For Salespeople, It’s All About the Interface
One of the most significant, albeit subtle, changes I’ve noticed over the past decade is this: Whereas enterprise applications were once designed for the people buying them, they are now designed for the people using them. Interfaces once dictated by the underlying technology are now shaped by the work people are doing and the way they’re doing it.
As with consumer apps, if an enterprise application’s interface isn’t intuitive and easy, people won’t use it—or at least they won’t use it any more than absolutely necessary to keep collecting a paycheck. It’s a major hindrance to adoption, and it severely limits the accuracy and timeliness of data in the system, which ultimately torpedoes any hopes of a successful rollout, much less major business transformation. Low adoption and insufficient data equal failure. You simply can’t generate the information and insights you need to operate effectively.
Nowhere is this more significant than with CRM applications.
THE FIRST STEP: ADMITTING YOU HAVE A PROBLEM
For as long as companies have had CRM systems, most have struggled to get salespeople to use them. The reason is pretty simple: They were designed to meet the needs of sales management, not individual salespeople. Inputting CRM information creates extra work for salespeople, usually with little immediate value. Natural resistance to seemingly low-value extra work is compounded by the very accurate impression that its main purpose is surveillance, not support.
CRM systems have been—and largely still are—databases of customer and deal information. Their interfaces show it. They may have gotten glossier over the years, but for the most part, they’re really still a whole bunch of fields, sometimes in multiple tabs, that form the database. The longer a CRM system has been in place, the more fields it is likely to have. New fields get added but never removed. It’s ugly, especially for the people trying to use it.
Sales management eventually employs various carrot-and-stick strategies to enforce minimum usage of the CRM system. Salespeople still use it only grudgingly—and game the system at any opportunity. Data quality improves marginally. Accurate pipeline forecasting and timely insights into customer accounts—for salespeople or anyone else—remain elusive.
FOCUS ON IMPROVING THE WORK OF SELLING
To change this pattern, look past the traditional CRM system and focus instead on how salespeople do their jobs well and the various tools that help them. A host of applications that integrate into existing CRM systems—and some modern CRM systems—are paving the way to better results through interfaces that serve the needs of individual salespeople. Here’s a sample.
Sales engagement platforms: These platforms pull data from CRM systems, productivity tools (email, phone, collaboration, etc.), and other customer data sources to organize, prioritize, and automate sales activities that improve win rates. Sales engagement platforms provide a low-code/no-code workflow management tool that incorporates machine learning and AI to determine top priorities and next best actions.
Configure, price, quote (CPQ) tools: CPQ tools increase the speed and improve the accuracy of configuring complex products or services, pricing them, and creating quotes for customers. They often eliminate the need for a manual approval process, provide guidance on upsell and cross-sell options, and show the impact of discounting options on commissions.
Next-generation CRM systems: Modern CRM systems base their interfaces on the flow of activities central to selling. They help salespeople prioritize their actions, focus on the opportunities with the greatest likelihood of success, and ensure that important points of follow-up don’t get missed.
Digital assistants: Vendors in the categories above, as well as most of the large established CRM players, have also developed digital assistants that use speech, through text or voice, as an interface for salespeople. These interfaces provide useful information to salespeople in context—for example, important updates on an account just before a meeting—and make it easy for them to update and input information through a set of guided options.
No system can support customer relationships effectively unless it is self-sustaining. Start by concentrating on ways to help salespeople do their jobs more easily and effectively. When they have tools and interfaces that give them immediate benefit, they use them. As a happy byproduct, you’ll benefit from more accurate and timely information that generates a wealth of previously hidden customer insights, creating a self-reinforcing, virtuous circle that helps build durable customer relationships.
L. Nicole France is principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research.