Selling Microsoft

7 Signs of an Epic CRM Fail (and How To Fix It)

Many partner organizations implement a CRM system thinking it's going to be a silver bullet. That's their first mistake.

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Customer relationship management (CRM) applications are hard on sales managers' careers. There are many reasons that the job tenure of a person with sales management responsibility averages only 14 to 18 months. But in 13 years of consulting with partner organizations, I have consistently found that much of senior management's frustration with sales leadership is traceable to the expectations that CRM applications create, yet fail to meet.

Vendors lead senior management to expect improving salesperson productivity, effective insights into pipeline management, effective lead management, improved account management, and improved sales and marketing metrics. Although these may be valid messages, sales management must focus on much more to build a high-performance sales organization and predictable revenues.

CRM's failures to impact sales aren't linked to a particular product. We've found identical problems in partner organizations no matter what CRM system was in use.

Can you identify with these examples?

  1. Pipeline values and forecasting are neither accurate nor updated in real time.

  2. Sales opportunities aren't properly updated to reflect the appropriate sales stage.

  3. Outdated sales opportunities linger in the system.

  4. Each salesperson uses the system differently.

  5. Sales activity codes are redundant or not being used.

  6. Marketing leads and their sources aren't tracked.

  7. The database is not current or only partial information is recorded, ensuring that marketing can't use the system effectively for campaigns.

These kinds of challenges stem from senior management, sales leadership and sales management failures. What's the fix? There must be a commitment by all levels of management to institutionalize the CRM system, and after that it is simply sales leadership's responsibility to set the vision and sales management's job to focus on 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. This will help each salesperson to understand what's expected at each stage and allow the CRM application to be defined to meet the written sales process map.

Once the sales process is mapped into CRM, continuous training for all salespeople must occur. 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. They must ensure that there's a clear understanding on how to use the system and why the system was designed the way it was. This will help everyone enter the data properly and in the same manner.

Sales management's other role is to "inspect what you expect," meaning, random salesperson audits and coaching when the system isn't utilized as designed. Just because one salesperson has been with you for 10 years and is highly successful doesn't give him the right not to use CRM. This relates to the discipline, accountability and control that sales management must exercise to succeed.

The next phase is to set quarterly data-cleansing objectives. This means sales leadership defines new data entry and data collection goals, such as adding one more title/contact name to each account or correct e-mail addresses for all names in the database. This phase of CRM could also be used to cleanse old and non-active sales opportunities.

There's much more to making a CRM system effective. Next time I'll write about the holistic planning that must be done around a new CRM system. In a third installment, I'll walk through the creation of the sales process map, especially for cloud-focused partners.

Next Time: Planning & CRM

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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.