Three Cheers For Simple CRM Systems!

I recently caught up with the CEO of a growing company that I had advised for about a year to see how they were doing. I was absolutely thrilled to hear that they had implemented Pipeline Deals (, a simple CRM software application.  I was thrilled for two reasons.  First, when I checked out Pipeline Deals online it was obvious that simplicity and not over building the software are key goals of the company.  Second, I was thrilled with the initial feedback,  “It works well and everyone has adopted it. The excel sheet is gone!”

When we worked together they were still using spreadsheets to track their pipeline and forecast revenue for each month.  It worked for them then but we had many discussions about what would come next as they were rapidly growing beyond the capacity of a spreadsheet to manage their businesses. So many companies in this situation, over buy and over estimate what they need, what they will implement, and how complex their business will become.  To see this company choose a CRM tool, that fills their needs without adding too many bells and whistles is just fantastic.  I have said it before, and I will probably get on this horse again someday, but simplicity is such a key to success anytime you are working with customer management (CRM) systems especially when the field sales team is involved.

The second reason for my little jump for joy was to hear that it was working well and everyone has adopted it. Those who have been close to similar project know that this is no small feat.  The fact that the CEO is deeply involved in the sales process and took the lead with the tool deserves a lot of credit.  But that is also the lesson for the rest of us.  These tools take ongoing leadership and commitment from the very top.  This adoption and early success also sets up the company for more success down the road. Success builds success.  With this project they have begun to build a culture that expects changes to stick.  They will pay attention to the next initiative, because there is a history of projects being rolled out and transforming the business for the better. This is such a contrast to the culture I have seen in companies that expects failed projects and as a result learn to duck and wait for the ‘fad’ to pass so they can go back to business as usual.

If you have a choice between two CRM tools – one that has lots of bells and whistles, and one that is simpler – choose the simple CRM solution.  You will add more value to your business by doing a few things well in a simple system, than by failing to get adoption of a more elaborate CRM solution.

Now, go grow your business!

Sales Management Science or Art? Maturing Your Sales Organization

Organizations go through phases, oscillating between a “Creative Phase” and then a “Maintenance Phase”. Do sales managers face the same challenge of balancing the art and science, or creativity and maintenance?

All companies get their start in the creative juices of the entrepreneurial endeavor.  By definition they are born with the genesis of a new idea, a new way of serving a need, a new way of solving a problem.  These organizations place a premium on creativity to find ways to compete against larger companies with more resources.

As these great Creative organizations grow, quality issues, and service level issues start to crop up. Owners and managers, span of control is stretched and the seeds are planted for a “Control Crisis”. The question of how to channel all of the creative energy in the same direction, and how to maintain quality standards become more and more urgent.  If you don’t address this Control Crisis, you’ll lose control of the business and performance, profitability will suffer.

But on the other hand, if you can successfully address this crisis, you can regain control and navigate your company into the Maintenance Phase. Maintenance doesn’t sound very glamorous but it is a part of the natural maturing process for a company and brings with it many great benefits.

You have fewer ‘fires to fight’ in the course of operating the business.  Procedures provide guidance to set expectations and inform how work is to be completed and issues resolved.  You can deliver higher quality of service more consistently. Operating costs go down.

Unfortunately, the seeds are also now planted for a ‘stagnation crisis’. Stagnation crisis comes from external forces, the market shifts and the company in its effort to maintain order and control operations, has lost its ability to adapt.

To continue, you needs to evolve again from the Maintenance Phase to the re-Creative Phase.  And so the pendulum will continue to swing in a healthy company, always trying to balance between maintenance and order, and creativity.

Sales organizations also need to evolve and mature from their creative beginnings if they are to become high performing organizations.  Evolving out of the creative phase, allows sales organizations to be more consistent in delivering results, to share best practices with each other and have these practices followed.

Where is your sales team on the pendulum swing between creative and maintenance?  What are you doing to find the right balance?

Strengthen the Relationship Between Sales and Marketing – Part 3: Build the Process

So you want to strengthen the relationship between Marketing & Sales?

