CRM capabilities and business processes enable technology to shine.
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The logic and reason behind the idea of aligning technology with methodology are obvious: There's no point to installing technology that cripples an operation, and most businesses can't function without some degree of automation or technical backup. CRM magazine's understanding of the basic beliefs, concepts, and values of the industry has always been that while tech is cool and can open up new possibilities for how a business conducts its operations, the need for business processes must lead--successful implementations come from identifying what is needed for a methodology to drive.
When methodology is not allowed to drive, technology can't prevent a crash. "Companies have always wanted to put in technology, thinking it was the answer to their problems. But if you automate a mess, you just have an automated mess," says Mark Engelberg, president of TimeLinx Software. "There's a disconnect: Many businesses don't take the time to understand the process before adding the technology. For instance, you could add an expense reporting system for all employees to submit to accounting, but forget to buy a license for the accounting department to allow them to use the system."
TimeLinx, a CRM vendor specializing in businesses at which billable and non-billable hours are important, encounters clients and prospects that haven't thought through what they're trying to accomplish. As with the accounting example above, Engelberg encounters businesses that don't get it. "How are they getting time into the billing system? Often it's a disconnected method like fax, email, or time sheets, which are then rekeyed," he says. And no matter what you can do with CRM, nobody wants to do data entry or worry about the errors introduced that way. It's hard to relate to clients that rely on accurate reporting of time when the methods used are so archaic.
Accurate reporting of time is key in the industries that TimeLinx serves. These include tech implementation companies--resellers that keep clients' systems up to date (either with lots of serial projects or single big ones); consultants that need billback for many concurrent projects and tasks; software developers and publishers; and insurance and benefit management companies. (See the sidebar "Laws of Alignment.") They all need technology to support the way they do business, in particular benefit management companies, which "put together a benefits package and need to know if they're making a profit against the time and effort spent creating and presenting it," Engelberg says.
Michael Bosworth, author of Customer Centric Selling and creator of the methodology Solution Selling, puts it another way: "Process enables groups of people, but tech enables process. In many sales organizations, 90 percent of the money comes from 10 percent of the people; this is a sign that the sales process isn't clearly defined and enabled." To Bosworth process begins with the CEO's definition of selling. "If it's 'convincing a client to buy what we have to sell them, on our schedule,' there's no process or technology that can make it really work well. The vision should be to help the potential client visualize how a problem could be solved using your product or service. The customer can then self-sell."
Razi Imam, CEO of Landslide Technologies, supports Bosworth's view, having been the victim of bad methodology. "I know how hard it is to be told by others what the company sales process is--with classes, books, practice sessions, et cetera--when most people take it and put it on the shelf," Imam says. He mentions research indicating that adults retain 3 percent of what we're taught when it's not reinforced. "Training and method disappear when you're in front of a live person--you need to deal with the person, not work through a methodology. If you truly want to build a technology for salespeople, you must understand how salespeople work. You can't force a sales function into a product, then force it into their hands--it will never get used."
The alignment, for a sales department, is one of the highest hurdles to clear. There are two reasons: One, successful salespeople have already devised processes that work for them, whether they're informed by your company's preferred processes or not. Two, salespeople don't want to take time away from the hunt to learn to use new toys whose value they don't immediately recognize.
One recognized technology that informs and improves methodology is the Net Promoter score, developed by Satmetrix. "When we went into research around Net Promoter, we focused on trying to get our customers to understand what metrics matter to the business," says Laura Brooks, Ph.D., vice president of research and consulting. "The Net Promoter score is about more than just the number. It's about knowing what to change to improve the customer experience."
John Abraham, CMO of Satmetrix, says, "You'll find companies trying to [gain customer loyalty] through a pure technology approach, others through pure research. We feel you need both--a programmatic approach to drive data and its value back into the company." In his estimation, you can do very good research, but it doesn't change how your employees work.
Technology and the information can't merely sit on the outside of a good process--it must become part of it. "There's a huge issue in getting data into the hands of people who touch the customer," Abraham says. "It's critical to drive this into the infrastructure and the workflow--get it into the hands of employees so they understand that they have an effect."
"The approach has often been siloed," Brooks says. "You know what's happening at one touch point, but you don't know or care how the others are doing." From the enterprise perspective, the question is how to integrate other areas. How does sales know somebody called in to support and had a horrible experience? "How to know what you need to know? Net Promoter is a good shortcut--other metrics can be too complex. Knowing whether a person is a promoter or a detractor gives good information and also tells you how to approach them," she adds. In this context, when you see Net Promoter information in the CRM profile that a person is both a detractor and a decision maker, you need to get on top of that.
