• January 1, 2009
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Shake Your Moneymakers

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Sales force automation (SFA) is hardly a new concept, and just about every forward-thinking business in the developed world has some sort of technology at work to maximize the efficiency of its sales agents. Note the word efficiency—it’s the main goal of many SFA implementations, sometimes the only goal, and it’s where most sales technology stops. It’s also where most salespeople stop.

That perception is reflected in the sales of CRM and SFA products—or the lack thereof. “Forecast deals—which are supposed to be written in blood—are down to 46 percent,” says Jim Dickie, a partner with CRM consulting firm CSO Insights and a regular contributor to CRM. “The highest gain is ‘no decision,’” he says, meaning that more companies are deciding not to buy anything rather than add applications to help them sell better. Add to that the salesperson’s fear that SFA leads to micromanagement, and it’s little wonder that the technology often stalls.

The problem is that efficiency isn’t fun, or sexy, or even interesting unless you have some sort of resource management fetish. But there is a sexier side to this technology—effectiveness—if only people would see it. “So much of the SFA system is about efficiency, not effectiveness,” Dickie says—and the latter is just as important, if not more so. “People aren’t mining the gold that’s already in their CRM systems. One database company I know refers to its CRM as WORN—Write Once, Read Never.”

Sales technology isn’t about data entry; it’s about closing more and bigger deals. SFA can help, but only if businesses know what to look for and how to use it. What follows is a look at three main technological arenas where salespeople can become more effective: mobility, social computing, and analytics.


Because salespeople are often traveling to make sales, it only makes sense that mobility is an important part of their arsenal. Pitching to prospects and checking up on customers means spending a lot of time away from the desk, but that doesn’t have to mean lost work time. The cell phone has been a hit with salespeople since it became affordable to non–Gordon Gekko types, and today’s models are essentially personal digital assistants (PDAs). There’s a lot that can be done with a smartphone, RIM BlackBerry, Apple iPhone, or other such device, but only if the user takes advantage of the possibilities.

Even simple advice can be welcome. “Have sales contacts and prospects on your phone, so you can leverage your time in the car—just make sure you have a headset,” says James Wong, cofounder and chief executive officer of Avidian, whose Prophet brand of SFA operates as a plug-in to Microsoft Outlook. “All those times when you say, ‘Oh, I should talk to X, I’ll call when I get back to the office,’ you never do.”

The instant remote connectivity a cell phone provides means going beyond sales calls that sell. “So many times, we only call because we want something,” Wong says. “Call for no reason at all sometimes.” By focusing on the relationship part of CRM, salespeople can engender closer ties with their clients—and possibly luck out by calling just as those clients’ needs are changing. (A more sophisticated CRM system can help make the most of that luck, or even increase your chances of knowing when that “lucky” time might be. See “The Analytical,” below.)

Remind yourself to reach out. “Most phones sync with Outlook, so put in a couple of reminders,” Wong adds. Calling is important, but so is keeping track of the content of those calls. This looks like a job for integration with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone systems. Even relatively unsophisticated VoIP systems allow automatic forwarding of calls, so important calls need never go to voicemail again. The systems can also record those calls, and applications exist to sync that data with the CRM system. “Control where the phone rings, and record data in CRM with VoIP integration,” advises David van Toor, senior vice president and general manager for Sage CRM solutions North America. “Calling in the car needs to be recorded.”

There’s anecdotal evidence that cell phones and their ilk are actually replacing laptop computers as the device of choice in field sales. Sales reps are drawn to the devices’ size and wireless connectivity, while employers find it cheaper to outfit a team with phones than computers. Of course, that means sometimes the juicy CRM data doesn’t get back to the company, so a technological fix may be required.

Robert Rothschild, director of CRM solution marketing at SAP, recalls helping a customer solve this particular problem: “The sales reps kept all their contact info on their BlackBerrys, and managers had trouble getting them to put it into CRM,” Rothschild says. “We created a Web service to do a bidirectional data sync, enterprisewide, to get the contacts. Then the customer assigned a dedicated team to search public access information sources like Hoover’s, and push the completed records back one-way to the BlackBerrys.”

Not to be outdone, the Apple iPhone is starting to gain traction as well. Salesforce.com and Oracle, for example, have both released sales applications that are native to the iPhone, and Oracle’s new Social CRM gadgets can tie back to the main CRM system for receiving and delivering live data.

