Keep software from hijacking your sales.
Posted Aug 1, 2006
The problem with a lot of CRM/SFA systems is that software engineers and not salespeople make them. I know this is an obvious fact and no one really expects a salesperson to be a software engineer as well. Unfortunately, software engineers are not salespeople, even if they are developing technology that is supposed to help sales. And sales is not a science like other fields, where software easily fits a definite need.
Selling is an art form that changes with each company and each salesperson, which is why so many CRM/SFA tools fail to be adopted. If you force a salesperson to fit how he does his job into a process determined to be perfect for a wide range of companies, nine times out of 10 that salesperson will ignore the technology. A proper CRM/SFA product has to allow for each company to use its own sales and customer interaction processes, and not be forced into obeying what a generalized CRM/SFA product tells you to do.
And let's face it, if you are an IT manager you know that your sales group is going to be the last group to easily accept new technology. They will be the group with the smallest adoption rate for new technology. And they will complain the loudest when new technology does not fit in with how they sell. Again, a good salesperson has her own sales process and should be reluctant to let that change to fit into what some software engineer, who has never had a customer slam the phone down angrily, says it should be.
But the thought that new sales technology is useless and will never be adopted is incorrect. CRM/SFA systems help generate leads, close sales, and maintain positive relationships with customers. It greatly improves the management of leads and will improve bottom lines and make salespeople more efficient. The trick is building sales technology that is rigid in its management and database control, but fluid enough to work with any number of different sales processes.
What to look for
A CRM/SFA system has to be customized to any salesperson's products, sales process, and industry, providing the flexibility a salesperson needs to better manage accounts and opportunities. Period.
The main culprit in bad CRM/SFA is that most of these products rely on passive data. You input into column A, column B allows this, column C gets sent to your manager, and a generic action item gets logged somewhere. This works for accounting, not sales. The software engineers developing most CRM/SFA software think "reports." A salesperson thinks, "What can I close today?"
What companies should be looking for is software that gives a road map to sales success, and not a forced path that just collects and collates data. A sales focus and not just facts is what is required. Action items along the way should be customizable while still being introduced at key points in the sales cycle. They should nudge a salesperson to do something and show how everything in the CRM and ERP chain fits together.
Absolutely, certain steps such as inputting contact updates have to be forced on salespeople. A little discipline and forced communication with managers is always a good thing. This does not change a sales process. What does change a sales process is forcing set timed interaction between a salesperson and a customer just to meet some highlighted action item date determined by a software engineer to be the proper amount of time between first contact and follow-up.
Another unfortunate consequence of adopting some CRM/SFA products is that many systems are limited in what devices they can be accessed from. If your top salesperson lives on her Blackberry, it would be crazy to force her to change to a different platform.
The ability to work offline and online should also be a top priority and is one of the ways that CRM/SFA dramatically changes a sales process. A good salesperson is usually on the road. Offline fits in with the lifestyle and work habits of the average salesperson and is a lifesaver when it comes to disaster recovery and being able to work through outages (and as a Houston company that just went through a nasty hurricane season, we understand that outages need to be accommodated in your planning). A CRM/SFA application has to have this.
Another obvious trait to look for is a system that does not force vocabulary on a salesperson. Sales terminology, territory titles, organizational titles, and organizational structure should not change. Nothing will kill the use of software quicker.
The above suggestions should be basic questions asked of any CRM/SFA vendor. CRM/SFA software should help salespeople make more money by helping them better understand the sales process already in place and focusing on those potential customers who are better able, willing, and ready to buy. Give slaespeople a blueprint for a successful process, but always let the last step be up to them. They know their customers and what is the best way to work with them.
About the Author
Geary Broadnax is president and CEO of Dovarri Inc. Please visit Dovarri at www.dovarri.com
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