  • Step 1:  Establish and build agreement on common goals, then…
  • Step 2: Define roles and responsibilities, finally…
  • Step 3: Build the process for working together

I discussed the importance of establishing common goals and defining roles and responsibilities in my last two posts and consider these initial steps to be the hard work of building a strong foundation.  Step 3: Build The Process, is now about doing the hard work of building the house on top of that strong foundation.  The framework for building this house has three components to it.

Outline the process / operating model

Simply put, we need to define how the work gets done. What steps will be taken and in what time frame? Think of it as a checklist.  On NPR this week there was an interview with Dr. Atul Gawande during which he discussed his research about the power of checklists in manufacturing (Boeing), aviation (citing Capt. Sully who landed the USAir flight on the Hudson River last year) and operating rooms. Having a process, a checklist, can help in almost any situation by clarifying for everybody involved what needs the happen in what order.

Establish metrics Establishing metrics goes hand-in-hand with building out your core processes. How are you going to measure your results? How are you going to set expectations and know if you met them? How are you going to identify what is working and what is not? When you are determining what to measure, keep your overall goals in mind.  You metrics should related to your goals.  If you are trying to expand your customer base, you would be better off to measure the number of new customers instead of say revenue per customer.

Close the feedback loop Finally, make sure that marketing and sales continue to provide feedback to each other. To be successful this is going to be an ongoing and iterative process.  If you are going to be successful then you need to build a close-loop process. What this means is taking the results from the work that you have done and using it as feedback into the next iteration. Capture your lessons learned, you success and your failures pour this information back into Step 1.  Revisit and refine your goals, your roles and review the processes in your business.

Good luck with growing your business in 2010.  Making continuous small changes everyday in how you work together will add up to a big difference.  Even if you think things are going well.  Isn’t this a great time to take a moment to talk to you counterpart and validate that you share common goals.  It’s a great place to start.

Strengthen the Relationship Between Sales and Marketing – Part 2: Defining Roles

Last week I started a conversation about how to improve the relationship between sales and marketing because I am of the humble opinion that these two functions should be working collaboratively within your organization.  It can be dizzying to try and define what marketing is versus what sales is.  I’ve heard every definition imaginable and most are feasible, although not necessarily in agreement with each other.  In Part 1 of this series, I talked about defining goals as the starting point for a solid working relationship.

Today, I would like to talk about DEFINING ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Okay, so perhaps you are sitting there thinking, “Hey, what’s the big deal?” And, in part, you are right.  It isn’t a big deal to define roles and responsibilities for about 80% of what you do. It is sales’ responsibility to call on customers, to get contracts signed.  It is marketing’s responsibility to develop and execute marketing campaigns, to work with creative to design promotional material.  The challenge is that last 20% or so where collaboration and cooperation make all the difference.  It is the last 20% where things are no longer black and white but some shade of gray.

  • What is marketing’s role in helping to generate and qualify leads?
  • What role does marketing or sales play to define what a qualified lead is?
  • What is sales responsibility to act on leads? or provide feedback on the leads being provided?
  • What is sales role in strategic marketing decisions? And, is sales committed to taking time out of the field to participate?
  • What is marketing’s responsibility to go out on customer calls with sales to understand the customer and the sales reps world better?

It is this last 20% that will define how marketing and sales will work with each other.  When was the last time that you had an explicit conversation with your counterparts to discuss this?  Did you come to an agreement?  Did you write down your agreement so that you could reference back to it later?  Did you commit to what you agreed to, or slide back into old habits after the meeting?

Both establishing goals and defining roles and responsibilities are about opening up the lines of communication.  Good communication is the foundation of most solid relationships. Sales and Marketing are no different. Good communication is a simple concept.  Achieving good communication, and reaching agreement on these areas is not at all simple.  In fact, reaching agreement may require major negotiation.  My hope here is to provide a logical progression of topics to cover, so that progress is made and negotiations do not stall out in a total impasse.

