• March 1, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Selling CRM to Your Sales Force

Article Featured Image

Salespeople as a breed are resistant to change, especially when the change affects how they do their jobs. They don't get very far in their field without knowing how to work a prospect, stay in touch until closing the sale (or getting a definite "no"), and track their numbers against projections. Over time, they develop their own ways of doing things that fit best with their individual personalities and goals. Whatever else it may be, it's effective -- if it weren't, the salesperson would wash out.

CRM and other integrated business tools often represent a new way of selling, and therein lies the problem. Salespeople -- especially commissioned ones -- feed themselves on their ability to translate their way of doing things into revenue for their employers and themselves. How do you ask people to change something so central not just to their livelihoods, but to their lives?

Salespeople also know a sales pitch when they hear one -- while the old saw "You can't con a con man" may not be fair in the context of hard-working professionals, the concept does apply. They know what a hard sell looks, feels, and smells like. Going at them with random product stats, a few testimonials, and some feeds 'n' speeds will alert them that you're trying to sell them something they might not want. So how do you make salespeople want to incorporate CRM into their work style?

The sad fact is that, despite the tremendous value CRM tools can bring, most research pins market penetration at around 50 percent -- and it's been hovering there for some time, with some variations depending on how the analysts choose to sort the data. Why hasn't there been more headway? Too often, the reasons are the same old ones CRM has been telling readers about for years: Executives foolishly believe the technology will magically solve organizational problems, or salespeople mistakenly see the tools as primarily benefiting executive-level micromanagement.

The first issue is selling into the organization itself. Once upon a time, this wasn't too difficult -- CRM used to be heralded as the latest miracle technology that would invigorate flagging sales, sharpen marketing acumen, provide customer service that felt like a warm hug, and deliver actionable operational data to executives. Unfortunately for early CRM vendors (and their customers), the reality was far from the hype. "If you throw tech at lousy processes, you don't get anywhere," says Jim Dickie, managing partner of CSO Insights. "To quote [technologist and author] Jessica Keyes, 'Technology does not beget competitive advantage any more than paint and a canvas beget a Van Gogh.' "

Nowhere was there more emphasis on CRM's potential value than in the sales department. "Ten years ago, CRM was the promise of technology that will deliver new productivity to the sales force," recalls Peter Callaghan, chief sales officer of Maximizer Software. "We bought into the promise without thinking of how to use the tools we got."

In Dickie's experience, one indicator of how well a business has used CRM technology is how it describes what was accomplished: "Failed implementations start with 'We installed CRM.' Successful ones say 'We solved a problem.' CRM is a process and workflow enabler." Once that wisdom became common, CRM sales dropped off as potential customers learned to evaluate their needs and build the technology into the organization.

Still, CRM takes more than mere alignment with processes you already have in place -- Dickie calls it an enabler for a reason. The goal is to enable the right things, and you can't sell into an organization unless you make a case that gets to the heart of its needs. "Executive-level sales decision-makers should know CRM can be a tool for motivation, to empower productivity for reps underneath them, and to maximize repeat business," says C. Sean Rollings, vice president of products and industries marketing for on-demand business software provider NetSuite. That includes customer service capabilities and the ability to emphasize the "relationship" part of CRM. "Tools for service management influence lifetime customer value" by maintaining the conversation after the deal is done, he adds.

Selling CRM into a sales organization really means selling into the company as a whole. While it's fair to say that selling products or services is the reason businesses exist in the first place, the selling function doesn't exist in a vacuum. "Sales groups often have different processes than the rest of the organization, and need a different mindset," Dickie says. One of the reasons for this is that salespeople typically have more latitude in how they accomplish their mission. "Accounting is indentured servitude -- they must do what they do using the company's system," simply because, if they didn't, they could expose the company to serious legal and financial problems. "Salespeople are volunteers -- they choose how they do their jobs, and if they're making their percentage of the quota, they want you to leave them alone."

But selling is really a team sport. Actually, an army might be a better analogy: Salespeople (soldiers) work singly and in teams (platoons) accomplishing directives set by managers (noncommissioned officers) on orders from executives (officers) in order to meet the goals of the C-suite (generals). Whether you buy the military metaphor or not, sales operations must fit with corporate management's goals. "The [chief sales officer] is never the sole decision-maker," Dickie says. "For CRM to succeed it must be cross-functional," and so must the buying process.

According to Harris Fogel, president of handheld-applications provider O4 Corporation, a major misstep is having non-sales decision-makers buy a solution for sales. The technology, he says, "has got to meet the needs of the organization, and that means the sales organization." A system imposed from on high will never stick, even if it's otherwise the right solution enabling good processes. On the other hand, Fogel continues, "[if] sales is involved in process-mapping and defining needs, it will have a vested interest."

