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Let's Rethink Our Relationship With CRM

By Adam Honig
Jun 24, 2020 5:00 AM PT
proactive relationship management helps sales teams

If you search for "why CRM fails" you get over three million results. Analysts report that close to half of all CRM projects fail and about 40 percent of CRM software purchased goes unused -- because sales teams don't want to use software that makes them glorified data entry clerks and still doesn't "work."

As a CRM industry veteran, this ongoing failure rate hits close to home, and in my experience is much higher. I used to work with companies who would buy this system for an exorbitant amount of money and then need to spend millions, sometimes tens of millions, hiring a firm like mine on its deployment. Even after so much time and money, it was still commonplace to see that less than 10 percent of their salespeople were logging into the system.

I have found that the best sales reps don't bother putting anything into the CRM database, until it has an impact on their commissions. Companies aren't blind to this behavior. Some are even hiring 'sales assistants' for those top reps to do the administrative work for them. While others try to force their reps to keep up with the data entry. Whatever your method is, by the time the data is entered into the system, it's already out of date and only provides an electronic record of the past.

CRM systems have certainly made progress since the Rolodex in the 1950s. But many organizations still end up with data that is no more useful than a contact management system, because they use it as a reporting structure. Because the data is garbage, most sales managers use it solely to check on the amount of activity, call volume, or other measures of efficiency, which can easily be interpreted as micromanaging.

In an attempt to address that need, an entire industry of CRM consultants and product add-ons developed. But they simply made the tool more cumbersome, more complex and more expensive, while simultaneously creating more points of failure. Don't get me wrong: The money in CRM consulting is good. Really good. The ecosystem is designed that way. So you, the customer, have to keep spending more and more money.

But working in CRM consulting was like running a traditional BBQ food truck at a vegan festival -- people fiercely hated you and the product you served. Frankly, it was frustrating that even with all my experience and expertise, there weren't more success stories.

That's exactly why I'm now on a mission to kill CRM.

Proactive Relationship Management

Sales leaders need their reps to keep their data up-to-date so that they can have a clear view of the pipeline and be able to forecast accordingly. Marketing executives need a closed loop system to ensure they can drive a data-driven program. Finance needs an objective view into the health and growth of the business.

All of this requires having visibility into data, as well as context and insights around what it means and what to do with that information. The good news is, artificial intelligence and machine learning have made significant advancements and can now deliver on the promise to make your life easier.

An emerging product category called Proactive Relationship Management has arrived to support B2B sales teams close more deals without the soul-sucking experience that comes with traditional CRM. The philosophy behind this new category is that technology should work for you, not the other way around.

Proactive relationship management is natively built on AI, and consolidates CRM capabilities, sales enablement and analytics into a single sales platform. This consolidation allows the platform to capture up to 16 times more data than a legacy CRM tool. Because the technology has more data, the AI engine can extract intelligent insights and make proactive recommendations from them while giving sales leaders full visibility into their team's activities for more accurate forecasting.

What does this look like in practice? A proactive relationship management platform changes how we interact with sales technology in two key ways. First, individual salespeople don't have to actually "use" the platform. They don't need to input notes or log calls or copy emails. Instead, the platform works in the background, automatically collecting data from emails, calls, and text messages to create contacts and opportunities, and track and optimize engagement throughout the sales cycle.

Second, the platform's AI engine proactively makes recommendations. For example, the platform can deliver a prioritized list of prospects for a BDR to follow up on, with suggestions on what the next step should be. When the sales rep calls using the platform, the natural language processing captures a transcription of the conversation and extracts follow up items and reminders.

Finally, a proactive relationship management platform delivers unprecedented visibility to companies, highlighting emerging trends and anomalies in sales cycles, such as when the sales process begins taking longer than expected, as well as holes in the pipeline early enough to react and address them.

Having more data means you can make more intelligent business decisions. By utilizing proactive relationship management, sales leaders gain insights to ensure that their team is focusing their efforts on the deals that matter most, bringing the entire organization onto the same page.

