Extroverted, loud and direct, your sales force is a living case study about whether CRM drives sales excellence or not. The highest achieving sales people — I like to think of them as sales warriors because the really do fight to win business every day — are the lifeblood of any company. They bring the voice of the customer into any company.
Conversely, anyone who has ever been in engineering, marketing, product development or product management realizes that there is a constant tension between what sales wants and what any given company’s products and strategies can deliver — obviously that’s because no product or service can be all things to all people. Sales warriors are adept at using their persuasion skills to get what their customers want inside companies. Instead of whining about what a product is or isn’t, these people find creative ways to gain internal team’s cooperation and knowledge through persuasion and by putting their customers’ requirements at the center of any conflict over resources.
For those fortunate companies that are fulfilling the goal of driving 50 percent or more organic revenue growth from new products, there’s the tendency to claim technology, not sales, is the center of the company. The argument continues in these companies that technologists are just as adept at sales as anyone else. Organic growth from innovation — every software company’s dream — is possible, however, when relationships in the existing customer base have been cared for and fostered not just to make a quick buck from the latest release, but also for the long-term gain of making a lasting contribution to the customers’ business.
The bottom line is that the best companies are relationship driven and as a result have a bias for sales urgency.
CRM Has to Find the “R” Again
The current mantra from nearly every software vendor today is “we automate processes.” That’s great, but what has anyone done lately about making relationships matter again in sales? Not a whole lot. In what looks like a desperate push to stay relevant to C-level executives, software vendors are claiming that streamlining processes generate ROI. While this is certainly true, one CFO of a major truck manufacturer summed it up when he asked me “…so which software projects generated which portion of the ROI?” To that question in his company, there is no honest, crystal-clear answer.
For CRM to grow “relationships” have to become dominant again. Sometimes it seems CRM now stands for Customer “Re-engineering” Management. What’s needed isn’t yet another iteration of best practices charts, graphs and the like; what’s needed is a fundamental shift in how CRM sees their effectiveness. All this has to happen by re-visiting how the best salespeople work.
In watching the best salespeople work, here is what becomes apparent:
- Relationships rule over process. Call this heretical versus the latest push to make all things process-centric in enterprise software, yet it is very true. Travel with your company’s best salespersons and you’ll not see rigorous effort at synchronizing with mountains of data in the CRM records but a genuine concern for their customers — the relationships they have are why they are successful. So fundamental and so true — but so overlooked in the haste of making processes the core focus of re-engineering any company.
- The best salespeople have simple, manual systems that have relationships in the center, not just transactions. The top salespeople identify their customers’ needs and tailor the sale towards that information rather than having the transaction dictate what the customer needs.
- Cherry-picking CRM features. With some CRM systems having enough features to land a man on Mars, the best salespeople use only a few select features and often rely on the systems they have built on their own for managing their most important relationships.
- Integration rules. As you travel with any of the top salespersons, the biggest complaint you constantly hear is being too disconnected from corporate. In pricing, in customer shipment data, in backlog reports, in just about anything sales reps struggle to stay informed.
Salespeople who excel have found a passion in enriching their customers and the relationships they have with them. They honestly care about the people they serve and their goals. They also realize that making their clients look good is the best defense against competitors there is. If CRM systems are to grow sales warriors, companies developing these systems need to get the “R” back into CRM.
Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He recently completed the book Getting Results from Your Analyst Relations Strategies, which is available on Amazon.com.