Dodging Disorganization: Showing Sellers a Sharper Image

Despite vendors’ assertions to the contrary, customer relationship management is not all about technology. Technology helps it scale, but CRM is really a discipline. It’s the discipline of creating relationships that benefit both the buyer and the seller.

What we call “CRM” (the product) is really great at organizing the data that makes it possible to build relationships. It’s the system that stores the facts about your relationships and drives some of the activities you need to maintain their health. However, there are many other aspects that have a major impact on the relationship but aren’t driven by your CRM technology.

For example, consider the appearance of being organized. Customers want to work with companies that are “put together” — companies that leave few gaps in their interactions with customers, that provide answers quickly and nimbly, and that know both their products and how to behave around buyers.

None of that is driven by CRM applications, but a company that appears to have it together has an impact on selling process. Similarly, a company that looks disorganized can undo its CRM efforts and put its sales team at a disadvantage.

Note that I’m referring to the appearance of organization. That’s a careful choice of words. We’ve all worked for businesses that have a degree of chaos as a standard feature behind the scenes, but the skills of their sales, marketing and support teams keep that fact concealed from the outside world. We’ve also seen businesses with fully locked-down processes that appear disorganized, because they’re such prisoners of process that any exceptional events paralyze them.

While part of the skill of presenting an organized face to the buyer is based on your personnel’s talents, there are technologies and processes you can implement to help your talent seem more organized, more often.

In rough order of their place in the customer lifecycle, following are a few of my favorites.

Sales Visibility Into Lead Generation

Before sales contacts a lead, reps ought to know about the person and the company that lead describes. In many organizations, though, sales and marketing are working from different versions of reality. Marketing collects data in its system — frequently with the aid of a marketing automation application — and then hands over what it thinks sales needs in the form of a lead.

However, that information often omits details like how the lead initially was collected, how it advanced through lead scoring, how long it’s been in the nurturing process, or its engagement in specific content or activities. Sales ends up blinded to the origins of that lead or how much the lead has learned before initial contact.

The result is that sales’ first experience with this customer involves a rehash of information that is not important to the customer and that already resides within the seller’s business. In this process, the sales rep adds no value, and the buyer starts to question just how disorganized the seller is behind the scenes.

To fight this, encourage sales and marketing to use each other’s systems, or at least push for tighter integration of their systems. Sales can use marketing automation if it’s simple enough, and if they get coaching in how to use it best — and they certainly should have an understanding of how leads are developed.

Marketing can benefit from sales’ feedback into the lead-creation process and also understand how sales is working leads post-handoff.

Sales Enablement

Once sales is in front of the customer, reps need to act as subject matter experts. That’s hard to do if the expectation is that your sales reps have to carry all information about your products in their heads. Unless they have remarkable memories, they’re going to default to what they can keep track of, which may not be the best solution for the buyer.

It’s more likely they will be asked to provide content to the customer, but in too many organizations, that is very difficult. Companies crank out lots of content, but much of it is ineffective and goes unused (60-70 percent, according to Sirius Decisions).

Furthermore, in many organizations, sales enablement is so badly implemented that sales people can’t find the content they know the company has. Nothing instills less confidence in a would-be customer than the sight of a sales rep clicking feverishly on a laptop searching fruitlessly for just the right piece of content.

Most sales enablement plans focus on content. If you want to look organized, stop churning out material and refocus on making that content a snap to find. The structure of the sales enablement system is just as important as the content it holds. Make it easy for sales reps to find what they’re looking for by using a taxonomy to organize content, and make sure reps understand how it works.

Service Integration With CRM

Service has gotten a lot of credit in the past few years for being the “new marketing,” for helping to cement relationships for the long term, and for being a great weapon against churn, all of which is true. However, if service isn’t integrated with CRM, sales is blinded to a critical aspect of the customer.

How ridiculous does it seem to a customer to get a call attempting to upsell him when he’s been engaged with service trying to rectify an assortment of problems? That’s the least likely time for the customer to buy, and miscues like that make it painfully apparent how disconnected the seller’s operations are.

Get those service events into your CRM customer records. If you’re not using a service solution that’s a part of your CRM application, at least make a serious effort to integrate the various applications you are using for customer relationships and service.

It will prevent sales from making those embarrassing calls, and it will help service reps look more organized, too, if they can speak with authority about the customer’s purchases when the customer reaches out to them.

Mandatory Customer Record Reviews

Make sure sales people use CRM regularly to review recent history before reaching out to existing customers. Customers assume the business as a whole knows them, even if they work with a number of people in your organization. That means your staff needs to work together, which they should be doing via the CRM customer record. However, the best customer record in the world is useless if sales reps fail to consult it.

There are two processes to combat this failing, which often plagues sales reps due to their busy schedules. First, create a process that actively reminds sales reps to consult the customer record — if they schedule a customer call, have the calendar serve up a reminder to visit the customer record in CRM before reaching out.

Second, set up your CRM application to send account alerts to reps when their accounts interact with any other part of the business. Sales needs to know when customers have service issues or ask for technical advice. Those activities may help guide sales interactions, and they certainly can head off uninformed questions from sales that can annoy the customer and suggest the company is disorganized.

The Social Step

If you’re going to insist that sales looks at CRM customer records to learn the latest before making contact with customers, it’s a good idea to integrate the customers’ social media presence into the process, too. Some major companies in the insurance space already do this, making it mandatory that reps use tools like OpenView’s Inside Sales to understand what the customer is saying in social media before reaching out.

This is great way to help keep reps up-to-date on customers; it can avoid sales calls during a period of bereavement, broaden rapport between seller and buyer, and identify times when a contact at a company has moved on and a new contact should be established.

Relationships with customers go in two directions. If you hope for customers to be loyal to you, you need to be concerned about what’s going on with their businesses and to reflect that in every conversation you have with them. You also need to avoid wasting a commodity that’s precious to both buyer and seller: time.

Rehashing information that you’ve already collected or that is readily available is a needless expenditure of time that neither side can afford. You simply want to convey an air of competence to your customers and potential customers — something you can’t do if you can’t produce your own documents in a timely way, or if members of your team seem in the dark about major events in your customers’ businesses.

Few are ever as organized as they’d like to be — but by taking the proper steps and using the right technology in smart ways, you can give customers an impression that builds their confidence in you and ensures that sales, marketing and support are rarely blindsided.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is content marketing manager for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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