Marketing and Sales Unite

Marketing and sales teams have a shared goal of driving success for the company by filling and accelerating a healthy pipeline. However, because these two groups use different vernaculars, are driven by different end goals, and are charged with distinct objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs), they can naturally be at odds.

On one hand, having a shared goal of driving success for the company by filling and accelerating a healthy pipeline should bring the two teams together. On the other hand, it can leave them pointing fingers and feeling resentful due to unmet expectations.

A common challenge with CRM tools is the data, if entered, is subjective. The marketing team can automate the inputting of leads, but if the sales team doesn't provide updates, it's very hard to understand which leads were good and which were bad. If deals are ultimately closed, marketing tends to do more of that campaign without understanding the full picture. This frequently leads to more leads that appear to be good, but may not actually be "the best" ones.

The fact is that creating a closed-loop marketing program begins with the ability to move leads swiftly through a set of steps from awareness to action. Having the ability to send leads that are not ready for sales back to marketing for ongoing nurture programs is one way to make the process seamless. Another is for marketing to send prospects and insights over to sales at just the right time, coupled with actionable guidance.

This is where a proactive relationship management platform makes a world of difference. The platform transcribes and stores phone calls and email threads delivering ready access to insightful conversations with prospects. All of a sudden, marketing is able to understand common objections and identify those "aha moments."

Further, when you fully integrate a proactive relationship management platform with a marketing automation platform, you can create an intelligent, integrated sales funnel. Leveraging a platform that can automate workflows and processes, while helping you "listen" for buying behaviors and gain full visibility into engagements with prospects, can truly rocket your marketing efforts to the next dimension.

Is Rethinking the Solution Really Possible?

You might be skeptical that a single platform can do all of this. Which makes sense if you've been living in a world where CRM apps and consultants are just part of doing business. But adding products on top of an already complex product creates more work, and ultimately more points of failure for customers. The fact is that the apps and consultants are a desperate attempt to make a failing product usable. It's a vicious, but very profitable, cycle for the players involved.

As I mentioned, I used to own a CRM consulting company. One of the project's that haunts me to this day was working with a large medical device company that hired one of the largest CRM service providers to implement their CRM. The problem was that none of the sales reps were logging into to the system. So they hired my company, and we helped them buy some more apps and get 20 percent of their sales team to log into the system. This increase in logins was seen as a huge "win" for them and money well spent.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Twenty years ago, anyone using a PC was taught the Control-Alt-Delete command for when the product failed, because it would. Then Apple introduced the iMac and its simple "it just works" phrase, which was revolutionary at the time.

I believe that the promise of AI isn't that a lot of robots will replace humans, but that we'll rethink our relationship with technology. AI has created a lot of opportunities to pause, focus on the original problem, and completely rethink the answer. We no longer need to focus on fixing the solution that failed.

Hope for a Better Tomorrow

Having a clear picture of your pipeline and forecast allows you to run your business intelligently. Proactive relationship management provides you with in-depth analytical data to look at every aspect of your sales process and funnel. This is where the power of artificial intelligence shines.

Knowing which types of prospects end up stalling, or become uninterested, helps you laser focus on your ideal target customer instead of wasting time going after 'everyone' who 'might' be a good fit. Equally important, knowing who to follow up with, and when, helps your teams prioritize their efforts for the biggest impact to your business.

Having the ability to work closely with your sales team to analyze the sales data and determine how to best support their efforts is the recipe for success in B2B sales. Artificial intelligence isn't going to replace your sales team. However, it does power platforms like proactive relationship management that will help your team work more efficiently.

AI can free your team from being glorified data entry clerks chained to a CRM, letting them focus on selling more effectively and delivering unprecedented visibility to sales leaders.

It's time to finally kill CRM and embrace a modern solution.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.


Adam Honig is Co-founder and CEO of Spiro.ai


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