A well-worn topic came up in a conversation last week with a Vice President of Sales. Prior to his arrival at the company, the Sales VP from another division had selected a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to be rolled out to all team members in customer facing roles (CFR). This comes up often—technology is adopted to help streamline processes and improve opportunity development; however, more often than not, there is an installation of technology rather than an implementation and wide-scale product adoption, due mostly to the fact that the process was not well-defined prior to purchase.
Many organizations select a CRM to help them get a handle on their opportunity development and overall sales pipeline. CRMs help companies aggregate customer and prospect information around accounts, opportunities and contacts. Most CRMs offer an “off the shelf” version of the steps of the sale, which includes step names and a randomly assigned probability of success at each step.
This automation may seem like a quantum leap for companies who were formerly using Excel spreadsheets to determine which opportunities would close and calculate the overall value of their pipelines. But, the reality is that this tool, though it may be shiny and new, also has the propensity to leaves key gaps, including what information to enter, what must be completed during each step, and how it all rolls up into a reasonable, singular view of incoming revenue.
We have seen many situations where the CRM becomes nothing more than an expensive, automated contact database, with a lot of internally facing information about what “this salesperson is going to sell to that customer”. The biggest risk in this scenario is that there is limited understanding of what is important to customers, which business objective your product will help customers improve, how they will buy it, and what that means to other personnel within the sellers’ organization. This means that the tool becomes a VRM, or a Vendor Relationship Manager, and is simply not put to its best use.
We have worked with customer-facing and management teams at dozens of companies to effectively explain how to implement their CRMs and support wide-scale adoption of these systems.
What are the critical steps? First, the company’s leaders must adopt a policy that usage of the CRM is a mandatory condition of employment. There can be no gray area, as any allowance of “optional” usage will greatly impact your system’s capacity to deliver results. Once this mandatory usage is established, be sure to do the following:
- Create names for each sales stage and establish a clear definition for what each step entails.
- Include a description of what the customer AND the seller are doing during each stage. The sellers need to know what your prospect or customer is doing first, then what they will do to manage through that stage from the selling capacity.
- Include selling skills that align with each stage. Salespeople are only as good as their weakest skills, and a shortfall in any skill creates dangerous gaps in revenue potential. This is where it is important to describe HOW to execute each skill, and where managers must coach to these skills to affect long-lasting improvements.
- Build tools into each stage of the process to assist users. Marketing is key to ensure that product positioning and messaging are consistently represented. Information that CFRs need to effectively outsell the competition; like competitive analysis, industry insights, and ROI data; must be housed in the CRM or nearby with a simple click away.
- Establish a verifiable outcome for each stage, a formal or informal written agreement by the customer/prospect that both seller and buyer are moving forward, especially when resources will be applied to advance to the next stage. This step creates leading indicators for success, confirmed by the customer/prospect, that both parties are committed.
- Finally, the management team (sales, marketing, customer service, etc.) must commit to regular reviews of the information put in the CRM, ensuring that it accurately reflects the tactical execution of the company’s go-to-market strategy.
Implementing a CRM may take more time and thought on the front end, but it will ultimately provide much more reliable information to your organization and enable you to more effectively communicate with customers, manage your pipeline, and project future revenue.