Was It Bad For You, Too?

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Experts and analysts continuously question how "good" or "bad" SFA/CRM systems were for sales reps who have used them. Reps, annoyed by data entry and other requirements of automation, have often reported only the bad. Most observers agree that bad rep experiences are one of the factors contributing to many failed SFA initiatives.

Yet, these same questions aren't asked regarding sales managers, which leads me to ask those in charge of sales departments, was it bad for you, too

One of the statements found near the top of the list of reasons why sales reps resist automation is, "This is great for management, but it does nothing for me as a rep." Yet the evidence shows just the opposite: Numerous issues challenge sales managers and senior management, but few of these are addressed by today's software packages. The following article-part one of a three-part series-looks at six issues confronting sales managers and how the current generation of SFA/CRM solutions often fails to address these issues. The latter parts of the series outline how SFA's promise of "people, process and technology" finally pays off when these three elements converge on the manager's desktop.

Issue 1: Increased span of control
Traditionally, sales managers have been responsible for a handful (usually four to six, sometimes as many as twelve) of direct reports. Other factors add complexity to their responsibilities today as well. Some form of indirect channel is often part of today's sales mix. Today's territory manager may, in fact, be responsible for managing partners, VARs or distributors within their area of coverage (geographic or content). This multiplies the number of people, transactions and relationships for which the sales manager is, by extension, accountable.

Business transaction rules about who brings in whom and when can take the wisdom of Solomon to untangle, further increasing managerial responsibility. A deal below a particular size could be diverted to the channel, unless it is an account that represents strategic potential. Or, the company could pursue it directly, unless a channel partner has an established relationship or presence, which can increase the chances of a successful campaign. And all of this may or may not hinge on who identified the opportunity in the first place. Now, multiply all that by 20 and you can see how sales managers keep themselves busy for most of the day.

Issue 2: Managing from afar
WisdomWare's Bob Schmonsees talks about the "virtual water cooler," a reference to bygone days when people stood around the Alhambra bottle and shared wins, problems, ideas, gossip. The difference today is they're standing around the espresso machine-and those latte carts are scattered from Seattle to Boise to Denver to Sacramento.

Phone, fax, e-mail, cyber cafes and the like span distance, but do they convey to the sales manager a solid "feel" of the business' health? Most managers' Platinum status in frequent flyer programs testifies that these communication tools do not answer more fundamental business questions. When everyone is located in the same office, a manager can get a sense of the level and the quality of activity from the daily buzz-or lack of it. How much time are reps spending in the office? What are they doing with this time? How many proposals are out, and how does the rep feel about any particular one today? How's the energy level, morale and focus? These are not easily assessed from 500 miles away. Getting a handle on the flow and volume of business is tricky. With reps working in remote locations, that hands-on feel sales managers used to get by routinely joining their reps for part of a day is absent.

Issue 3: Increased competition
Every sales conference and publication, for the past five years, has addressed the issue of change. The litany is familiar: Customers are more sophisticated and demanding, global competition and the World Wide Web give buyers more information and choices, product lifecycles are decreasing and so on. Amidst all this change, what new tools does the sales manager have to manage more effectively? How does a sales manager add significant value in this fiercely competitive and dynamic environment?

SFA/CRM conferences echo the refrain of reduced sales cycle lengths and increased close rates, but most systems don't tell a manager what these metrics are or how they've changed over time. There is lots of data in the system, but getting insights from this data can be frustrating and difficult. The reporting function is often the weakest component of today's applications. Either the reports are not helpful or are too much work to get.

So, today's sales managers continue to operate largely as they always have, "staying on top of my guys and their deals." But what does this mean and, more importantly, what value does it add? In both cases the answer is "not much." What is needed are field-proven best practices, competitive knock-offs, just-in-time tactical information and individualized coaching. Even as systems take over the job of simply communicating what deals are being worked on, the area of coaching is begging for manager attention-if only they could get those darned performance reports.

"Increasingly, new hires are asking what tools and systems are available to help them be successful."

Issue 4: Forecast accuracy
For all the resources that companies have invested in SFA/CRM, most systems still cannot provide a decent forecast. The reason is the systems use imaginary numbers to first extend the individual opportunities, then roll them up for a forecast.

Just as quality improved consistency in other functional areas, it can pay high dividends in CRM. We've identified five areas of quality: (1) input quality; (2) process quality; (3) (process) execution quality; (4) reference quality; and (5) feedback quality. Each of these areas impacts a rep's ability to sell. And to the extent that managers have a window into the operational performance in each of these areas, system improvements need to be made to improve the selling team's results-hence, the forecast.

Issue 5: Attracting great people
Unprecedented job creation, the trailing edge of the baby boom and a fluid workforce all create a premium for finding and keeping great employees. Perhaps nothing is felt more acutely by sales managers than the hole left by departing reps. Huge chunks of time are spent recruiting, hiring and training new sales reps. All of this to get back to essentially ground zero. Typically, sales managers do not get quota relief when a rep departs, putting a heavier than normal load on those remaining.

The continuity of relationships is in peril, and reestablishing lost or broken connections also takes time and reduces productivity. Can SFA/CRM address any of this? Increasingly, new hires are asking what tools and systems are available to help them be successful. In a tight employment market, these supports for success are a key consideration. Certainly a competitive compensation plan is required, but this is just for openers. Clear paths to quota attainment, high percentages of reps doing so and an arsenal of selling tools are also part of today's recruiting package.

Issue 6: Training new hires
Adding new people and getting them productive as quickly as possible is in everyone's interest. To accomplish this, first ask yourself these questions: Does your SFA/CRM system provide a solid history and database for the incoming rep? Are your company's sales process, best practices and timely tactical information reinforced? Does Marketing provide a steady flow of leads? Does customer service/support provide a consistently high level of references and referrals? (Incidentally, all these are also part of retaining reps that might be asking "why stay?")

These questions are critical for all reps, and especially so for new hires. If your new rep is a replacement, it's usually not because the prior rep was doing overly well. Let's face it, most reps leave, or are asked to leave, when they've done poorly over time. Even when a replacement is found and brought up to speed, the territory itself may be fallow for some time. Reducing these various components to minimal times by having a system that supports the new rep and informs his/her manager is essential.

Next month: How should SFA/CRM systems incorporate process and metrics to make it good for managers too?

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