To what extent does a CRM system lead to accurate sales forecasting, improve efficiency, increase productivity, and give managers a greater sense of control?
There is something very restful about sorting out customer records. You feel as if you are doing something productive and it is not very stressful. After all, knowing how to get hold of people, what their preferences are, and having details of the relationship history to hand, is really valuable. A tidy desk indicates a tidy mind, so the old saying goes. These days we can hide the mess in a laptop or PDA, or better still, in the CRM system. ‘Post it’ notes are banished or relegated to the electronic equivalent. Having things organised and sorted is very satisfying. I always feel that when I have it done, I will want to get on with making cold calls.
In the old days, before you could put all your contacts, diary, meeting notes, memo’s, training manuals, periodicals, and entertainment on your mobile phone, if the sales manager caught us (salespeople) re arranging our business cards, he would kindly remind us that such activity was not contributing to sales and that we should either be on the phone or on the road. In fact, I don’t recall any of my managers being kind about it. Having been yanked out of this refuge, I would get back to the real work.
The Lure of Control
Things have changed since I learnt how to make a living as a salesperson. Sophisticated software now makes it feasible for managers to know what their people are doing, have visibility into their pipeline, and get the current forecast at any time. They can also measure activity at each step in the pipeline and direct attention appropriately when a particular stage seems neglected. More to the point, salespeople will know that they are being measured on these things and work harder or more efficiently as a result. The two things together, efficiency and control should lead to increased productivity. That is the theory.
The allure of control over sales activities is great. If you have experienced the uncertainty and disconnectedness of being a sales manager, you may feel torn between the constant demands for accurate sales forecasting and a need to maintain the sense of freedom and challenge that inspires most road warriors.
Salespeople are hired because of their ability to break rules - other people’s rules. Whatever you sell in the B2B world, you have to persuade organisations to change what they are doing and spend some money in order to get a better result. Almost everyone has an established way of doing things. Sellers have to persuade people to break their own rules. Those selling to the NHS or Government have even more rules to contend with.
The Way People Work
Looking inside at the way I work, keeping good records is my weakest habit. Customer activity is never evenly spaced out. You slog away and nothing much happens. Then, for no obvious reason, everything happens at once. The exciting times come in phases interspersed by periods of frustration. When business is happening, my feeble record keeping discipline evaporates. I do capture the information. It’s just in whatever medium is to hand at the time, including ‘Post It’ notes. Later, when things quiet down the last thing I should be focusing on is getting my records up to date. The lulls are the times to work on the pipeline, not on the paperwork or crm system.
Here is one idea that sellers might consider. Hire your own personal secretary. Before you rile at the cost and argue that your employer should do it, ask yourself how much more you could sell if you never had to do any administration! The extra commission might be enough to cover the expense. If you don’t need a full time secretary all to yourself, could you share one with a colleague or two and spread the cost?
High Trust Culture
Companies will continue to be pressed for greater productivity. I am fond of quoting Tom Peters when he said, “the only source of sustainable competitive advantage is to get better faster than your competitors”. Everything that goes up must come down, except sales targets and the weekly shopping bill. Increasing sales productivity is not the lone pursuit of the organisation. Every salesperson is looking to get ahead of their bills.
Tomorrow’s successful organisations will be those who can create a culture of high trust in which control is less necessary or even irrelevant. Before technology could offer a way to look over everyone’s shoulder, a sales team’s manager had to act as an interface to the organisation, accurately interpreting sales capability and activities. There will always be some people who, for their own reasons, don’t deliver on their work commitments, just as there will always be superstars who ride roughshod over rules and regulations with impunity. Good sales management is the essential ingredient that glues the outward facing types who metaphorically ‘like frontiers and mountains’, with technical and operation experts who keep the wheels turning.
Cut Sales Admin
Gadgets are fun and nice to have. Technology that reduces a sales person’s administration overhead will get used. They know what helps and what hinders. The challenge faced by software developers and business process experts is to make systems and devices that actually save time while empowering sales people to do more of what will make them successful – communicating with people.
Article by Clive Miller
If you are looking for ways to achieve accurate sales forecasting, improve sales efficiency, or increase sales productivity we can help. Telephone +44 (0)1392 851500. We will be pleased to discuss your needs or talk through some options. Send email to email@example.com for a prompt reply or use the contact form here.