Coming next week, the final installment: “Strengthen the Relationship Between Sales and Marketing – Part 3: Build the Process”

Strengthen the Relationship Between Sales and Marketing – Part 1: Common Goals

I am always amazed when I am out talking to sales and marketing leaders at the nods and grunts of understanding that I get when the topic of discussion turns to the tension between sales and marketing.This is an unfortunate state of affairs and may be worth some effort in 2010 to improve. The team that is wasting energy on internal fights and squabbles, isn’t the team headed to the winners circle.

Do you have agreement on GOALS?

Starting at the top of the organization is there agreement on the overall organizational goals? on the goals are for both marketing and sales? In the abstract, it may be an interesting intellectual exercise to debate if marketing should be working on brand awareness or lead generation (or both); if sales should be focused making this quarter’s numbers or bringing customer intelligence back to the organization (or both). Within your company, though, you need to make some decisions and make sure that everybody is on the same page with priorities and assumptions.

I learned the importance of agreeing on goals back when I was in grad school.  We had a quarter-long consulting project that culminated our first year of study. When the teams were formed, one of the critical questions our faculty adviser recommended we asked ourselves was, “What grade do you want to achieve?”.  It sounds trivial, but as it turned out, it was extremely helpful to get this basic goal out on the table early. How much time and effort did each of us want to put into the project? Was the project a priority or was job hunting?  Was graduation the goal or receiving academic honors?  If one team member is aiming for “survival” so they can focus on other priorities, there is going to be conflict with the team member who wants to be top of the class.  The only way to resolve this is to get it on the table early and agree on a plan.  This is a simple example but hopefully it illustrates how agreeing on goals and expectations early is the foundation for a strong working relationship.

Going back to the work of marketing and sales it is important, and not just an interesting intellectual exercise, for the head of sale and the head of marketing to come to agreement on their collective and individual goals.  As with the team project in grad school, if there isn’t agreement at this foundational level then any efforts to build a collaborative working relationship are doomed. Get the new year started on the right foot.  Sit down and talk to your counterpart and find out if you agree on the underlying strategic goals.  If you don’t, work on negotiating an understanding that you can both commit to.

Coming next week:  “Strengthen the Relationship Between Sales and Marketing – Part 2: Defining Roles”

Is There Innovation In Sales?

“Is there innovation is sales?” This question came up last week when I was downtown meeting with a group of sales executives and business owners. Actually, the question was “Why isn’t there innovation in sales?”  In this day and age of social media and digital marketing the question shocked me. There are profound changes happening in the way people gather information to make decisions. Of course there is innovation in sales.

For starters, I would argue that any good sales person will innovate and is innovating all the time.  Last week my blog was about process and perhaps these sound like two different arguments.  They are not.  The sales process encourages innovation.  As an artist has a process for creating a work of art (sketches are created, colors are tested, before the final piece is created).  A sales process enables a salesperson to innovate. What innovation will improve the results I get? Does it work better to call, to email, to do it within 24 hours, within 48 hours? A good sales person, a good sales team, and a good sales manager is following a process and is always looking for the innovation which will make a difference in what they do.

Now, to give the person who asked this question credit, I had another conversation with a senior sales executive recently that illustrated why so many people have the perception that the sales team is only interested in quarterly quotas and only capable of executing tactics. Here we are sitting in December, getting ready for a new year, and when asked about his goals, all this executive could share was his sales goals.  He had no plans for improving the level of performance of his team, nor could he identify any road blocks – technology, skills, sales process or methodology – that needed to be addressed. I was amazed that as a leader in his organization he was not thinking deeper or harder about how to move his team, and the company forward.

I may be in the minority on this but I view marketing and sales as partners on a continuum of how companies connect with and communicate with prospects and customers in order to generate revenue.  The marketing function works on branding, building awareness with the purpose of generating leads. Once a lead is generated, the sales function works on nurturing that lead through the sales pipeline to close the opportunity.  With this view, any company who believes that sales doesn’t have to worry about what is going on with social media and digital marketing is putting their revenue at risk.  As more individuals use the internet to gather information and build relationships with companies and organizations, this will impact the role that the sale team has, it will impact the sales process, it will impact how customers relationships are nurtured.

