• February 2, 2009
  • By Ariela Avni, founder and CEO, Prolify

Best Practices to Leverage CRM and Collaboration Tools to Achieve Sales Effectiveness

The investment of most companies in their sales teams is high. Most of us implement SFA, CRM and mobile applications to provide our sales force with the ability to operate as efficiently as possible. At the same time these tools provide us with as much visibility as possible into our sales forecast and allow us to plan ahead.

However, for most companies the reality is quite different. Sales executives are not leveraging the technologies that we put in their hands and they are not using information that we provide them with to the fullest extent possible. As a result, sales cycles extend, opportunities are lost or not identified, forecasts are off, and planning is misaligned. The excuses are always the same. They center on connectivity, availability, user experience, logins and passwords, process complexity, and so forth. The consultants will tell you that the adoption challenge is solved by strong sales management, incentive programs, and tools. In this article I will mainly focus on the tools.

There are three technologies that the field sales executive has fully adopted: laptops, mobile phones, and email. All other hardware and software run a distant second. So how do we get the sales executive to use CRM, SFA, knowledge base, document management, expense reporting, forecasting, business intelligence (BI), and travel systems? Here is an idea-connect these applications seamlessly to email, and provision them on laptops and cell phones, making the integration as email oriented, intuitive, and simple as possible.

The ideal solution needs to enable users and the organization to:

1) Easily update and access information from the CRM system. Organizations can enable sales reps to take full advantage of information in CRM right from their email or BlackBerry in two ways. First, by driving only the information that is most important to sales reps from CRM applications directly into email messages. Second, by enabling sales reps to update the CRM system right from the same email message. Tight integration between email and CRM ensures the CRM system is kept current with important information exchanged in email messages. This also enables organizations to enrich conversations with contextual information while capturing the valuable interactions that occur within the email environment. From the sales rep's perspective, this synchronization eliminates the need for manual updates. That means no more lost, inaccurate, or inconsistent information, or time spent re-entering data. At the same time, this synchronization enables organizations to automatically push relevant information to sales reps' inboxes from CRM, ensuring the sales team always has the most up-to-date information at hand.

2) Use email to collaborate. To ensure that all participants have the most up-to-date information, the ideal solution captures all messages, instant discussions, and documents in a single collaborative email. This centralized information guarantees a common understanding of the work to be completed. A single collaborative email can enable clear conversations regarding what needs to be done, and make it easy to identify breakdowns in organizational conversations so sales reps, managers, and others can resolve them. Such an approach also increases productivity and enables sales reps to save time by making all data accessible in one place (i.e., email).

3) Assign tasks and always have visibility into progress and status. The ideal solution should make it easy to assign responsibilities for tasks-and track the progress of them. Furthermore, it should allow people to determine when a message has been forwarded, so they have a clear understanding of all the people involved in any given discussion or activity. A color-coded visual map of the status of assignments would allow people to quickly gain an overview of the progress of work as well as bottlenecks. And with the click of a button, people could take action that helps remove barriers to progress. That means sales reps could easily manage multiple conversations and tasks, while gaining insight into the related workflow-all without changing the basic way that they work within email.

Email is the killer application-whether we like it or not, it's where the majority of work happens. It doesn't matter if it's because our email application brings the information to us or because it triggers us for action. The fact of the matter is, for most salespeople email is the first application that is opened and the last application closed. The key is to natively connect email to CRM while enhancing email to also support collaboration and provide visibility into pipeline information. This will transform CRM from a pipeline management system into a real productivity tool for sales personnel.

About the Author

Ariela Avni is the founder and CEO of Prolify (www.prolify.com), a company whose solutions enable information workers to interact more efficiently and effectively with each other and with existing applications. Avni holds an MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg-Recanati School and a B.S. in Computer Engineering from the Technion Institute in Israel.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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