A sound CRM system is a must-have in business-to-business sales. Which doesn’t mean it’s uniformly accepted by salespeople, who still tend to find it too unwieldy and useless. For good measure, NoCRM.io‘s Sunny Paris is adamant that too many CRM projects are centred around the managers’ point of view. In this post I will investigate and analyse how your salespeople’s vision of a CRM system could be altered so that they are turned into its avid users.
Love Thy Salespeople and They Will Love Your CRM System
Disclosure: NoCRM is a client of ours
How to implement a sales-driven CRM system
Feeding the CRM system is mostly perceived as a chore by too many salespeople. However, there is no reason why it should be so. In this piece I will deliver my advice as to how to implement a sales-driven CRM solution.
What is a CRM system?
Let’s start with the definition of a CRM system and believe me, it’s not a spurious task. Customer Relationship Management is indeed all things to all people: it may encompass customer service at one end of the spectrum and business reviews at the other end.
A growth or reporting mindset? The choice is yours.
This piece is dedicated to those CRM systems we used to name “Sales Force Automation” in the old days.
A term that may be a little outdated yet whose meaning is clearly understandable to all. Obviously, our focus is B2B sales. There are 3 main parts that make up a CRM system:
- Prior to the sales process: This part covers the business principles, practices and processes of an organisation that interacts with its customers (this is the organisational underpinning of a CRM system);
- During the sales process: From an overall organisational perspective, this stage encompasses all direct interactions with customers, such as sales and support-related processes;
- Beyond the sales process: this final phase is about the forecasting aspect of CRM and the analysis of trends and behaviours of customers and prospects. This is the reporting aspect of a CRM system (which I am deliberately putting here at the end of the list).
At the end of the day, a CRM tool aims at: firstly, establishing the rules and assisting sales management, secondly, supporting the salesperson in his or her follow-up of the sale, and finally, allowing the company as a whole to visualise and drive the business.
When the CRM tool becomes sales-driven
On paper, it is difficult to prioritise any of the above objectives of a CRM system since all of them have a purpose.
All three elements are forming a chain which cannot be broken for fear of damaging one’s sales process, as Forrester states in a report on the state of CRM in 2021:
57% of executives were unable to maintain their customer engagement levels during the shift to remote work because their CRM systems were not well integrated and accessible
Forrester, state of CRM in 2021
In practice, the implementation of a CRM system for a business depends mainly on the context. For example, for a smaller company, the reality is often quite different.
Reporting will in principle not be as structured as in a large company. And the sales process will be less formal.
For a large company, none of the 3 objectives described above can be ignored. Yet, there is one of them in particular, that looms large above the rest: the use of the tool by one’s sales force. Without their contribution, none of the other objectives will be achieved. Indeed, what is the point of consolidating the numbers from a tool where most of the data is missing?
For smaller businesses, salespeople’s usage rate should also be the major objective.
To sum up, without the contribution of your salespeople, a CRM system is useless
In other words, it can be argued that the more your CRM system is useful to your salespeople, the more they will use it too!
Focus on the outcome
To get to that point, you need to focus above all on what the tool can do for those who are supposed to feed it. By doing so, you will turn your CRM system into a proper sales-driven tool. This is a win-win approach that is well known in the field of collaboration.
To make a group collaborate (from Latin cum laborare, to work together), you must focus on three main ingredients that we have depicted in the above diagram:
- On the one hand, you must ensure that there is a common goal. When it comes to sales, the common goal is easy enough to identify. Yet, way too often, salespeople share that feeling that they are fighting against a huge admin machine that claims it wants to develop the business but isn’t supporting them to do so. This is the first barrier to change. You must show your sales force that you all share the same sales-driven objective.
- To do away with this inhibitor, there’s nothing like putting your money where your mouth is and demonstrating to the field that you are supporting their work and that the tool you are putting in place is there to help them achieve their goals. In the course of deploying a CRM system in one of my past jobs, I made sure for example that sales forecasts were linked to guarantee PC deliveries to customers. This encouraged all sales persons to collaborate by sharing their sales forecasts, since it also allowed them to reassure their customers about PC deliveries and thus preserve the quality of their customer relationship. Incidentally, this also allowed the factory to adjust its output, the sourcing of raw materials, its logistics… This was a true win-win approach.
