CRM Selection – CRM Success

I’ve had two conversations this week with executives about finding the right CRM solution and finding an effective way to manage customer relationships.  Regardless of the size of the company it seems that almost everybody struggles with similar issues.

The first conversation I had was with one of the Managing Partners of a consulting firm. We had talked earlier but he had reached out to me again in a state of total confusion.  After our initial conversation, he had started Googling on CRM systems to start exploring what options were available, and he found plenty of options.  What followed was a call for help, “How do I choose?” Those of you who have gone through this probably recognize the feeling. It is a bewildering array of choices to sort through.

Before you start looking and trying to choose between different solutions, I would recommend sitting down with a pen and paper (or white board with your team) and figuring out what it is that you really need.  What is the problem that you are trying to solve for? For example, and this is certainly not a complete list:

  1. Do you need a master customer/contact database?
  2. Do you want to share activities on key projects or opportunities?
  3. Do you want a common mailing list so you can send out newsletter and marketing material?
  4. Do you want to be able to share documents so you build a knowledgebase within the firm?
  5. Are you trying to hold each other accountable for following up on leads? Or Penetrating new accounts?
  6. Or some combination of the above

As I am sure you can guess the answer to this first question suggestions different solutions. I would also encourage you to probe to make sure that you are getting at the underlying need not just the nice to have (i.e. Why do you need a customer master? What would it enable you to do?).

  1. Suggests an integrated contact management solution.
  2. Suggests more of a project management solution
  3. Suggests more list management/marketing automation
  4. Suggests more document sharing
  5. Suggests more account planning / project management; maybe shared calendar.

Second step is to think about what evaluation criteria are important to you. How do you weight the importance of different considerations? What are the deal killers?

  1. How important is integration with Outlook?
  2. How important is price?
  3. What is your personal preference or tolerance for a branded solution vs. a lesser-known (hopefully innovative) player?

These two steps should make the evaluation easier and keep you on track. Many (most) companies I have worked with are vulnerable to getting distracted by ‘extra’ functionality once they start looking at solutions. Make sure you stay focused on the problem you need to solve.

Want To Improve Sales? Track, Measure, Adapt

No company has ever gotten everything right on the first go around. Even if you were the first to do so, the world changes and you need to be ready to change and adapt. Many companies’ under performance is due to breakdowns between strategy and operations. A critical step is to capture performance metrics on your sales process.  These metrics enable you to learn from your own experiences, to test new approaches and adapt so that you are continuously improving. These metrics will enable you monitor progress and see where there are challenges that need to be addressed.

Developing discipline around measuring and adapting your sales process provides a foundation for identifying and capture best practices. Develop the habit of investigating ‘why’ things are happening. Monitor your sale funnel. Where are opportunities dropping out of the process? Who is able to shorten the sales process?  Talk to the sales team about what they are doing and what is working for them. With your sales process in place and a closed-loop management system you can test your theories and measure the results.  If the results justify it, you can adapt your sales process to spread new ‘leading practices’ across your team, improving everybody’s performance.

Creating discipline for seeking out and documenting best practices enables you to retain lessons learned within the company instead of having the insights walk out the door with the latest sales rep that leaves for the competition.

Standardize and Document Your Sales Process

During my last post, I highlighted the challenge of high turnover which exists in many sales organizations. The thought that I shared was to suggest building an operating model within the sales organization that takes this reality into consideration instead of hoping for the day when turnover can be reduced. Probably, the most critical step to building this operating model is to standardize and document your sales process.

It is important at this juncture to differentiate between a sales methodology and a customized sales process. There are a number of sales methodologies out there – Target Account Selling, Spin Selling, Solution Selling, etc. Methodologies give you a framework for outlining what you need to do and for training selling skills:  find the economic buyer, build rapport with your prospect, close the sale, etc.

In addition to sales your methodology, a sales process further outlines the ‘how’ and gives the sales team a “recipe” to follow. My roommate in grad school was one of those rare individuals who could open up the cupboard and make a fantastic meal with whatever scraps of food he found on the shelves. Most of us are not that talented. Perhaps we can manage scrambled eggs easily enough, but what about making Eggs Benedict without a recipe for Hollandaise sauce? or tackling a five-course meal and having it all ready at the same time? Similar to preparing a complicated meal, the more complicated the customers buying process is the more critical it is to define a sales process. The sale process defines what a sales ready lead it, what steps should be taken & when to qualify the lead, it defines how to engage other members of the sales team into the selling process and it captures different sales stages and what activities should be happening to shorten the sales cycle. The sales process helps everybody remember critical activities and thereby increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Detailed documentation of your sales process will be particularly useful in helping to get new employees up to speed. Recent research showed ramp-up time for new reps was over seven months for half of the companies surveyed. Any improvement to reduce this time, even by one month, will have significant impact on generating revenue and hitting quarterly and annual targets. With any volume of new sales representatives due to growth or turnover it will become hard, if not impossible, for the manager to keep up with the ‘windshield’ time required to on-board a new employee. The detailed documented sales process compliments the management coaching to help the reps be successful as quickly and independently as possible.

Whenever possible standardize your sales process across teams, divisions and departments. Your sales process gives you a language to use to discuss events and opportunities within your organization. It facilitates the sharing of information up the organization as well as across the organization. The more terms are standardized, the easier it is for this flow of information and learning to occur.

Invest In YOUR Sales Success – Not In Your Competition’s

At a recent presentation I gave to a group of sales and marketing Vice Presidents, the conversation turned toward the issue of high turnover in their sales organizations and its negative impact on their ability to build a high-performing sales team that could deliver predictable results.  In many of their companies, across several industries, well-trained sales reps were leaving to join the competition and taking much of their pipeline and customers with them.  Unfortunately they are not alone. Research by CSO Insights, which regularly surveys Sales Executives for the latest trends in sales and sales team management, finds that high turnover rates (up to 50%) are not atypical of mid-size companies.

While turnover rates may be improved with better hiring profiles, appropriate compensation plans, and strong management, this situation is not likely to be improved easily and may remain a fact of life for many companies.  Consider the impact of socio-economic trends in the business world – a tough economy and a changing workforce – that will continue to put pressure on any efforts to reduce turnover. The average tenure of  ‘millennial’ generation employees is less than two years. As more baby-boomers retire, it will become more necessary to tap into the skills of this younger workforce.

Companies need to face this reality and build an operating model for your sales and marketing organization that addresses the reality of living with high turnover. It is analogous to the individual who buys a pair of jeans two sizes too small and anticipates wearing them once they lose a few pounds. Inevitably, the jeans sit in the closet and are never worn. The moral: build for today not for an idealistic future that may never arrive.

Building an operating model that addresses the reality of high turnover means focusing your effort and investment on creating a sales process. The sales process allows you to pro-actively manage your sale engine and retain knowledge within the company about who your customers are and why they buy from you.  It gives you the management tools that enable you to better leverage company resources and continuously improve how you sell. It frees you from the traditional dependence on luck in hiring rainmakers and on individual sales representative’s “thrill of the hunt”. It reduces the inherent risk of having these individuals leave and go to the competition, with their skills and customers.