According to many market analysts, the market for CRM solutions shows no signs of slowing down. It’s increasingly rare to find established sales organisations of any significant size without some form of CRM solution.
And yet when I talk to many sales leaders about the current state of their CRM implementation, the most consistent impression is one of promise unfulfilled.
They frequently acknowledge that key success metrics around data quality, sales team adoption and impact on revenue still have a great deal of room for improvement.
Of all the possible influences on success, enthusiastic sales force adoption is probably the most critical. So why is it so hard to persuade sales people of CRM’s potential to improve their own personal performance?
The most obvious answer is that many of the traditional CRM platforms, and an even larger percentage of CRM implementations, are seen by their target users - the sales team - as an inconvenient administrative burden, rather than a way of improving their earnings potential.
An imposition or a guide?
Systems tend to fail whenever they are seen as an imposed requirement, rather than something that is personally useful. And that, of course, means that the users are likely to do no more than is absolutely necessary to demonstrate their compliance.
Or if - as in so many cases - completing one or a number of fields is required before an opportunity can be advanced to the next stage of the process, there is an understandable tendency to simply enter anything in order to be able to move forward.
It’s no wonder that poor or inconsistent data quality prevents many CRM implementations from achieving anything like their full potential. The old adage “garbage in, garbage out” is particularly true in this environment.
Start by being useful to the user
In order for any CRM system to be useful to the organisation that is implementing it, the system must first and foremost be useful to the people who will be using it on a day-to-day basis - i.e., the individual members of the sales team.
That implies that your sales people must see real, tangible value from their use of the system that they believe will enable them to be more effective sales people and to achieve their personal goals - which probably include but are not necessarily restricted to earning more commission.
This has a number of important implications:
- The information you ask them to capture should be self-evidently important and useful to them, and not just to the organisation
- The questions you ask them should stimulate them to step back and think about the opportunity rather than simply filling in another field
- You should restrict the number of fields you want them to complete to ones that have been proven to be useful in influencing the success of the project
- Most important of all, the system must seek to make the users more effective sales people rather than make managers more effective administrators
Your CRM system is also likely to be better accepted and more useful if it serves to guide sales people in what they need to know and do during each key phase in the evolution of a sales opportunity. It should make it easy for them to quickly access the information they need to be successful.
Keys to enthusiastic adoption
What this comes down to, I think, is that your sales people need to want to use the system rather than being forced to use it. And the only practical way of achieving this is to actively involve them in the design and deployment of the system.
The most successful CRM implementations have sought out the opinions of top performing sales people. They have involved sales people who are seen as successful and credible role models by their peers. They have been designed to make the sales person’s life easier, not harder - and in doing so, they will make the task of management that much easier (and less frustrating) as well.
Psychology, not systems
Success is more about psychology than it is about systems. Most CRM systems are capable of achieving high levels of sales engagement if they are implemented effectively. Most modern CRM platforms have the potential to achieve this. But they are not all created equal.
Here’s the problem: many of today’s most widely deployed CRM platforms were originally designed (even if they neither acknowledged or intended this) around what I describe as a “sales administration” metaphor, in which the primary purpose of the system is to provide management with the information they believe they need.
Whilst these systems are theoretically capable of providing the much-needed guidance to sales people, this typically doesn’t come “out of the box” and often requires the addition of one or more (typically third-party) add-on modules which add to both the complexity and the cost of the installation.
Enablement, not administration
Some of the more innovative CRM vendors have started with a radically different “sales enablement” metaphor which recognises that the best way of getting the best results out of any system is to make the people using the system more effective. Get that right, and good results will follow.
And because these systems have been designed in a holistic way, they include the required sales effectiveness tools as part of the core system - such playbooks, coaching advice, content management, integrated online meetings and so on. This designed-in integration has a huge impact on both usability and affordability.
The future of CRM
Although this approach is still relatively rare, I believe it represents the future of CRM in complex B2B sales environments. It’s one of the reasons that I chose to partner with the next-generation CRM vendor Membrain.com, and why we’ve created a pre-configured value selling edition that makes a successful implementation even easier.
Their opportunity management module is also available as a plug-in for salesforce.com.
If you believe that you could and should be getting more from your CRM, and if you think you might be ready to set aside “sales administration” thinking and embrace a “sales enablement” mindset, we should talk.
Oh - and if you're still confused about your choices, you might want to take a look at G2's very helpful user-reviewed guide to the best CRM software.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales, a member of the Sales Enablement Society, a founding contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation and the Sales Experts Channel and the founder of Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the leading UK-based B2B value-selling experts.
Following a successful corporate career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and market leaders, Bob is now relishing his role as a pro-active advisor, coach and trainer to high-potential B2B-focused sales organisations, systematically enabling them to transform their sales effectiveness by adopting the proven principles of value-based selling.