Let me start by saying I'm no "techno weenie." In fact, I spent most of my days on the front lines before much of what exists today was ever available related to sales force automation tools.
I was unfortunate enough to have experienced the bleeding edge of SFA as a fairly unseasoned sales leader during the dot-com craze. That's when technology solutions were sold as the answer to sales effectiveness issues and promised to get us closer to our customers. Many of us who participated in that folly learned what we should have already known to be true: Someone actually has to interact with a customer effectively in order for positive results to occur.
Unfortunately, this has left a really bad taste in the mouths of both front-line salespeople and executives over the years. It's also led to the creation of a new myth: The adoption of sales force automation is impossible, and consequently, the expected ROI is a pipe dream.
One of the things I appreciate about where I work is the privilege to see firsthand what is and isn't working in some of the biggest sales forces in the world. I get this vantage point partially due to frequent interactions, but also due to the research study we conduct every year. The latter is extensive, and it's always interesting to see what separates those organizations that are world class versus those who aren't.
There are tons of interesting data points, but one in particular stands out related to technology: A staggering 82 percent of sales forces we classified as world class see their CRM system as helping them to be more effective.
What's with the Huge Gap?
In order to be considered world class in our study, there had to be high agreement amongst the participants that there were formalized processes in place in how the company operated as a selling organization. In other words, there was a common approach with defined practices for how the organization created opportunities, managed opportunities, and managed relationships.
We then validated these practices actually helped their organizations out-perform their peers by comparing key metrics and overall revenue growth. There's a bit more to it than that, but fundamentally it centered on that distinction. As an example, a question within managing opportunities asked whether or not there was a process continually utilized to review all large deals. The world class response rate was 87 percent affirmative versus 40 percent for everyone else.
We asked 51 questions in all, and everything pointed back to process, rigor, and common language as the differentiator. These companies then could leverage technology to support that framework and provide tools that enable the process to live and breathe in the organization.
I was recently on a client visit, and the sales vice president there is responsible for multiple selling organizations. He had one organization that had great process and rigor in place and they were seeing solid data coming in and out of their CRM application—thus, it was a valuable tool for everyone.
Then he explained how his CRM application was nearly useless for the other group he managed. They had yet to implement common process for how that group would consistently engage with customers, so there was much more inconsistency around approach. In his defense, the organization without the rigor was a much more transactional sales force with less complexity related to the buying process. But it was a good case study of how technology without some level of process to drive consistency can create adoption challenges.
It's also important the sales process itself is one in which the front lines feel it actually helps them succeed. A repeatable process with tools to help a salesperson sell more stuff usually helps on the adoption front (hopefully, you can hear the sarcasm in that statement).
Only when you can embed those tools into your CRM or SFA system do you have something salespeople see value in and have a desire to connect to. I am seeing tremendous best practices in which companies are linking not only sales process tools, but also lead generation capabilities, best practice libraries, case study podcasts, and so forth.
If you've almost given up on the investment you’ve made or if you’re trying to figure out the right time to make that technology investment, take a look at how well you are executing on sales process first. Regardless of the size or complexity of your organization, adoption of whatever technology application you invest in will grow increasingly tougher—that is, if there isn't an operating model in place for how your sales organization will engage with customers and prospects.
SMM columnist Bill Golder is executive vice president of business development at Miller Heiman (www.millerheiman.com). Available for keynote speaking opportunities, Bill can be reached at email@example.com or 877-678-0397.