We often find that CRM systems give sales managers numbers when what they really want is insight. Is CRM finally ready to demystify sales management?
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Based on the results of CSO Insights' latest sales performance study, it's clear that CRM has become a mainstay for sales reps: Over 70 percent of the firms we surveyed reported that they had implemented a CRM system. The benefits these salespeople are achieving clearly show that CRM can impact both efficiency and effectiveness. Now that sales reps are more consistently inputting into these systems data on the opportunities they are pursuing, we were left wondering what benefit sales management was seeing. An initial review of the study data suggested the answer was "not much."
Consider the following: When we asked sales executives to rate their performance around several management metrics we found that 60 percent sought improvement in their ability to forecast; 50 percent wanted to improve their ability to adapt their sales process to marketplace changes; and 49 percent rated as "subpar" their ability to identify and share best practices across the sales force. But sales managers now have access to their organizations' sales opportunity data -- so shouldn't these figures be better?
Not really. In the projects we've benchmarked over the past few years, we often find that CRM systems give sales managers numbers -- but what they want is insight. Here's an example of the difference: Let's suppose that, at the beginning of the quarter, the CRM system is reporting that the Southern Region has a forecast of $10 million. Sixty days into the quarter I see that the forecast is still $10 million. The numbers are the same, so I ought to feel confident they'll hit their target, right? Not necessarily.
What if you found out that $9 million of the original $10 million had fallen out of the initial forecast and been replaced with deals totaling the same amount, but not nearly as far along the sales process path? Now, that insight might cause some alarm, and based on that knowledge you could come up with plans to address a possible revenue shortfall.
This insight shortcoming of CRM seems on the verge of changing. Over the course of the past few months we had a chance to review a new breed of sales analytics solutions from companies such as Cloud9 Analytics and LucidEra, both out of San Mateo, Calif.; Market-Partners of Santa Rosa, Calif.; and ShadeTree Technology of Austin, Texas.
In each case what we found were people who really understand the challenges of sales management, and applications that can be easily integrated into a company's core CRM system (Salesforce.com, SAP, Oracle, etc.). As a result, sales executives can understand which deals they're winning or losing and why; the real sell-cycle time for every product they sell and what best practices can shorten that time period; the right process to sell to different types of buyers; and so forth.
Initial adopters of these systems are reporting significant improvements in forecast accuracy, the ability to improve sell-cycle/buy-cycle alignment, the sharing of best practices across the sales force, and more. While the past few years have seen CRM start to fundamentally change the way reps sell, the coming year may finally bring changes in how executives manage.
Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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