On the other hand, not everybody is moving toward the handheld end of the wireless spectrum. CSO Insights’ Dickie notes that the tablet PC is taking off in mobile sales, especially in cases where presentations are a must or detailed product knowledge can’t be contained in one’s head. “It’s like a great big cell phone, and with rich media of experts and users easily available, the expert is inside the box,” he says. For the times when the presentation materials can be contained on a handheld, Rothschild recommends Impatica, a Bluetooth presentation connection that lets users deliver a presentation straight from the BlackBerry.


Analytics and business intelligence have long been major topics in CRM. These dicers and slicers of data help with the here and now, but also enable reps to expand beyond the immediate tactical needs of the current sale to see older trends and future predictions.

“Imagine it’s Q4,” Dickie says. “You and your department are below plan, and you need business that will close in three months or less.” Many organizations would offer double commissions on deals that close in Q4, but that doesn’t really help anybody sell—it just rewards those who do, and might even promote slow selling if your team comes to expect those bonus commissions. Analytics can help here. “Mine your own catalog to see what products have a three-month sales cycle,” Dickie suggests. “Then narrow those down by what has a 70 percent or greater close rate.” Continue to narrow down the choices until you have a list of options to concentrate on selling. If there aren’t enough products when you’re done, head back to the catalog with a new set of parameters.

That’s just one limited example of how analytical tools can help the sales team. Another possibility is to see what you know about “soft” data, such as an analysis of the people at the other end of the deal.

“Sometimes you have to find other approaches to make the sale,” Dickie says. “If you sell to hospitals and the purchasing department hates the product, but nursing loves it—sell to nursing and let them pressure purchasing for you.” It’s a smart tactic, but one that would be overlooked without some kind of report on the facts.

“Mine your existing customer base,” says Vinay Iyer, vice president of CRM marketing at SAP. “Identify happy customers and have an understanding of which are the most attractive for follow-up.” Knowing which customers pay on time and which are habitually 90 days late can be a powerful piece of info. “You can do a lot of smart things once you have insight,” he says.

SAP’s Rothschild says that without analytics of some kind, salespeople might see little difference between a happy customer who purchases 500 widgets and a difficult one who demands a lot of attention before purchasing 1,000 widgets and returning half of them.

Many of the tools for sales analytics fall into the category of pipeline management. “Pipeline management can be Big Brother, or it can be collaborative,” Rothschild says. It all depends on how the information is presented to the sales team—and how it’s used. “[Analytics] can help prioritize tasks based on likelihood or profitability [and can] identify stalls or other changes in the process,” Rothschild says. “Predictive analytics lets you compare new prospects to other customers.”

Iyer adds that a good analytics tool looks into your company as well as out at your customers. “‘What’s available for me to sell? What’s sitting with my partners?’” he asks, rhetorically. “Visibility into the supply chain can be very important to the sales process.”

That sort of sales ammunition doesn’t have to be loaded by hand, either; it can be automated as part of the sales process. “We can set business rules for automatic follow-up on these issues—we call it the account fact sheet,” Rothschild says. “Open orders, payment history, service/support history, etc.—we autocreate a PDF for the salesperson with all the details. You have complete visibility before you walk in the door.”

“Information is there, but not always in a form that’s useful,” says Ray Taylor, senior vice president of sales for Signature Worldwide, an international marketing and training company specializing in developing long-term customer relationships. To get its Salesforce.com CRM info into a useful form, Signature enhanced its setup with Cloud 9 Analytics.

“Every Sunday night I get a report telling me what happened with the pipeline,” Taylor says. “I can query it for how many deals in the pipeline are at the proposal stage, see who’s involved, and keep digging until I know what I need to know.” Despite the number of options at his disposal, Taylor finds it a focused way of working. “Drill-down doesn’t make you get lost in data, clicking away.”

Given Signature’s distributed sales force—“60 percent of my team isn’t local,” he says—it’s important to have tools that allow universal access. “The opportunity…with a remote sales force is very powerful,” he says, adding that the benefits aren’t solely a matter of oversight—analytics helps keep the team together. “I open [the pipeline report] and look it over while having a discussion with the team,” he says. “We ask questions, and it inspires storytelling and conversations. ‘What’s Mike doing that generated $3 million?’ is a conversation that we all want to have.”


