more money or beat fellow team        members. The loop you want to modify should relate to a key strategy, policy or procedure to ensure its driven forward.

2. Work closely with users during the project – You should understand the habits they have when working with systems in their organisation. Could CRM sit in between two existing habits (used as book ends), making it feel a natural process. For example: you identify that users always log in to Outlook before opening another core system to complete the rest of the process. You have two habits in place:

  1. Open Outlook to start process eg: create an email and send it to the customer
  2. Open Core system to complete the order

In this example could the CRM app for outlook be used in the middle of this process to make life easier for the user:

  1. Open Outlook – Create an email
  2. Open the app within outlook
  3. Identify if there are any other opportunities for that customer
  4. Track the email against a contact/create a new contact
  5. Send email with a mention to the open opportunity
  6. Complete the process in the core system

Although adding additional steps you are helping to trigger the craving mentioned in point 1. As the project progresses you may want to take the rest of the process from the core system into Dynamics.

  1. Find the Key(Stone) – Changing habits is tough. Is there one habit that could spark “chain reactions” that help other good habits take hold. For example, could CRM load as soon as people log on in the morning. Seeing it as soon as someone logs on could encourage them to start using the system as soon as they start the day. This in turn could lead to them making some great suggestions on system improvements.
  2. Make the experience rewarding Does the new system save me time or help me identify leads quicker (thus making more money). This is a key part of the habit and ensures people use it as part of their routine.
  3. Avoid the big bang – The process starts before people use the system. Many people plan for a big CRM bang when they deliver the system. However, the evidence in this blog suggests that delivering small items will help people form the habit. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think big but it does mean that you should go live with manageable chunks that quickly deliver what you promised. In this case we may want to improve the sales process for all products but would focus on 1 or 2 key ones to start with.
  4. Plan for a long go live – Manage expectation and add as much time as possible to go live. This is a tricky one, but it does mean there’s more chance of a new crm system embedding itself. However, this doesn’t mean you sit their doing nothing. Get in and support users doing their day job, learn from them so the next portion of the go live is a success and use feedback to make changes to show them you’re listening.


This blog doesn’t offer ground breaking ideas, but it does help put a different twist on a passion of mine ‘User Adoption’. Many people have tech habits, how many people look at Facebook or Twitter as soon as they wake up and then open Outlook as soon as they log on at work? I believe the information here will help us all add CRM as part of that tech habit routine.

Get in contact if you’re struggling with user adoption

Great resources used to put this blog together


Andrews, B. R. (1903) ‘Habit’. The American Journal of Psychology, 14(2), pp 121–49.

Duhigg, C. (2013) ‘The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change’. New York: Random House.

Gardner, B. (2015). A review and analysis of the use of ‘habit’ in understanding, predicting and influencing health-related behaviour. Health Psychology Review. 9(3), pp 277-295.

Seger, C.A. and Spiering, B.J. (2011) ‘A critical review of habit learning and the basal ganglia. Frontiers in systems neuroscience’, 5, p 66.

Yerkes, R.M. and Dodson, J.D. (1908) ‘The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit‐formation’. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18(5), pp 459-482.

Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C.H., Potts, H.W. and Wardle, J. (2010) ‘How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world’. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), pp 998-1009.

Lally, P., Wardle, J. and Gardner, B. (2011) ‘Experiences of habit formation: a qualitative study’. Psychology, health & medicine16(4), pp 484-489.

Judah, G., Gardner, B. and Aunger, R. (2013) ‘Forming a flossing habit: an exploratory study of the psychological determinants of habit formation’. British journal of health psychology18(2), pp 338-353.

Gardner, B. and Lally, P. (2013) ‘Does intrinsic motivation strengthen physical activity habit? Modelling relationships between self-determination, past behaviour, and habit strength’. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 36(5), pp 488-497.

Kaushal, N. and Rhodes, R.E. (2015) ‘Exercise habit formation in new gym members: a longitudinal study’. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 38(4), pp 652-663.

Dreisbach, G. and Bäuml, K.H.T. (2014) ‘Don’t do it again! Directed forgetting of habits.’ Psychological Science, 25(6), pp 1242-1248.


