• October 1, 2008
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

CRM on the Inside

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CSO Insights’ 2008 survey of over 1,600 firms worldwide found that the number of sales organizations that have formally implemented a CRM system has risen to 70 percent. Five years ago, the figure was only 51 percent—a sign that the CRM industry as a whole has enjoyed a solid period of growth. But overall growth isn’t the whole story. Are all firms achieving the same levels of results?

Drilling into the study data shows the answer is no. We are seeing different results based on factors such as the size of the company, geography, the type of system implemented, etc. But one of the variables with the most dramatic impact on results was the type of sales force a company had: inside sales versus field sales.

When asked about the performance improvements seen as a result of implementing a CRM solution, the experiences reported by inside sales were noticeably better that those reported by firms that sell exclusively through field sales. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Percentage of Firms Reporting Significant Improvements in Sales Performance

Two other statistics are worth noting. First, a whopping 88 percent of inside sales teams have implemented a CRM system, compared to just 64 percent of field sales teams. But then drill deeper: Among those firms that have implemented CRM, there’s a significant differential in terms of how many report adoption by at least nine-tenths of the sales force. Fifty-three percent of the inside sales teams report having penetrated that thoroughly; only 41 percent of the field sales forces could say the same.

Why the differences? In reviewing specific CRM projects over the years, one key factor we have seen is process workflow: Put simply, CRM is more often integrated into the tasks that inside sales reps perform than it is for tasks performed by field salespeople.

Consider the following workflow of an inside sales rep at a telecommunications firm we benchmarked:

A rep is automatically notified when a lead coming in from the Web site is passed from the marketing automation system into the CRM system. Wanting to know more before calling the prospect, the salesperson is then able to access information on the company and the contact via sales-knowledge subscription services integrated directly into the CRM application. Armed with these insights, the rep next has the CRM system automatically dial the number; at the same time, the system displays a sample call script on the rep’s PC screen. Following the call, the rep records the notes of the conversation, updates the status of the opportunity, and prepares a lead-fulfillment email—all within the CRM application. The system then tracks the status of that email and automatically notifies the rep when it’s opened and what information the prospect subsequently views.

This is a clear example of how CRM optimizes the workflow of the rep, acting as a digital assistant to help get things done.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have seen examples where field sales reps access their CRM application as rarely as once a month—to update their forecast. Why so little usage? Because no one has taken the time to look at what these reps do and how they operate. As a result, no one has designed a CRM application to support them conducting key selling tasks such as account research, needs analysis, presentation/proposal creation, order entry, etc.

Remember that technology is only an enabler for performance improvement. If your company has field salespeople, and your CRM investments have failed to produce significant gains in their performance, go see how their counterparts in inside sales are faring. Those inside sales reps may well know things about process workflow that you don’t—things you can learn from.

Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at jim.dickie@csoinsights.com.

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