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Is CRM a Tool or a Mind-Set?
A company learns that it can be both
For the rest of the March 2017 issue of CRM magazine please click here

One of the biggest business challenges faced by any company is the ability to translate the strategic vision of leadership into the day-to-day lives of the front-line personnel who will ultimately deliver success or failure. Executives sit in conference rooms or at offsite retreats at the end of every year and decide on their goals for the coming year. These plans are then communicated in meetings or in all-hands-on-deck conference calls. Companies then spend the remainder of the year using technology like CRM to monitor and track these goals to the best of their ability.

While many organizations continue to struggle to reach their goals (regardless of CRM platform), most of them lack a core understanding of the gap between strategy and delivery. By the time this article is in print, we will be well down the path in 2017, and many executives will feel that something is off or that their company’s results are not drastically different than they were at the end of 2016. Some leaders, however, have started to think about things differently and are leveraging CRM and other platforms in a way that does change results.

Change is being fueled by the desire to “break glass” and come up with a new approach to business performance. In one instance we saw recently, a firm broke down each transaction to its core elements and then compared it to similar scenarios in which the firm failed to win the business. The differences they found were in the managers’ approach, the salespeople’s mentality, and how they both leveraged the tools at their disposal. More specifically: In the successful deals, people were using CRM as a weapon to help win business, not as simply another requirement of employment.

This fundamental difference deserved some deeper analysis. When analyzing these disparities in their organization, leadership decided to give some further consideration to the question “How can teams with the same set of tools perform so differently when the organization has put so much effort into the CRM implementation?” In fact, in just the past year, this same organization had considered jumping ship to a different CRM platform because the perception within some parts of the sales team was that a different CRM option would make it easier to deliver better results.

The CEO was not convinced that a new CRM system was the answer, so he asked for some external guidance and posed this question: Which CRM system is best for a professional services firm? The answer back was posed in the form of another question: “How do you do business today, and does your system hold your people accountable to each other?” More importantly: “Do you have a consistent set of terms and rules of engagement for how to get results?” There was a bit of silence on the other side of the table.

You see, the questions at hand did not necessarily involve which CRM platform is better than another. And as much as we concentrate on customization and configuration, technology does not motivate or hold people accountable. We agreed to spend time with various managers and executives to get at the underlying question: whether we were dealing with issues around people, training, or the technology itself.

What we found was fundamentally important and a great topic for discussion. When we were finished with interviews and analysis, we documented what we had learned and then began the process of changing the company’s mind-set about the purpose for CRM, and how people should use it to reach their individual goals or manage a team of sales professionals.

1. Don’t forget the “R” in CRM. One of the most important aspects of CRM is that it helps you to know who to call and when. Where most people fall down is that the critical things they learn during customer engagements end up being poorly documented. The teams that were more successful had better documentation of their engagements—and those people, in turn, had a better handle on their relationships.

2. Ensure common terminology. While people inside the organization threw around terms like “leads” and “opportunity,” the best-performing teams actually had specific definitions for the terms that marked the differences between the two. The managers of those teams spent time on the importance of these definitions and were more easily able to manage outcomes and expectations.

3. Set clear rules of engagement. In more than one instance, sales managers had very specific expectations, ones that were written out, around how to move through the transaction cycle and what to do if a salesperson needed help. What was invaluable was that the sales cycle stages had real meaning in terms of getting business done. For other teams, logging stages had more to do with reporting requirements than with delivering results.

4. Hold accountability meetings. The best-performing teams viewed account and deal reviews as opportunities to demonstrate how to win a deal or assess if a deal was actually winnable. Other teams were simply doing a straight pipeline review of past activity and were spending little time on the right actions to take to turn pipeline into revenue.

5. Emphasize teamwork. Rather than taking a simple manager-rep approach to performance, some teams really worked diligently at being a team. The manager of those teams put expectations on other team members to be proactive and to solicit each other for input and advice. The teams that did not perform well were more dependent on scheduled meetings, and their deals did not move at anywhere near the speed of the best-performing teams.

Upon reviewing these items with leadership, they decided to take a new approach to CRM. Rather than focusing on the structure of the system, they shifted the emphasis on CRM as an organizational mind-set. To accomplish the shift, they spent a significant amount of time developing playbooks and explaining processes. They also gave better direction on how to harness data and documentation in order to maximize relationships. This, in turn, transformed the culture of the business and resulted in significantly better performance.

Anecdotally, when we asked the CEO how he knew the company had turned the corner, he stated, “Now our employees call CRM ‘our system’ and not ‘the system.’”


Danny Estrada is the founder of E Squared, a management consulting firm focused on sales team performance, and has been a CRM practitioner for the past 20 years. As a practice leader, he has guided teams through the implementation and development cycles of more than 500 CRM projects. He is author of the Practical CRM blog (http://blog.practicalcrm.net) and has had numerous speaking engagements for companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, and Sage as a keynote speaker discussing real-world application of CRM concepts. Estrada is also an executive MBA from the W.P Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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