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Selling Microsoft

Getting Out of the CRM Trap

CRM applications promise a lot, but often fail to deliver. And that's a bad deal for sales managers.

CRM applications take a toll on sales managers' careers. In 14 years of consulting, I've seen the job tenure of a person with sales management responsibility average only 14 to 18 months, due to senior management's frustration with sales leaders, which is most often connected with the failure of CRM applications to meet expectations.

Vendors lead senior management to believe that CRM is a panacea for improving salesperson productivity, offering effective insights into pipeline and lead management, and improving account management, sales and marketing metrics.

CRM's failure to impact sales results has been due to its limitations as an application. But today's advanced technology can turbocharge CRM to live up to its potential.

Change for Gain
The best example can be found in our health-care system, which, despite its flaws, has embraced technology to generate better treatment outcomes. The industry has combined medical protocols, the power of computers and database management to create personalized medical treatment plans based on variable data points.

Sales leaders can incorporate this same idea to begin creating custom sales plans for various sales situations.

Developing Protocols
When linked to business intelligence software and a variety of data points, CRM systems can create custom sales processes/protocols designed to combat sales disruption by expediting sales, and improve margins by increasing sales productivity.

While data points may vary by industry, some fundamentals will serve as a baseline, such as those captured from a CRM database or a salesperson's initial call. These points may include whether it's a new or existing client, a contact's job title, their length of time with the company, a decision target date and so on.

Once these data points are captured, an application can be created to access the specific sales situation, validate it against an historical database, and identify a preferred pathway that includes proper sales tools, a predefined sales process, and recommended sales protocols.

Impact of Protocols
How does the adoption of sales protocols impact sales leadership?

First, in recruiting, sales management must hire for adaptability, intelligence and creativity, and train salespeople to be more attuned to the prospect's situation.

Second, sales training will be more critical and intense. Leaders will have to raise the bar on skill development to ensure that salespeople can execute various protocols.

A Shared Commitment
There must be a commitment from all levels of management to institutionalize the CRM system. Sales leadership must set the vision, and sales management must focus on its execution.

The first step is to ensure there's a written sales process map, with definitions and detailed action steps for each major stage in the sale.

Once the sales process is mapped into CRM, there must be continuous training for all salespeople. Vendors may say their CRM systems are designed for a one- or two-hour training session, but during the first six months, as you roll out the application, sales management must train everyone to use the system identically.

Phase two is for setting quarterly data-cleansing objectives. This means sales leadership defines new data entry and data collection goals. This phase could also be used for cleansing old and inactive sales opportunities.

In summary, the art and science of sales management will still rely on the salesperson's ability to create trust and confidence during the sales process, but a more prescriptive, proven approach to winning the sale will be the salesperson's most effective ally.

More Columns by Ken Thoreson:

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at ken@acumenmgmt.com.

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