Reassessing CRM: From Sales Rep Annoyance to Competitive Edge

As sales and marketing managers grapple with the task of ensuring their companies remain competitive during the economic downturn, many are frustrated by an age-old dilemma: how to track and manage the copious amounts of customer data required to improve sales performance, better segment prospects, effectively target the most profitable customers, and correlate leads to closed deals and customers. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sales representatives often do not realize the value of collecting this data and, therefore, may not cooperate because they face their own dilemma. With aggressive sales goals in a shrinking economy, they do not want to take time away from selling to tackle the often time-consuming task of entering data. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Many salespeople also resist CRM initiatives because they feel it is invasive to enter so much information on their interactions, as if "Big Brother" is watching them. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> As a result of these factors, sales and marketing managers' efforts to develop an effective CRM solution are often met with disappointing outcomes&#x2014;they fail to reach high levels of user adoption. Many times, the system that has been implemented is overly complicated and time consuming, with too many required fields. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Frustrated with seemingly useless and complicated SFA tools, and failing to see how they will benefit from them in the long run, sales representatives often abandon CRM systems altogether. They instead resort to creating spreadsheets in the more familiar Word or Excel, leaving sales managers out of the loop altogether. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> This also poses a challenge for marketing executives. Without reliable data to segment, they cannot effectively manage campaigns, target prospective customers based on past history or potential future opportunity, up- and cross-sell products and services, or offer maintenance and renewals to customers based on anticipated needs.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Communicating Value</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> This familiar scenario need not be inevitable, however. There are ways to strike a balance and meet the needs of both sales and marketing executives and representatives. This is no easy task&#x2014;especially given the individualistic nature of many sales professionals&#x2014;but if managers can clearly communicate the value of using the system, salespeople will eventually cooperate. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Appealing to the "What's in it for me?" factor is a critical step in communicating value. Managers must also demonstrate concrete ways in which the SFA solution will streamline tasks and lead to a stronger and more efficient sales organization as a whole. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Giving salespeople reporting dashboards to help measure their success; showing them how they can better target their most profitable customers; and detailing how the marketing department will more effectively support sales efforts, pass along better leads, and help salespeople increase their revenue are all ways to demonstrate how CRM can make it easier to be successful. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Finding tools that make sense to sales and marketing representatives is an equally important factor. For example, many times the platform a company is using simply doesn't fit in with its sales processes and the way representatives work. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> If a tool is not intuitive for salespeople to use, this will create a hurdle when trying to secure buy-in. Involving sales and marketing "super users" in the selection and set-up of CRM tools is one way to ensure they are a match for users.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Evaluating Maturity Levels</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> One key factor that can have an impact on the uptake of CRM is deploying tools that match the maturity level of the organization. There are four stages of maturity, and trying to introduce tools that do not correspond with an organization's level can be frustrating for all parties involved. Specifically: <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 1. Organizations at the first stage of maturity have never used CRM tools before. Trying to introduce anything but basic automation to those who are unfamiliar with CRM will be difficult for both sales and marketing representatives and executives.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 2. At the next level, an organization has successfully introduced CRM and has convinced its customer-facing employees to use the system regularly for entering customer data. At this point, sales and marketing managers can introduce standardized procedures to ensure the customer information is reliable.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 3. In the third stage, a company can begin integrating their CRM tools so the sales, customer service, and marketing departments can all share information. These business units are then able to make informed decisions based on accurate data from the CRM, as well as back-end applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and database software.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 4. Finally, when an organization is sure its data is accurate, it can move to the fourth stage&#x2014;using business intelligence to analyze and adjust sales, marketing and service strategies, and move the company one step closer to delivering that all-important 360-degree view. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Companies must also bear in mind any significant change in a sales or marketing organization's structure can impact where it fits in within the maturity model. As a result, it may be necessary to evaluate the tools used by the group. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> For example, if there is significant turnover among sales management and field representatives, or if the company undergoes an acquisition, it may need to re-evaluate its overall strategy (and thus, the tools and processes) being employed. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> The overall message from all of this? It is essential to carefully balance the requirements of sales and marketing managers with those of representatives. If salespeople understand the benefits and embrace the concept of using CRM, sales and marketing teams will be able to rise above the challenges they face today. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In today's economic climate, a successful CRM solution can deliver substantial dividends and business outcomes, including a more productive and effective sales force and successful marketing campaigns&#x2014;campaigns that fill the sales pipeline with high-quality leads and, eventually, new revenue and customers. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Adam Honig is president and CEO of <a href="" target="blank">Innoveer Solutions</a>, He can be contacted at or 617-225-7790.</i>