CRM: a business platform or just another IT project?

In business, like the title of David Campbell and Nicole Hollander’s book points out, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else!”

When it comes to sales organizations, we all agree that, as a generic statement, sales organizations’ main objectives aim at:

#1. Retaining and increasing new business within the existing customer base.

#2. Winning new customers.

#3. Generating more profitable deals, increasing win rate and sales effectiveness in general.

To achieve those objectives, made even more crucial within the current business climate, being able to steer business accurately is a much needed, if not mandatory, corporate mandate.

This translates, for sales departments, into executing on a corporate vision, deploying a strategy, and thereby demonstrating a sense of direction and steering.

To illustrate with a maritime image: one expects the sales team, on the sea, to be a boat rather than a cork.

For that purpose, a well-managed CRM platform will help companies provide an answer to two key questions:

#1. Visibility: where do we stand?

#2. Predictability: where are we heading to?

From experience, however, without real adoption by the sales teams, the investment in a CRM platform might appear as “just another IT project”, not fully delivering the expected business benefits.

A successful technical implementation of a CRM platform is not sufficient: what makes it succeed is its daily usage by the sales organization and the tangible business benefits.

What’s in it for companies?

Let’s skip what the features of a CRM platform are, and focus instead on what it will deliver to the sales organizations, when properly managed.

As a summary:

  1. Improved visibility (who, what, when).
  2. Improved predictability (forecasting).
  3. Improved sales practice (qualification, management of opportunities and red flags).
  4. Increased sales effectiveness (win rate, hunting-farming).
  5. Improved business planning (actions to take, planning, execution).

What’s in it for the sales leader and for the sales practice?

A well-managed CRM platform, together with a supportive sales process, will help transform your sales practice, support managerial activities, and get rid of some well-known management traps, and help the team shift its energies

  • from “reporting numbers” to business planning.
  • from “pipeline reviews” to business sessions.
  • from “compiling data” to automated reports.
  • from “one size fits all” to tailored dashboards.
  • from “gut feel” to meaningful KPIs & trends.

As a result, your business appears as it is in reality, getting rid of the “noise”. The CRM will help you spot your risks and opportunities, define where you really stand, and whether you, and your team, have a plan.

Implement a CRM and they’ll come? It’s not that easy!

Before you can succeed at leveraging the benefits of a CRM platform, you should expect a series of hurdles like misperceptions and rejection.

The reactions I encounter most can be roughly sorted into three categories:

#1. Rejection

  • “Let me sell.” – Providing visibility never prevented anyone from selling, and it is a basic expectation to have from sales reps.
  • “Updating the CRM is an admin job.” – Sales reps are responsible for, and own, their pipeline.

#2. What’s in it for me?

  • “CRM is for the senior management, let me focus on business.” – Being measured is a key feature of a sales rep job.
  • “Reporting won’t help my business.” – CRM goes beyond simple reporting.

#3. Some beliefs and habits

  • “I am close to my sales people, so I don’t need a CRM to know what is in the pipeline.” – Automation and CRM’s many features serve to enhance business knowledge.
  • “We have a CRM platform, therefore our forecasting is accurate.” – This is simply untrue!
  • “Our pipeline is updated before each business meeting.” – Keeping a pipeline accurate at all times is a necessity.
  • “I uplift my most pessimistic sales reps’ pipelines, and I downlift the values in my most optimistic sales reps’ pipelines”. – Sales reps should own and deliver a realistic pipeline, thus reducing manual “transformation” by the sales leader.

Sell the benefits first

Improving the use of an existing CRM, or implementing a new CRM, is far from being a walk in the park.

First things first, let’s agree on the following basic principles:

  1. Sales reps are primarily judged on their quantitative performance.
  2. They literally own their pipelines and are therefore responsible for making their business visible to their organization.

The CRM platform, together with sales processes, will improve focus and effectiveness of the sales organization by providing a set of positive business outcomes.

Sales organizations, and sales leaders specifically, will be able to:

  1. Improve business visibility and predictability
    • Analyze trends, find key learnings.
  2. Improve budgeting
    • E.g., highlight the needs for additional staff.
  3. Focus on the business highlights
    • Dashboards make business views easier to understand and act upon.
    • Spot the gaps and build a contingency plan.
  4. Better involve supporting teams and increase their involvement
    • Sharing information from the CRM makes it easier to engage other departments’ resources.
  5. Improve your business planning
    • Fewer bad surprises, focusing on the risk areas, defining and addressing the growth potential.
    • Support for discussion and for action, address some issues/critical cases.
    • Improve KPI analyses (team and individual), from detailed to helicopter views.
  6. Spend less time reporting, reduce reporting burden
    • More time for sales activities (thanks to automation).
    • More time for talent management.
  7. Improve team effectiveness
    • Is there enough or not enough hunting?
    • What are the red flags and how can they be addressed?
    • Where do our opportunities lie, and how do we leverage them?
  8. For multi-site and international organizations
    • A platform to enhance collaboration and the sharing of best practices.
  9. Increase account intelligence
    • Improve knowledge of customers and prospects.
    • Promote multi-level selling.

What are the areas of attention and the To Do’s?

In order to fully leverage the CRM platform, it remains essential to realize that a number of hurdles are to be expected and dealt with.

Here are some of the most crucial items to be aware of and decisions to take:

#1. Put the sales department in the driver seat

Sales are often described as the “client” of the IT department; in the case of CRM they should co-steer the CRM project.

It is not enough for them to be “involved”, they must actively “own” the project.

#2. CRM must be presented as a business tool to support business

Not as an administrative constraint designed to controlling basic KPIs, nor as an IT-driven project.

#3. “Only” populating the CRM will not guarantee predictability

Focus on quality first, before expecting any meaningful analysis of trends.

#4. Establish simple and clear rules (e.g. the definition of stages) and KPIs which need to be understood, agreed and executed upon.

Stick to the position of “if it’s not in the CRM, it does not exist”.

#5. Share output with the internal partners

Get rid of the “parallel universes”, in which Sales, Marketing, Finance and Operations manage their own pipelines.

#6. The CRM platform is not the ultimate version of an “excel-based” pipeline

Leverage the full spectrum of the tool.

However powerful, the CRM platform is only a brick in a broader picture.

Consider the CRM platform as a tool and an enabler to strengthen the effectiveness of your sales organization.

However, more needs to happen in combination with a well-run CRM:

  1. Improve alignment and collaboration between teams and team members.
  2. Review and improve sales processes and tools.
  3. Above all, consider talent management as an ongoing priority at all times.

In conclusion, owning a CRM platform does not always mean you’re fully leveraging its potential.

Indeed: the tool is NOT the practice!

Consider the steps to benefiting from a CRM platform to be an ongoing process, not a singular event.

Before fully reaping the benefits, be prepared to expect and manage a ramp-up, a stream of continuous efforts from the early adopters to the whole organization, and a learning process.

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