Analyze Your Sales Process First
Sounds simple, doesn't it? But it turns out process analysis can be a challenging task. Here are some first steps.
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When we do our annual benchmarking survey at Insight Technology Group (ITG) of organizations that have completed a CRM implementation, the last question we always ask is, "What advice would you give to other companies starting their own CRM initiative?" The number one suggestion this year was, "analyze your sales process first."

While this sounds like simple advice, many companies have told us that they struggle with structuring exactly how to go about doing this process analysis often. Even those firms who do complete this task can still find it confusing trying to leverage what they have learned to set the right priorities for their CRM project.

To help shed some light on this issue, I contacted Sam Reese, CEO of Miller Heiman, one of the world's leading sales methodology firms, and asked for his thoughts on the role that process plays in determining which technologies to leverage to improve your level of sale excellence. The interview was very timely, as Miller Heiman was just in the process of replacing their existing in-house CRM system, and Reese was able to share with me first-hand experiences he and his company were going through developing the plans for the next generation of their CRM framework. Here's what Sam had to say:

When you consider that there are hundreds of vendors offering a wide variety of tools you can utilize to improve your sales and marketing operations, and within those systems there are dozens of functions you can use, you quickly come to understand that CRM is a very personalized endeavor. It is definitely not "one-size-fits-all." Instead, each organization needs to define their own vision of what CRM means to them.

At Miller Heiman our team is currently in the midst of a project where we are re-examining our own CRM needs. We have been using an in-house- developed Lotus Notes-based system that worked well for us in the past, but as our business continues to grow, and our distribution channels expand, we know we need to replace it with a more robust set of applications.

The approach that we are taking in managing our new CRM initiative is the same approach that we have been suggesting to our clients when they ask us for advice on what tools we think would best fit the challenges they are facing. We recommend a three-step approach to analyze your process so you can then determine how technology can be used to optimize your operations-- determine who does what, find out what they do, and then look at the barriers that are keeping them from doing those tasks more effectively. If you go through these steps, implementing the right CRM functions becomes a lot easier.

Who Does What?
The first step we took when we started our project was to have a meeting with all the heads of the various functional areas in the company--sales, marketing, client services and finance, for example. We listed all the steps involved in our sales process, and then went through them one-by-one to make sure we had agreed on who was in charge of what aspects of the process.

What we were looking for was if we had any responsibility or information gaps in the way we viewed the process. Responsibility gaps occur when two or more departments think they own a step; for example, when sales and marketing each feels they own a stage of the sell cycle (such as lead generation).

Responsibility gaps can also occur when no one takes ownership for a part of the process. One company that went through this process shared with us a major surprise that surfaced when they had this type of discussion. When they asked the team, "Who owns account management after the sale?" no one raised their hand. Everyone thought some other department owned it. Issues like this need to be resolved at the beginning of the process before you start having departments submit requirements for a CRM system.

These discussions also help surface information gaps. You begin to see these gaps when you discuss how information about your clients is collected by various departments, but not easily shared. For example, the customer support group for a software firm regularly asked customers for referrals when they did user satisfaction reviews, yet these potential leads were rarely given to the sales force because the systems they used did not have an easy mechanism for forwarding the information.

When you take the time upfront to identify and deal with these gaps in your process, you'll start generating results immediately in improving your own effectiveness. It will also set the stage for the next step in the process.

What Do They Do?
The next step we went through in our internal initiative was to determine what specifically we do at each step in the process. We spent a day having the staff members, who were intimately involved in the sales process, list all the tactics they use to take a customer through the sell cycle--from generating a qualified lead, to conducting a needs analysis, to educating the client on the various options available to them, to closing the deal, fulfilling the commitment and then managing the account.

It is always an eye-opening exercise when we are invited to take part in these meetings with our clients, and our own session was no different. First, this is a great way for us to collect and share best practices. During our session we surfaced eight or nine "gold tactics." These were great ideas that individual sales, marketing and support people were using to work with their clients more effectively, which the rest of Miller Heiman wasn't aware of. By simply getting those down in writing and sharing them across all the sales teams, we started to improve our operations.

The second "ah-ha" that came out of this meeting was a new appreciation for how complicated the sales process really is. At the end of the day, as I looked around the room at the 15 or so flip-chart sheets we had used to document the details, dozens of ideas on how to simplify the process started to come to mind.

How Do We Improve What We Do?
With the process now well defined, we held one last meeting where we included our IT group and the key CRM solution provider we were working with. The focus of this day was to walk through the sell cycle details with the vendor, discuss what areas we were having difficulty with and then discuss how their tools could help optimize those specific steps.

This ended up being a one-and-a-half-day session, but it really helped crystallize what we were trying to accomplish. Before, when we had talked to various CRM vendors, they had taken the lead in the conversations, walking us through feature after feature in their system. This was frustrating, because we were starting with a solution and then trying to see if we could think of a problem within Miller Heiman that it fit.

By having done the process work up front, during this planning session the focus of the entire meeting was reversed. We focused on our problems and then discussed only the aspects of their systems that were appropriate to helping us deal with those issues. At the end of the meeting we had a solid understanding of what we were looking to accomplish and what the paybacks would be.

Don't Overcomplicate It
I agree with ITG's study results that analyzing the process should be the first step companies take, but don't try to overcomplicate this task. If you get internal and external people who are already intimately involved in understanding and implementing your sales cycle, this should not be a major effort. These people already know what they do and what is easy or hard about the process. You just need to engage them and help them share where they think the major areas of improvement are.

Remember one thing: When Michael Hammer wrote his book, Re-engineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution (Harperbusiness, $12.80), he pointed out that the goal is not to do everything 5 or 10 percent better. The objective of re-engineering is to do a couple of things an order of magnitude better. If you do your process homework, you can surface those couple of things, and then if you use that as the framework for working with your CRM vendors, you will find a lot of the mystery surrounding CRM project success and failure disappears.

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