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Beyond CRM: Improving Sales Process Execution
Differentiating between a sales process and CRM is the first step.
Posted Jul 20, 2012
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A sales process can be defined as a systematic, repeatable sequence of actions that drive customer interactions and, ideally, optimize both sales execution and expected business outcomes. CRM is the underlying technology that automates and accounts for this sequence of events and, ideally, yields a predictable forecast.

However, in a recent SAVO educational Webinar titled "The View Beyond CRM: Reimagining Your Sales Process," nearly three out of four participants considered their CRM solution and their sales process as one and the same. Of the companies that equate CRM and sales process, 74 percent report a lack of insight into the type of selling behavior that truly yields success. Without this insight, the effort to improve sales performance becomes a game of darts that can cost your company dearly each time you miss the target. Not to mention, you end up with a very expensive accounting system without knowing what you're counting.

While a CRM system is an integral part of both sales and marketing initiatives, it's clear it can't stand alone as a "sales process." What is most important to understand about CRM—and to set expectations accordingly—is that it accounts for what your sellers do. Period. It won't, by itself, change how your sellers behave. If you have diligent, well-coached sellers who follow a defined process and maintain quality data, your CRM system can be a great reporting and forecasting tool. The difficult part is getting your sellers to follow the consistent process and maintain the quality data. Bringing about that kind of change requires the following elements:

1. Insight into your customers' buying cycle. A sales process is futile if it doesn't align with critical, predetermined events in your target customers' buying process. Each stage of your sales process should consider your prospect's interests, motivations, actions, and influencers. Once these circumstances are understood and anticipated, you can align your organization's sales activities to best address buyer objectives, dynamics, and participants at each stage. Each stage should also consider which conversations, actions, or commitments signal agreement between buyer and seller that they are progressing together, at the same pace, through the process.

2. Organizational alignment. For each sales stage, sellers should be effectively guided to a predetermined set of selling activities, customer-facing communications, and behaviors known to drive results and advance an opportunity. Delivering the right combination of campaigns, messaging, selling materials, and coaching is not a solo effort. The effort comes from across the organization and typically includes marketing, product management, sales, sales operations, training, and even finance and customer service. If each of these functions doesn't have a proficient working knowledge of the sales process, and doesn't align and coordinate with the company's approach to enablement, you risk fierce competition across departments for the mindshare of the seller. A collaborative, multidiscipline approach is required to collectively understand and define the sales motion of your company.

3. Reinforcement through front-line sales leadership. The role of front-line sales leadership cannot be overstated. The expectations set by front-line sales managers and their ability to lead by example is the most sustaining driver of change in an organization. In fact, SiriusDecisions, a leading analyst firm that helps B2B companies worldwide improve sales and marketing effectiveness, advocates spending three dollars on sales management coaching and training for every one dollar spent on field sellers. Front-line managers have to buy into the need for a sales process, and the value they'll receive from it. Then they must be trained not only on the process itself, but specifically on how to coach to it. Finally, they must be provided with the time and resources to do that coaching. Senior management then needs to inspect for execution.

4. The right mix of supporting technology. Sales organizations that drive meaningful change and results via their sales process take a multipronged approach to technology. CRM is deployed in conjunction with a sales process, with additional technology platforms designed to bring that sales process to life and embed it within the organization. CRM systems only know that your sellers are or are not successful—not how your top performers are executing. Companies need to be proactive in pushing messaging, selling materials, subject matter expertise, and collaboration in the context of the opportunity, and then understand which of these combinations work best. Which message was delivered? How was it altered based on the buyer persona, industry, or competitor? Which subject matter experts were leveraged at critical junctures? You can't guide your sellers—at their critical time of need in an opportunity—down the right path to success if you don't have a map that shows the way. Sales enablement technology often becomes the go-to source for sellers (for their own productivity and effectiveness), and usage data is then automatically harvested and linked back to CRM. Additional enablement technologies often consist of coaching and collaboration—either automatically scheduled or triggered by deal movement in CRM, providing the tools for a quality coaching experience and data capture for reporting and analytics.

World-class sales execution companies stand apart for two reasons. First, they've developed a sales process that maps to their customers' buying process. Second, they don't treat sales process as a once-a-year training event, supplemented only by a couple of laminated sell sheets and a book. Rather, the sales process gets supported with organizational alignment and reinforced through all of their systems—whether it's CRM, sales enablement, front-line coaching, deal reviews, or the underlying analytics to interpret and gain insight. When this is the case, sellers will experience the value of being fully enabled and engage consistently in a process proven to yield your best possible business outcomes.


Dan Schleifer is the senior director of marketing at SAVO Group, and is responsible for both corporate and product marketing. He has held positions in marketing, product management, and sales enablement within B2B software start-ups for more than 14 years.

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