Sales needs to innovate.  Some companies are innovating their customer relationship process.  Companies that do not innovate their sales process are gambling their future.

Transforming Your Sales Team – It Is Hard Work

A few weeks back I attended a great discussion and presentation sponsored by the Kellogg business school alumni titled “Selling Strategies In A Challenging Environment”. The event included a panel discussion with four sales executives who answered questions about their efforts to evolve and transform their sales organizations. During the course of the conversation, a couple of  question came up about turnover – how much was there? had these sales leaders worked to reduce turnover?

Across the board, these executives had experienced turnover within their organizations, and a lot of it. Turnover in each case had exceeded 50%. I don’t think this is the answer that any of us wants to hear but I think it is realistic and a challenge that sales leaders who want to transform their organizations will need to face sooner or later.  It is not that individuals are or intend to be cut throat or malicious to successfully transform their organization, but change is hard and not everybody is going to make it. Consider:

The willing but incapable: Perhaps your transformation requires a different style of selling, a different market or product, a different level of executive conversation.  There is probably at least a few in your organization that may have the right attitude but just cannot, for whatever reason change their skills to fit in the transformed organization.

The capable but unwilling: These exist in every organization as well.  Skilled individuals who are not willing to make the change that the organization has asked them to make.

Right-sizing the sales team: Many transformation efforts include changing the structure of the sales organization.  Does an inside sales team need to be added? Is the size of the each managers sales team changing? Are two organizations merging and redundancies need to be removed?

A couple of conversations last week with family business owners, again caused me to reflect on how hard transformations can be. A third generation business owner shared his journey from running the family business to selling that business to an investor and to becoming professional management for another business owner. He shared how it had been impossible to layoff the overpaid, under-performing employee as the business owner but could recognize the need and take action when he was hired management. Transformation is hard, necessary perhaps for continued success but very, very hard.

This morning I read a blog posted by Buckley Brinkman about how difficult transformational change is.  He is in the process of making career changes and moving to a new city which has caused him to reflect (again?) on how hard change is. Buckley is a “Change Catalyst” and in the business of making change happen for companies that he works with.  Yet even this master of change, has to dig a little deeper to find the benefits that make the pain of change worth going through.

Read Buckley’s Blog Post on Change.

How have you managed challenging transformations within your sales team?

It Takes Leadership: Flash Mob and Oprah

Okay, I don’t consider myself a huge Oprah fans but when this video started showing up on my friends Facebook posts I checked it out… it was cool!  Too cool to keep to myself, so if you haven’t seen it, check it out.

Of course the question that immediately comes to mind, and you can hear Oprah exclaim, “How did they do that?”.  The answer is that what appears spontaneous, didn’t happen without some careful planning.

Somebody hatched the idea and choreographed the dance. I’m not a choreographer, or a dancer but that seems like the easy part compared to figuring out how to get 20,000 fans to execute your dance, especially if you figure half of us have 2 left feet? Remember these numbers  20, 800, 20,000. It starts with teaching 20 professional dancers.  Then 800 ordinary people who liked to dance are recruited through Facebook and Twitter. The 20 professional dancers have a day to teach 800 amateurs.  These 800 volunteers go out into the crowd before Oprah’s show to teach 20,000 people.

20, to 800, to 20,000

The Black Eyed Peas and the Oprah team were able to create something that was really amazing and cool.  They couldn’t do it without 20,000 fans delivering for them.  But the amazing lesson for us in business is that they had a plan for leading and communicating. They knew what their goal was (20,000 fans dancing). They figured out a way to leverage a limited skill set (20:800: 20,000) and then they used technology – Facebook and Twitter – to find communities of dancers quickly and spread the word.

In your business, perhaps you don’t have 20,000 fans on Michigan Avenue but you have communities of customers, partners, resellers.  What do you want to accomplish with those communities?  How can you communicate that with them?  How can you find the influencers and get them to help spread the word into your crowd?