Scorched Earth Selling

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Forced to pick one behavior that more than any other indicates CRM at work, many of us would choose some variant of "kinder, gentler selling." Wouldn't you? After all, CRM supposedly softens our perspective on customers-changing our view of them from "objects that produce revenue" to people with problems we can solve, with needs we can meet, with opportunities we can help realize. And we've already coined lots of expressions that communicate the softer side of sales-"win-win" with customers, "solution selling," "partnership-this" and "partnership-that."

So what's wrong with this picture? What's wrong is that the CRM industry isn't practicing what it preaches. At least, most of it isn't. Instead of wisely counseling customers in the whys and wherefores of CRM-and finding out if the software solutions customers are considering are right for them-many software companies are still going for slam-dunk sales. Sell and run. Or worse yet, sell and point the finger at the customer when the "solution" doesn't solve squat.

Well, at least they're not subtle about it. We know it's coming. Which gives us time to prepare our own strategies for buying software-strategies that will help us identify CRM software companies as committed to successful implementations as they are to sales.

The Software Buyer's Five-Point Seller Check
While CRM software buyers need to check pages worth of performance requirements, not to mention pricing and a whole range of support issues-these five checkpoints will go a long way to determining if you're dealing with an appropriate supplier. The first three are pre-request-for-proposal points to help you determine whether to consider a software company seriously. The remaining two apply to the actual evaluation process, when you're winnowing down your consideration list to the finalists or even the actual selection.

1. Are they rushing you to select software before you're ready? Until you have in place (or at least fully planned) your customer-centric business strategies-changes in organizational roles and responsibilities required to become customer-centric and re-engineered work processes designed to add more value to customers-you're not ready to consider software, never mind buy it. A responsible vendor won't push you to "buy now" because their software "does everything." Every CRM package on the market manages some customer-related functions much better than others.

2. Does the software system scale up high enough-or does the software company scale down enough? If your user count is in the thousands, you have less than 25 serious contenders to start with. Much less than that if field sales automation is a key element for you. Flip the coin: If you have less than 100 users, you may have fewer good options, not more. Of course, many software companies claim to scale up or down from 5 users to 5,000. But these same companies also sell snowshoes in Senegal.

On the high-user side, you need to be dead sure that you won't experience system denigration from an excess of concurrent users. But on the low-user count side, you need to be equally sure you won't experience service denigration, especially on the adaptation of the system to your needs. A "right-sized" software company will be able to provide references from similar-sized organizations.

3. Match your "sweet spot" with their "suite spot." CRM software functionality extends across a continuum of capabilities ranging from marketing automation to sales automation, call center sales, call center and finally field service. CRM functionality is too disparate for any system to cover each core area equally well. Every CRM software suite I know focuses on one or two adjacent positions on the continuum-their "suite spot." Then, most provide decreasing levels of functionality on either (or one) side.

You want to make sure that any software you consider focuses on your sweet spot-the function or adjacent functions that require the most support. A responsible company, and its reps, will identify their areas of expertise along with areas "covered" but not deeply. While you can also find out for yourself by visiting their Web site or reading their sales literature, you may want to disqualify any company that won't level with you.

4. Require proof-of-performance. Once you've presented your requirements to several vendors, insist they show you how they would support key processes. It's unfair to require actual modifications to your requirements (unless you're going to spend a gazillion dollars on software), but I encountered few process sequences where a software supplier couldn't demonstrate functionality and navigation reasonably well without extensive customization. And by the way, make sure your software contenders have ample opportunity to sit down with your IT folks (or is it the other way around?) to discuss in depth how they propose linking their system to your ERP or legacy system.

5. Make sure you're comfortable with the people. I don't know about you, but my comfort level with salespeople goes down as the hair mousse or gaudy jewelry level goes up. Look for salespeople who listen first and then help you identify what's going to work for you-rather than a "used car type" who wants to sweet-talk you into buying what he's got on the lot. You have to depend on the people selling you this stuff-and no contract, no matter how tightly written, can completely protect you against disingenuous selling. And no CRM software product, no matter how good, will survive a bad buyer-seller relationship.

Hey, you can't anticipate everything. But if you take these five precautions, your odds of having a happy relationship with a CRM software seller-and a successful CRM implementation-will go up a bunch.

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