Still, the top sales executive is likely to be one of the biggest hurdles, especially one who's not aware of what CRM can do for the sales team. "The buyer should know what he wants, whether it's an order-entry system that works through handheld devices for field sales reps, or just something that gets presales people off the phone in 10 minutes or less," Fogel says. "Overall strategy, user needs, and supporting organizational needs -- usually the IT department -- should work hand-in-hand." This is true no matter the size of the customer, though the velocity will vary. "Typically you go through the same steps, small or large," he adds. "It's just faster in a smaller organization, as one person takes the place of many."

According to Rollings, the challenge is showing the sales team the benefits of not having information in isolation. Yes, Virginia, silos still exist. "In larger organizations, it's easier to hide information and be off the books -- but then you're not operating efficiently," he says. "Smaller organizations have more visibility across the entire process, because salespeople are managing more than a product line." But in either case, information hidden in offline systems and Filofaxes is information that the business can't use, and that the "owner" can lose or forget.

Convincing buyers that hidden information is bad gets complicated when they won't admit -- or worse, don't even know -- there's a problem. If the prevailing business methods show reports being filed regularly and forecasts being kept up-to-date, a sales executive could become complacent. What the exec might not know is that, without good CRM, those figures are not reliable. "Too many salespeople think once a month, 'How do I feel about the forecast today?' and then fill out a spreadsheet based on that," Maximizer's Callaghan says. "It's compounded because the forecasts are so subjective: If Johnny is perpetually optimistic, he'll forecast at 90 percent, and Sally the pessimist will forecast at 20 percent, even though Sally always closes more actual business than Johnny." Suddenly, regular reports are almost meaningless.

Good CRM takes the subjectivity out of reporting, and often takes the work of reporting out of human hands entirely. Dashboards and reporting engines work on what's actually happening in each salesperson's opportunities, not his feelings about them. "Real-time forecasting provides useful updates for management, and for [salespeople] themselves," Callaghan says. "Instead of scribbles on paper notes, they can use a BlackBerry to update the figures, at the push of a button."

The CRM sale should be simple enough if the seller knows what the buyer needs -- and that's easy when the buyer is another salesperson. The best tactic is usually the consultative sale. "The worst thing you can do is pitch, pitch, pitch without understanding or listening," Fogel says. "Salespeople like to be listened to." Indeed, when the job involves pitching to prospects and trying to overcome reticence -- or coaching a sales team to do it in order to earn more -- complaining about the difficulties involved comes naturally. "Let them talk and they'll say what's keeping them up at night," Fogel advises. "Too much time spent on administration? Calls aren't effective? Reps are taking too long closing business? Get them to tell you." As with any deal, you don't want to be selling -- you want the prospect to be buying.

Once the customer is sold on CRM, you still have to win over individual salespeople. The arguments that got management on board will sometimes work on the reps. More often, though, a new set of tactics will be needed to drive end-user adoption, because what management likes is what individuals fear: accountability. "One of the biggest things is that salespeople often see CRM as a downside to them, and a benefit only for the organization," Rollings says. It becomes a database that nobody wants to update and maintain, and thus a wasted investment.

Rollings advises a focus on how CRM benefits the individual. "You'll get reps who say, 'I wasn't part of the decision-making process, I want to do my work the way I always have.' Show them what's in it for them. Turn the discussion on how it can be a sales tool, not a tracking mechanism. If it brings more capabilities, makes them better sellers, they don't mind or don't notice any extra input."

Push the capabilities that make them better sellers, not the ones they'll never use. "Ensure your reps are given an app to manage their business," Callaghan says. Some do their jobs with a Filofax, Outlook, and a spreadsheet; replacing those tools with the new CRM system isn't going to break the habit. Speak to their pain points -- starting with time.

"Where do people spend time?" Callaghan asks, pointing to research from CSO Insights that suggests salespeople spend only about 36 percent of their time on the phone or in meetings, performing the core sales function where they (hopefully) excel. Show them how you can reduce the other 64 percent -- making the busywork easier, less onerous, and more productive -- and they'll get on board with the new CRM. "If we can get salespeople to be more motivated, they'll be more effective," Callaghan says.

Another part of the ground-up approach is making sure the sales reps are involved as early as possible, so complaints of "lack of representation" never materialize. "Key users should be part of the process," Fogel says. While it might not always be possible to include the entire sales team at every stage, they should be represented. "Salespeople on the planning and implementation team should be respected peers," Fogel says. They should also be chosen from as many different character archetypes as possible -- veterans, new hires, overachievers, and socializers all have a part to play in crafting what their peers will use.

That's the general approach, anyway. But not all salespeople are created equal. Each has different pet peeves, concerns, and desires that must be addressed. "When we try to sell [CRM] to the salesperson, we're assuming that one pitch fits all," Dickie says. "This just isn't true."

The recent hire is the easiest to get on board -- present CRM during training as the way things get done in the sales organization, the system of record. "With a new rep, CRM is a coach to get them up to speed faster," Dickie says. "A new person coming on -- whether new to the company or new to the sales job -- CRM can guide them," Rollings agrees.

