Salesreps really love to feed data into their CRM system after a long day, or even during the week-end. They are truly looking forward to their weekly sales call with numbers that every single one of their colleague massaged themselves. They are obsessed with typing all sorts of entries into a quotation and know their product catalogue by heart, so that they can provide their customer with the best of all possible quotes to solve their business issue.
Salespeople really appreciate all the high quality leads that are funnelled to them by the system.
And, of course, they are truly altruistic and thrive on helping their customers for good.
Sounds like you?
Well, then you are probably like most of us.
In brief: Salespeople hate their CRM!
This didn’t change almost 40 years after the first electronic CRM tools have been introduced. Users of CRM systems still often do not have the feeling that the systems are serving them, but that it is rather the opposite.
That is especially true for salespeople. But I repeat myself.
Salespeople face a two-pronged challenge. On one side, in an environment that is more and more data driven, they face an increasing reporting demand, which in turns requires an increasing amount of quality data being fed into the system.
They feel that all these administrative tasks keep them away what they are doing best and what they want to do most: Be with their customers, understand them, and offer – sell – them the right solutions for their challenges.
Thereby making them happy.
On the other hand, salespeople feel that they become more and more redundant.
A feeling that is backed by statistics and surveys showing that more than half of the buying journey is already done before a customer – b2c or b2b – contacts a salesperson.
One might get the idea that these two challenges are related to each other. So, how can this be overcome? How can salespeople become more relevant again?
The path to where we are now
In the beginning there were activity management tools, contact management tools, and account management tools, the latter as a kind of shared electronic rolodex. Goldmine, founded in 1989, successfully combined activity-, account- and contact management for teams, as a first of its kind. Amazingly, the software is still around.
Salespersons used some of these tools and hated the fact that they weren’t integrated. They had to use and live with many different tools, which improved some aspects of their lives – or not.
A consequence of this was the emergence of sales force automation (SFA) tools that targeted at two issues:
- Integrating and streamlining sales processes from lead to order and
- establishing a common repository of data that could get used by whole, distributed, teams.
This was the high time of boutique vendors like Kiefer und Veittinger (later acquired by SAP) or CAS, which originated in Germany, and later on of Rockstar Siebel. From here the thought of integrating marketing, sales, and service in one suite emerged and CRM, an integrated tool, that intended to cover all relevant customer side processes, was born.
Add some analytics (to create analytical CRM) and not only salespersons but also management were happy.
Only that especially salespersons weren’t.
They weren’t happy, because CRM software made them enter an increasing amount of data into the system, making ‘their’ personal assets and contacts corporate assets and contacts. On top of that, by entering ‘their’ data into the system, they feared to become transparent, without getting anything back. They felt like being controlled and like working for the system, instead of having a system that works for them.
Well, and then this whole data entry did and still does cost their time.
Salespeople are communicators. They live on the phone and in their email client. Sincerely, most CRM tools traditionally do not have a decent email editor. Also, email clients were needed then and continue to be needed now, anyways. So, the problem of switching apps was improved, but not yet really solved.
Social media emerged and quickly became mainstream. People started to publish lots of valuable information, information that is extremely helpful for building relationships. The ‘social animals’ that salespersons are, pounced on this chance to understand people, their interests, relationships, and affiliations.
Naturally, CRM software could not keep pace with the ever evolving social media, which quickly became one of the most important information sources and communications channels for salespersons.
Of course specialized vendors, that addressed this gap emerged quickly; from social media engagement platforms like Hubspot to more SFA-like tools: one of the latter being Nimble. The big vendors, being less agile, took a bit more time to jump on the wagon.
A new term was born: Social CRM.
But only few vendors truly realised – and acted upon this realisation – that CRM, especially sales, is and always was, social. And most of the solutions still distinguished between social media as channels and email as another channel. And, being point solutions, initially mostly with poor APIs, the solutions did not help in creating a consistent account and contact database, let alone achieving the holy grail of a 360 degree view of the customer. Even if the solutions had a decent API, IT departments often refused to invest the effort needed to integrate yet another point solution.
The obvious result was a decrease of data quality, making salespersons even more unhappy, as working off unreliable data is not effective, let alone efficient. XLS became important again.
This story continues with the still ongoing move into the CEM and CEX world.
What to do about it?
As said before, sales representatives are social animals who do not have time to spare.
For them a CRM system, to get value out of it, needs to exhibit three basic tenets:
- it needs to be there where the sales representative is, physically or digitally
- it needs to show the sales representative what is important in the current context and to make solid suggestions or even take actions.
- it needs to speak with him
Be where I am
Their CRM system is but one of many applications they are using across devices, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. By their very nature, CRM systems are tools that ingest, aggregate and enrich data, so it can be used for a purpose. The result is actionable information that needs to be provided to its users. This way, e.g. interactions with contacts are logged without any explicit intervention or are pulled from various sources.
Furthering this thought, the system must offer is services across channels, be available within social media tools, productivity tools and especially within the used email client. The latter part being fairly easy as probably 90 per cent of all business users use either Outlook or GMail. Still, what this means is that the system must embed itself in the tool of choice, either by means of a chatbot or by offering a user interface that becomes a part of the social media tool or mail client and that from there, intelligently using the users context, provides relevant information.
Speak with me
The mobile aspect is a given, too. No CRM system that is worth a grain of salt comes without mobile capabilities, as an app or at least via responsive User Interfaces. What they are lacking, though, is the ability of being used in a hands off fashion, e.g. using voice as the interaction channel. How about getting a call from your friendly CRM system after a customer visit, asking for a visit summary while you are driving to your next appointment? After all, the system recognizes that the time for the meeting has passed and that you are on the move again.
Voice as an interaction channel will become an increasingly important interface to CRM systems, be it initiated by the user “hey CRM” or by the system itself as in the example above.
Show me what is important and make solid suggestions
Last, but not least, the system needs to be able to show the salesperson what is important for him at any given time. This includes AI-supported lead- and opportunity scoring based upon interaction quality, frequency, change thereof, deal size, and sentiment, to name a few criteria. This It also includes the ability to suggest next actions that provide the best chance to further nurture the opportunity. On top of this, the system might unearth opportunities for the sales representative, which provides tremendous value.
Next steps for Sales Leaders
There are few to no system that fulfils all this. Some solutions are closer than others, some of these might even fit into the chosen platform strategy.
In case you do not yet have a CRM system, or even an SFA system, choose wisely. Identify not only what is important for the company but also how you can best enable your sales representatives to contribute to this.
The easiest way is to make life simpler and more joyful for them, so that they have more time to do what they do best and like to do most: Selling your solutions to your customers.
If you already have a system that you are happy with, then your situation is slightly more difficult: Together with your vendor and your implementation partner you need to thoroughly analyse the short and midterm roadmap of your software. Will it fulfil the needs stated above? When? How reliable have the vendor’s roadmaps been?
If this exercise does not lead to a satisfactory result but you are still happy with the system, then it is time to work on systems in the vendor ecosystem that augment your system, so that it fulfils your needs. You could even go best-of-breed here, but always start within the ecosystem as this promises best possible interfaces and lower pain integrating the two systems.
If you are unhappy? Well, then it is time to look for a new system.
A good number of my customers is pursuing this strategy.
This is a repost of my February 2020 CustomerThink column article