Emerging technologies are providing a collaborative framework capable of building a virtual sales office integrating many CRM capabilities with active collaboration tools.
Posted Aug 25, 2003
CRM, from a corporate sales perspective, is brilliant in theory. Simply speaking, here's how it works: salespeople (and others) enter customer information, sales opportunities, activities, contacts, etc. into their CRM system. Data is "rolled up" where it can be used by management, marketing, support, and other corporate functions to fine-tune the company's customer focus. As the company does a better job of customer management, this benefits the salespeople and they sell more. So what's the problem with this great idea? The salespeople.
There are a few key facts about salespeople that CRM strategists forgot. The most important is, salespeople are only interested in things that help them sell more now. Sales reps' only resource is time; their most important goal is meeting quota. Yes, they are concerned about the long run, but if they don't make quota now, they know that they probably won't be around to worry about the long term. It's not completely fair to say that CRM doesn't benefit a salesperson in meeting short-range goals, because in some respects it does, but most sales reps feel that they can be just about as effective in selling in the short term without it. In other words, the benefits of CRM don't seem significantly greater than the investment of time and effort required to use the system each day.
Why hasn't CRM lived up to its promise? If the sales reps don't use it (or the information they do put in is out of date, inaccurate, or spotty) then there can be little value to the company that uses all this bad data.
Can we do something to make CRM valuable to salespeople? Probably not. CRM is what it is, and it can be useful to salespeople. The problem isn't with the solution; it's with the packaging. If CRM were a part of something else that actively helped salespeople sell more, we would begin to see the kind of usage that could realize the promise of CRM.
CRM is not the end-all solution for companies and their sales organizations, but it could be a powerful part of the solution.
The Solution: Collaborate, Communicate, Coach
In the "old days" of selling (pre-1990) most sales organizations had established office locations from which their salespeople worked. Today our sales world is mostly distributed--many sales reps work from home offices or shared office spaces with limited direct contact with other salespeople and sales managers. CRM, cell phones, and email have replaced face-to-face contact.
We have gained some things with our new "distributed" sales organizations, and lost some things as well. The trend of salespeople working from personal offices has clearly proven to improve sales productivity and results, as well as reduce overhead costs. What we lost, however, is the value of easy access to office resources and, more important, "The Sales Mastermind," the constant and direct communication and collaboration with other salespeople and coaching by sales managers. Time spent in the sales office wasn't wasted--it was in many respects the most valuable time of the selling day. Salespeople shared successes, competitive information, and selling ideas, and solved problems. Experienced sales reps and managers supported, advised, and coached newer reps. Sales managers had a finger on the pulse of the business that could only come from regular personal contact with the sales team.
Predicting the future is easy, especially when the future is already here, if only in its infancy. Emerging technologies are providing a collaborative framework capable of building a virtual sales office integrating many CRM capabilities with active collaboration tools. It is an approach already being used by a number of sales organizations to power their sales teams and it is meeting with enthusiastic response from sales representative.
What does a virtual sales office look like today? The leading emerging collaborative technologies use peer-to-peer networking: Salespeople share a common sales workspace that resides on their PC that can be used both online and offline. When online, all the PCs of all the sales reps and their managers and support team communicate directly with each other in a virtual community, eliminating the need for complex servers (and high costs). In that community workspace, and resident on each PC, is a customized suite of sales tools to enable salespeople to plan, track, collaborate, and communicate--and managers to coach, hold sales meetings, and train.
There are some interesting initial capabilities that are appearing in the virtual sales office toolkit, and we expect to see these grow significantly as this approach matures and gains wide acceptance. They are:
Live audio and Web conferencing--enables easy virtual team sales or project meetings, as well as sales reps to speak with other sales and support team members.
Opportunity Management--an integrated opportunity tracking and sales forecasting database seamlessly synchronized 24/7 and "rolled up" among all team members, easily exportable to other databases or analytical tools.
Resource Center--posting and sharing of sales tools, presentations, marketing and sales materials, as well as materials developed or modified by team members.
Message Center--a common hub for sales team announcements, messages, etc.
Document Collaboration--team members can jointly work on, review, present, or edit documents like proposals, sales presentations, worksheets, and reports.
Team Calendar and Contact Management--integrated with popular tools like Outlook or Lotus Notes.
Sales Team Collaboration Center--all members can participate in discussion topics like competitive strategies, sales ideas, product issues, etc.
CRM and the Virtual Sales Office
The key to making CRM a powerful, accurate company-wide tool is and will continue to be the salespeople. Accomplishing this will require repositioning CRM as an element of a dynamic collaborative sales toolkit that salespeople and their managers recognize will actively help sell them more now.
About the Author
Tim McMahon is the author of four books on sales and technology including Selling 2000--The Vision and Promise of CRM and The Sales Management Equation. The founder of SalesConference.Net, McMahon speaks and advises clients on sales process and technology strategies. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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