Channel partners should also be considered: "Show them how CRM will make it easier for them to sell their stuff, meaning yours," Dickie advises.

Even top performers need stroking. "The 200 percent professional, who always blows away the quota, eventually asks, 'Will I stay here?' " Dickie says. Products and markets change, and sellers start to wonder if it's time to move on. Dickie advises showing them how the knowledge base of their CRM system enables them to "expand [their] expertise to other areas, and get access to other 200-percenters." This is especially effective in industries such as insurance, where basic skills remain valid while products change across specialties -- car insurance, health insurance, and homeowner's insurance, for example. Each sales expert supports the others as they move around the agency tackling new areas.

Callaghan suggests acclimating sales reps -- gently. "Adjunct products can act as a shadow coach, helping reps to be more motivated and more capable," he says, adding that it's important to instruct, not scold: "Be a mentor. Use a scorecard, based on results achieved and effort expended." This shows how the new CRM works better than the old Filofax, and areas where improvement is needed. "Don't use [the scorecard] as an HR tool, but as a performance-coaching mechanism."

Above all, Dickie advises sending a clear signal about who the CRM system is there to help. "No managers [should use the CRM system] for the first six months," he suggests. That will signify the important things, loud and clear: "This is here for reps, not managers. It's not for bird-dogging, but for productivity."

SIDEBAR: Driving Home Discipline

Diane Corrado, vice president of CT Corporation, a Wolters-Kluwer company, knows about deploying CRM for salespeople. The company provides support services for registered agents, law firms, and other entities -- making sure those customers know what's going on with their own clients, and ensuring information reaches accountants or courthouses on time. To ensure accountability in such a high-volume and high-pressure business, Corrado implemented Salesforce.com for CT and continues to roll it out to satellite offices as they are opened or acquired -- in fact it's almost all she does now. CT currently has more than 1,500 employees in 43 cities across the United States.

"I always have somebody who refuses," Corrado says, referring to the one holdout in every office who doesn't want to change his ways. Getting that person to reconsider is her specialty. "Using the CRM system is a condition of employment, but I don't like to play that card," she says. It's better to convince salespeople that the new way is actually better than to force it on them. "Sales DNA is lazy, a little arrogant, conditioned to turn the wheel and get a dollar," she says. "Ask them if they'd rather turn the wheel once for the dollar, or turn it 40 times. Or ask if they'd like to be able to turn it faster."

One winning move is Corrado's "show-me" tactic: "I have them walk me through their process. They show me paper clips, Deal-a-Meal cards, email organizers, all kinds of arrangements," she says. "I ask, 'What if you needed contact information for the corporate paralegal at this company?' or something, and see how fast they can produce it. However long it takes, I can counter them by saying, 'Wouldn't it be great if you had that information already on screen, without hunting for it?' "

Wagers work also, Corrado says. "I bring out two stopwatches and say, 'You write a proposal, and I'll write a proposal. You do it your way, and I'll use [the CRM system]. If you're faster, you don't have to use the system.' When I finish in four minutes and they're still working after 40, they get the point."

Other approaches Corrado uses include:

  • "Ever call a prospect who says, 'Call me back in three months'? What if you could actually do it in exactly three months, to the day, without effort?"
  • "With CRM, you can see if your massive number of contacts are working the way you think they should -- and look at new channels to reach the target."
  • "If you use the system, I can promise to pay you 15 days sooner, and eliminate 100 percent of your incidental requests, shadow accounting, and compensation disputes."

Showing the value applies to managers and executives as well. "We don't answer questions for senior management anymore; we send the link to the answer, forcing them into Salesforce.com," Corrado says. She even has a technique for those last few remaining Luddites who really don't get computer: "I'll print them the dashboard a few times to show how useful it is, and before long I'm getting urgent calls if I forget to send them 'the thing with the fuel gauges and stuff.' Then I teach them how they can get the information themselves, live instead of printed."

These tactics get workers on board. To keep them honest, there's the Offenders List. "Salespeople have until Monday at 8 a.m. to enter all their numbers from the week before. Anybody who doesn't get it done goes onto a list I post on my door," Corrado says. "Those people will be on a conference call with me at 8 a.m. Tuesday to explain why they made the list. Vacation or illness is a valid excuse, but it's got to be booked through the Salesforce.com HR system. If it's not in there, it doesn't exist."

And Corrado is strict: "You must have 100 percent compliance or the system won't work for you. Information you don't put into the system is information you're keeping secret from the company." One way to ensure compliance? "Sometimes you have to fire your first victim, to show you're serious."

Contact Senior Editor Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com.

[Update: This article has been updated to reflect the accurate titles of some quoted sources.]

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues

Related Articles

8 (More) Ways to Accelerate Sales in a Down Economy

Why? Because you need more ways.

The Great Sales (Re)Learning

A back-to-basics approach can save your business.