Are you using collaboration tools? You should be—there are few better ways to energize CRM than to pool an entire team’s knowledge, resources, and insight. Whether via Web conferencing, social networking, or other tools, social computing is an effective way to leverage relationships. “‘How do I involve other people in my call?’ is the question to ask,” Dickie says.

Involving others means breaking down walls, a lesson that Dickie recalls being critical to a conglomerate that rolled seven insurance companies into one. “Each rep [could] sell all seven lines of insurance, but kept selling only the line he knew,” he says. No surprise there: Salespeople are always going to sell what’s easy. Make it easy for them to work together across specialties and they’ll all sell more. The solution for that insurance firm, he says, was to use Web conferencing to train personnel to sell the unfamiliar products. Nothing could be simpler, he says. “All you have to do is schedule the call.”

Purpose-built collaboration tools, such as Cisco Systems’ WebEx or GoToMeeting from Citrix, have proved their worth already, but social networking technologies are only now beginning to find a foothold in the business world. LinkedIn is popular with businesspeople of all stripes, and companies are finding there’s also a place for consumer-friendly services such as Twitter, Facebook, and others.

A consumer-tech pedigree can make some technology managers nervous—especially when the staff is hooked on broadcasting tweets to the known universe—but a little moderation goes a long way. Properly deployed, social networking tools can actually save time, not waste it—and, as Sage’s van Toor says, “Time is the most valuable asset a salesperson has.” (For more on the penetration of consumer technology into the enterprise, see “The Google-ization of CRM,” page 22.)

An asset as valuable as that needs to be allocated wisely. “Be careful where you spend your time on social networking; [people] have relationships in many different places,” van Toor says. “Think about the wisdom of separating business and personal personae. The Internet is blurring the lines for us on this whether we want it or not, though.”

Best of all, van Toor adds, because so many of the social-networking tools are usable via handheld as well as computer, they can be used to stay in touch while on the go. “Mobility is one of the most overlooked uses [of social networking],” he says, adding that social-networking widgets and other tools on the sales desktop can personalize the way you work—and many of these can sync with mobile devices.

But there’s more to it than merely maintaining access to contact information. “Data from the [social] network can help to qualify the likelihood of a deal,” Rothschild says. “See if the prospect or somebody else in the association has a relationship with your competitors,” he suggests, and you may get an idea of what you’re up against. He also advises tapping into social networks to keep tabs on your own workings: “Be aware of negative or positive comments about your products—especially from your customers or prospects.”

SIDEBAR: What About Management?
We’ve been talking about these tools and tactics in the context of the individual salesperson, but all that focus on individual productivity may obscure the bigger picture: the importance of tech tools at the management level.

“Sales 2.0 has been about sales reps, but what about sales managers?” asks Jim Dickie, a partner with CRM consulting firm CSO Insights. “If it’s a 2.0 staff and a 1.0 manager, guess what—you’re a 1.0 team.”

Just as executive buy-in is crucial for any CRM implementation, managerial support is necessary to take individual successes and make them enterprisewide—in fact, all of these tools work better with the active participation of the manager.

“If you think of sales data as tribal wisdom, the manager is an elder, an expert,” Dickie says. When the most experienced person on the team—the manager—is engaging in discussions about how to succeed, and what tools are available for use, agents should be listening. When the manager shares high-level business information gleaned from analytics, is available as a resource or backstop on sales calls, and is always just one instant message away from a conversation, there’s the possibility of sales magic.

“Find what things you’re doing that have an enabling technology—and use it,” says David van Toor, senior vice president and general manager for Sage CRM solutions North America. “Managers should forget about ‘compliance’ [or] ‘enforced adoption of CRM.’ Give them a product they can’t live without, and they’ll use it.”

Not every tool is right for every situation, though, so the manager must know the needs of the staff. “You’ll always have adoption issues, so you must work to mitigate them,” says James Wong, cofounder and chief executive officer of Avidian. “Work the way your people work.”

In the end, adding smart technologies to the sales team may require a big change, but that’s nothing to fear, provided there’s a payoff.

“Salespeople really aren’t any more resistant to change than anybody else,” Dickie says. “If Ed McMahon shows up at the door with a prize check in hand, it’s change—but [we] don’t resist it. We resist change without value.”

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

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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