- Lastly, offer a tangible benefit to your users. No one feels motivated by chores. But if your tool is architectured in a way that is genuinely useful to your salespeople, then you’ll have a much better chance of improving its usage. The main question that remains is: “how do you achieve this?
3 things to keep in mind when deploying a new CRM system
In order for a CRM solution to focus on the benefits to the sales force, one should follow that path:
- The first step is about stakeholder collaboration: as pointed out by Sunny Paris, at the beginning of a CRM solution project, all stakeholders should be part of the project. By this we mean involving sales people themselves in defining the tool and their needs. This is an important part of the process as it sends users a signal that you are listening to them. Of course, this must be done authentically and respectfully rather than just pretending you are listening to them, as is seen too often in the field.
- Step two, think business, not reporting. The second step is about mindset. CRM projects are almost always approached with management and reporting in mind. This is sending the wrong signal to your salespeople who will feel that Big Brother is watching them. This will be counterproductive. At the end of the day, your number crunching will never be as good as if your salespeople are using the CRM system extensively. Therefore, you should prioritise usage over reporting (Re our infographic)
- Third step, make this tool useful. This is the most important step, the one that will determine how much your tool is used. The more you try to provide a service to salespeople by responding to their requests, the more you will show that you are listening to them and that your tool should serve their purpose. Thus you will help them help you, it’s as simple as that.
10. Benefits That Will Make Your Salespeople Love Your CRM Solution
Collaboration, as negotiation, means that you step into the shoes of the person in front of you. Negotiation doesn’t mean you agree with all they say, it means that the tool you design will offer a solution that is satisfactory and useful to all.
If I were asked to design a project plan for a new CRM system, I think I could come up with some potential benefits for sales people.
Please note, as I explained earlier, that each case is unique. You don’t design a CRM project for a very small company as you might for a larger one.
Having said that, I have known many a large business organisation that operated with a completely flat organisation (the average sales person being one level remote from the top man). And vice versa, I’ve seen very complex business processes in place in small companies.
Please keep this in mind when reading our advice.
10 tips to make your salespeople love your CRM system
I’ve identified 10 possible benefits that would make your CRM project your salespeople’s pet tool:
- Leads workflow: let’s begin with the beginning, i.e. feeding the sales force with quality leads. This is bound to mean different things to all B2B businesses. For B2B mass markets, inbound marketing and classic lead generation (outbound) will be key. When it comes to hard-to-sell products and services, one will mostly focus on collaborative sales-marketing approaches based on ABM methodologies. Regardless, the more you turn your CRM system into your lead generation machine, the more your salespeople are bound to use it. It’s step one in your change management plan even though it won’t solve all your problems. Above all, it will enforce a better communication channel between sales and marketing.
- Ready-to-use sales documents and keep red tape to a bare minimum by automating price structure, terms and conditions. As most salespeople blame CRM systems for being admin-orientated, take the bull by the horns and do away with that. Turn it into a tool aimed at cutting down sales admin, including reporting. Make sure that all the tedious facets of sales, including the legal aspect for instance is automated. A proper sales-driven CRM system should also do away with repetitive tasks and focus on providing a better service to your customers (and your salespeople whose aim is to serve your customers).
- Automate everything that can be: very often, salespeople are asked to enter ridiculously useless information like company number for instance, business address, its officers, date of incorporation, etc. In short, all this information that is already available from publicly available databases. Make sure that your IT system is up to scratch and that it allows your salespeople to save time by avoiding the rekeying of information that exists or is already known. Similarly, if your project is a big one, do not hesitate to link all your information systems to one another. Systematically avoid double entries which are rightly perceived as a waste of time and a source of error. In the age of artificial intelligence, it is no longer acceptable to design IT systems in that way. This also applies to real-time inventory management for those industries where it’s necessary. Finally, if you have planned special reporting requests, only keep all really useful extra fields. God knows we’ve witnessed zanyish requests asking salespeople to key in additional data for urgent reports which were never put together.