How to break your worst work habits, Emily Triplett Lentz (2016). Accessed 23/9/18 https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2016/08/how-to-break-your-worst-work-habits

Who’s responsible for our tech habits? Its complicated. Accessed 2/10/18


Quanta, CRM is Not a Magic Wand. Accessed 9/10/18


Keystone Habits: 7 Small Changes That Create Big Results. Accessed 12/11/18




5 Top CRM Training Tips

You’ve designed a user friendly interface, automated as many processes as possible, tested the system to destruction and told everyone its on its way. Now its time to train the users. Here’s 5 tips to help you deliver your session.

  1. The culture of using CRM

Using CRM is different to your standard system where you may add a note covering your tracks and explaining what you’ve done. You may then send an email to a group of 20 people just to make sure everyone knows what’s happened. Then, it’s fingers crossed the right actions being taken. With CRM, you need to deal with things a little differently, for example you may categorise the contact;

  • What was it about?
  • How did it come in?
  • Can I deal with the issues?
  • Should I send something to a colleague to follow up?
  • If so, which team/individual…and what do they need to do?

The 2nd option may seem more long-winded but, it;

  • Allows you to effectively handle any follow up contact you have with that customer
  • Identify how, why and when customers contact you
  • Influences how you develop your CRM system moving forward
  • Provides some great data that can influence how you structure other digital platforms such as your website or portal.

Helping users understand this can be tricky. It’s a good idea to explain the benefits to them as an individual so they appreciate how this new way of working is going to help them.

2. Fail to plan, plan to fail

Develop a lesson plan to ensure you deliver a consistent message to all users. Keep this flexible as new learners may ask unexpected questions which can shape future lesson plans and tailor it to the team you’re training. Introduce real world scenarios to help colleagues understand how this new way of working will benefit them personally and make their lives easier.

3. Get your style right

Understanding different learning styles helps you prepare a detailed lesson plan with clear outcomes and a suite of materials which cater for all the students. As well as the main training session, provide refresher training and easily accessible quick guides to help colleagues gain a deeper understanding of the system

There are thousands of websites dedicated to learning styles (and I’ve visited many of them). Neil Fleming‘s VARK model is one of my favourites

Learning style Description How to tailor your training
Visual Prefer to see/watch Use visual aids which represent how CRM should be used. Demonstrate the product.
Auditory Learn best through listening Discuss how the product will be used, have conversations about any challenges they may face
Read/write Allow time for these users to write instructions and provide written guides
Kinesthetic prefer to learn via experience — moving, touching, and doing Allow users to play with CRM, a more practical lesson.

Update: This traditional way of identify how people learn is being challenged. The British Council Blog Four reasons to avoid ‘learning styles’ – and one alternative, by Carol Lethaby suggests there’s a wealth of evidence-based teaching approaches that we are not exploiting. Using learners’ prior knowledge to help them learn new things is one such approach. What the learner knows already has a strong effect on how well they will learn new information. There is even evidence that a particular part of the brain is activated when we connect old and new information.

The connection between prior knowledge and the way the brain works is a new area of research, but the implications are clear. Finding out what learners know already – and helping them to make connections between that and new information – is a great way to help them learn.

Listening to what learners want and taking note of this in teaching is useful too. That’s not because it’s related to learning styles, but because of the learners’ previous knowledge – we’re interested in what we already know about. This in turn helps us learn new things about the topic.

Whatever method you use remain flexible and adapt to the needs to the users

4. A material world

You’re work up to this point will have identified how colleagues will use the system. Work hard to make it easy for them to get to grips with how they’ll use it. You can produce webinars, quick guides, YouTube videos etc. when you roll out updates or start using new functions.

5. Location, location, location

Make every effort to carry out training sessions away from the user’s desk. This helps them engage and understand what they’ll be doing. I’d suggest no more than 6 colleagues in each session. Sessions can run for 2 hours giving everyone the chance to discuss the process they follow and ask questions.

It’s also worth involving other teams who iinteract with the team you’re developing for. You may need to provide some light touch training or just make sure they understand the whole process.

Need help with your training sessions. How about letting us produce some CRM HIT Sessions to help learners after you’ve gone live?