Power Up Your CRM Platform

Many businesses struggle to find ways to make their sales force more productive, looking to shorten sales cycles, improve the sales process, and strengthen customer relationships.

In order to stay competitive, sales-driven organizations are realizing that they have to move toward developing a unified CRM ecosystem—one location in which all the relevant business apps are layered and integrated. I'm not talking about the old-school enterprise systems, where you could get everything in one place, but it was all from one vendor and you really had no choice about the components. I'm talking about one where you get to pick and choose which business apps you want from a large, prescreened pool of candidates.

Not only does this approach make things easier for your salespeople—who can access everything they need to do their jobs from one interface—but also for managers, who benefit from business data and analytics that are automatically collected (read: accurate, because they aren't self-reported) and available in one place.

In the new app model, you get everything in one place. You can customize your sales kit, and you know that everything will work together. There are a variety of business tools that can be integrated into your company's CRM platform, including prospecting, instant screen-sharing, quoting, commission tracking, and contract signature, just to name a few. Salesforce.com is one vendor offering this type of model, but there are others too. For example, you can find an app for any sales-related activity on AppExchange, all fully vetted by Salesforce.com.

The feedback that I get when I sit down with customers is that their sales and marketing teams are under pressure to quantify results and effectiveness. Management wants to know that their investments in sales and marketing efforts are paying off, and in what areas specifically. Measuring results in each area allows companies to optimize their spending. So naturally, sales and marketing pros turn to their CRM platform of choice in order to capture those measurements.

By adopting this layered app strategy, companies can move toward a more efficient sales infrastructure. They benefit from data and reports that give sales management unprecedented insight and metrics into inside sales activity. A layered app strategy can also help businesses target and improve elements of their sales programs so that reps can be more successful.

Another benefit: Chances are a good portion of your sales team is on the road on any given day. Any CRM platform worth its salt is now mobile-enabled. Layered apps will, by proxy, also be mobile-enabled, allowing your reps to essentially keep their office in their pocket—with them at all times. Moreover, all data is synced with the company's central CRM environment.

This advice is not just for sales teams, but extends to marketing, service, and support, which presumably also rely heavily on your company's CRM platform. It's about moving toward a repeatable business process where everyone is on board and using the same programs and tools.

So how do you get started? Sales-driven organizations moving toward a CRM ecosystem require planning, leadership, and strong relationships among sales, marketing, support, and IT.

  • Get a working group together and assess your goals. Are you trying to accelerate sales cycles? Increase your pipeline? Improve conversion rates? What are your real objectives?
  • Document and quantify goals, so you can measure your progress later.
  • Assuming you already have a CRM platform you are happy with, the next step is to speak with your vendor to find out what sort of app ecosystem already exists. User conferences are a great opportunity to explore options and find out what other companies are doing.
  • If you don't already have a CRM platform, make sure an app ecosystem is on your checklist as you evaluate vendors.
  • Consider teaming up with a consultancy group or systems integrator that specializes in these kinds of implementations to help manage the process and associated change. This is important even if you already have a CRM platform in place and are merely adding on to it. Training and coaching are essential.

The selling and service model is changing irrevocably. The future of sales is focused on speed and simplicity. Creating one central CRM ecosystem tightly integrated with layered apps—that you select, based on your business's unique needs—will ultimately lead to greater efficiency.

Tom Scontras is vice president of sales and marketing at Glance Networks. In 2011, he was named one of the Top 25 Most Influential Sales Professionals by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals.

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