- A sales-driven repository: Similarly, a proper sales-driven CRM system could also become a repository for all the documentation that salespeople require to do their job. Time and time again, I have set up information systems in the field that have been very successful simply by gathering a handful of documents in one place and making them available to all sales people, at their fingertips. Again, it’s a simple and stupid idea, one that doesn’t cost anything. It’s such a waste of time and money when salespeople spend hours looking for a product description, a standard pitch or a list of responses to sales objections, etc. All this should be found in no time within the CRM app. A word of caution, though! For this type of repository to work properly, it must be kept short and sweet. Don’t try to overload it. In short, to ensure that your sales staff feels involved in your CRM project, you should not expect everything from them and focus solely on their input. Above all, you must give them as much information as possible, which is useful for sales and show that you have made an effort to feed the system before you’ve asked them to contribute. Thus, the more the CRM is useful for them to do business, the higher your salespeople’s motivation to use the system.
- More sales-driven reporting: before providing summary reports for Finance, it is advisable you provide an easy and readable report for each salesperson and thus allow them to follow their progress in relation to their objectives (year on year results, sales forecasts and achievements, etc.). I find most systems are failing to deliver on this most obvious objective. IT makes it possible to compare data between members of a sales team, and also, if needs be, to challenge sales team members to achieve better results.
- Easy follow-up and collaboration on deals: the CRM tool must also be able to serve as an interactive to-do list for the salesperson so that he or she doesn’t forget any sales-related tasks. When dealing with a lot of prospects and customers, it is sometimes easy to forget the odd reminder. The CRM tool should serve as a reminder to the sales person. This is also applicable to direct marketing, emailing and campaign management.
- Indirect sales: wherever applicable, the CRM tool should also make it possible to manage deals with one’s VARs or strategic business alliance partners. This is when there is business in common and when a common Go-to-Market is applicable.
- Customer contract management: wherever applicable, the CRM tool should also be the centralised platform that manages customer contracts. 40% of sales people keep customer information in their email or a spreadsheet (source Hubspot, see infographic) and this is unbelievable in this day and age. In case this is applicable, collaborative work should also be applied with the legal entity, which is essential for large contracts.
- Customer support: In other cases, where customer service is involved, the CRM should also serve as a liaison tool between the different teams. This makes it possible to track the various events related to the customer lifecycle. Beyond customer support, keeping tabs on all customer-driven events should be all sales people’s obsession. A CRM system should be the main repository of all customer files. Such information should not be allowed to be buried deep in email inboxes that disappear when salespeople resign or leave the company.
- Last but not least, keep financial reporting to a bare minimum: If your tool allows you to consolidate sales forecasts without requiring any manual intervention from sales people, hours and hours of Excel work will be saved. All this time can therefore be devoted to sales. In one such CRM implementation, I had designed an automatic report consolidation system that allowed all countries to be consolidated at the touch of a button on a fixed date. Everything was automatic and no additional chore was asked from any of our salespeople.
Why would your sales people love your CRM system if you hate them?
Much more could be said about the successful implementation of CRM projects. To begin with, we could have added that, the right-sizing of your future CRM system according to your business needs is key.
No two businesses need the same CRM system, so it is advisable to think carefully about your project beforehand in order to avoid building useless, bulky, unwieldy systems. And God knows we’ve seen quite a few of those in the field.
CRM systems are arguably the most difficult IT systems to design and implement. There is a reason for this.
Sales are vital to a business. If sales people stop selling, your business grinds to a halt. This leads to power struggles that are not always easy to solve.
Implementing a CRM information system is therefore a subtle balancing act between methodology and process, internal marketing and collaboration and change management techniques.
To this end, the role of an implementation coordinator is key. Download the infographic by clicking this link.