When a company defines and implements a new sales methodology, one of the obstacles that can plague the sales team and decrease its effectiveness is if the company's marketing department isn't mapping the marketing and sales support programs they're developing with the sales methodology and/or process. In such cases, it falls on the shoulders of the individual salespeople to figure out how to effectively use what the marketing department has provided and align it with the sales methodology. "This is a recipe for failure," says Scott Richardson, president of Longwood Software. "If, instead, marketing views sales as its customer, then marketing can instead become a contributor to and supporter of the sales methodology. The sales methodology should impact the marketing team, and how the marketing team responds is with technology-based tools and systems to align with the methodology."
In the end methodology mishaps seem to come down to communication problems, which technology can help to fix. Longwood's TagTeam marketing resource management system is one of the complementary bits of technology that helps companies keep their departments in alignment. It enables companies to create a sales portal that makes it easy for salespeople to use the appropriate sales demand generation programs and materials within the established methodology, without need for improvisation. "As an example, say the sales VP at a leading software company went to the company's marketing VP to say that there was a problem with marketing developing materials that were independent of the sales methodology," Richardson says. "Implementing TagTeam would keep information flowing and continuously available for marketing and sales, enabling marketing to support the sales methodology and both departments to better manage their operations."
Another way technology can help, Richardson says, is by offering companies insight into who's using which marketing programs and sales support tools across the sales methodology. With tech supporting the process, "sales managers have access to real-world usage and behavioral data they never had before--information about what salespeople are presenting to customers, when and how often they're accessing it, and to whom." In short, it keeps a manager up to date on how the team is operating without actually having to hover over people's shoulders.
"When new technology makes it easier and more effective for sales and marketing to act in collaboration with and support of one another, then everyone wins," Richardson says. "Longwood Software is contributing to that goal. We are passionate about aligning marketing and sales--regardless of the specific sales methodology--and technology is key to that."
A third way new technologies can help facilitate sales methodologies is by getting salespeople closer to specific customers and reshaping relationships. There are some products, including TagTeam, that create portals focused on different customer groups and sales channels. Within each portal only those programs and materials appropriate to the particular group can be viewed and accessed. This ensures that each sales target and channel will receive updated, accurate materials that are designed specifically to the group's needs.
Technology is useless without well-reasoned direction and intent. The best advice to end with has been around since Aesop: Look before you leap. The moral has not been taken to heart by all enterprises, unfortunately, and they have to relearn it every time new gadgetry becomes available. Consider carefully the methods for achieving the optimal balance--the alignment--of processes with technology.
Contact Senior Editor Marshall Lager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laws of Alignment
Endeavor Commerce and TimeLinx achieve effective knowledge.
For many organizations professional service management remains a back-office function separated from customer-facing CRM. The chasm between these two functions precludes companies from gaining the needed enterprisewide view of customers. By making a broader set of customer information available to sales, marketing, technical support, and customer service, CRM enables a company to provide better service to the customer and improve knowledge, efficiency, and accuracy throughout the enterprise, according to Endeavor Commerce, a sales configuration software company that automates organizations' quote-to-order entry process through its e-commerce and CRM systems. The firm has successfully applied a methodology and technology that unites project, time, and expense management with the company's CRM system.
Endeavor says it makes selling complex products and services fast and easy. Sage and Microsoft have certified the company's SmartCatalog solutions for their e-commerce and CRM platforms. "When I started Endeavor Commerce in 1999, we decided to implement a CRM methodology to ensure that all our internal processes and communications were tethered to the customer," says Sean Myers, president and CEO. "It was very important for us then, as it is now, that we drive trusting relationships with our customers. And the only way to do that is to have a 360-degree view of them. If sales has an opportunity to sell more software, and customer service has an open support ticket and professional services has an open project, we need everyone in the organization to be aware of all that customer activity and communicate proactively."
Endeavor Commerce had used a CRM system that contained most of the required functionality "right out of the box," Myers says. "However, it did not have a way for our professional services people to log their time around projects. It was critical for us to have time and project tracking integrated into CRM, because our sales team remains active during projects and they have a complete view of what is going on within the same tool they use for their prospecting and opportunity management. In addition, I want product development, support, and professional services to know what sales is doing. We have to be knowledgeable to
A search for an enterprisewide; CRM solution led the company to implement TimeLinx Project Management CRM software from TimeLinx Software. "It was an easy choice because of its CRM infrastructure and deep functionality around the logging, use, and reporting of time," Myers says. "The setup was easy and we were able to map our implementation methodology to it. For the last three years we have run our professional services department through TimeLinx."
Beyond the benefits mentioned, TimeLinx enables the company to automate its invoicing process. "We believe that all information about a customer should be in one system and accessible by everyone in the organization," Myers says. "Our adoption of this philosophy along with the implementation of tools like TimeLinx has helped us achieve 100 percent growth each of the past three years." --M.L.
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