In the book David and Goliath, author Malcolm Gladwell discusses the principle of legitimacy: When people in authority want the rest of us to practice a certain behavior, it matters – first and foremast – how they behave.

Legitimacy is based on three things. First, it cannot be a one-way directive. The participants must feel that they have a voice and a mechanism to express opinions. The second requirement is predictability. There must be a reasonable expectation that the rules will be consistent and that, if they do change, the reasons will be communicated. The third element is fairness – all groups must be treated the same.

Sales force automation

Even as many companies spend thousands or millions to deploy a sales force automation (SFA) platform, adoption levels by sales reps often remain relatively low. And even when adoption (as measured by number of logins or some other activity-based metric) is high, it’s often the result of tactics such as tying compensation to SFA use.

A better approach is to incorporate the principle of legitimacy. Here are three keys to SFA adoption that support the principle:

  • Actively solicit feedback from users. Include field representation in the design and implementation phase, and then put a mechanism in place to solicit and collect ratings, reviews, suggestions and complaints from users. Every suggestion won’t become a requirement, but every comment should be logged, collated and, most importantly, acknowledged.
  • Set clear expectations. Behavioral expectations must apply to sales reps across all regions, geos and units. Establishing expectations, such as conducting forecast calls using the SFA platform, at the organizational level empowers individual managers to hold reps to a set of requirements and ensure data in the SFA platform is accurate and timely.
  • Lead by example. Sales leaders – from first-line managers to the chief sales officer – must use the SFA platform as their primary business management tool and as their source for forecast, pipeline, account and opportunity information.

To be fair, issues such as process design, integration, mobile access, ease of use and value to the sales rep (or lack thereof) are primary contributors or inhibitors to SFA adoption. But those issues can be addressed, especially as SFA vendors continue to improve the user experience and add capabilities that aid sales reps. To promote (rather than drive) widespread adoption, sales operations leaders must also consider and address the principle of legitimacy.