Courtesy of Microsoft & Bing

21st Century Sales – don’t let the myths stifle your success

Courtesy of Microsoft & BingThe overarching myth is that selling in the 21st century is in some significant way different to the approaches of earlier times. You only have to consider the many cold calls made to your home phone or the PPI/accident compensation texts to your mobile to realise the worst techniques of the past are still alive and kicking albeit under a different disguise.

Then there are the “new” approaches to selling that you might find under titles such as; Modern Selling, The Challenger Sale and Sales Enablement. When you explore these ‘new’ phenomena you will probably find they simply describe how professional selling has always been conducted. Current technology has certainly provided new tools but we question whether technology enables you to be more effective and productive, and if it always make doing business easier?

This post will help anyone struggling with questions such as; “is the B2B sales person a dying breed?”, “is the cold call dead?”, “what is best in 2015; in-bound or outbound marketing?”, and “can technology solve all of my marketing and sales issues?

Myth One – buyers have changed significantly

We have written on a number of occasions about the savvy well informed buyers that many consider a significant feature of the commercial landscape of the 21st century. You know them; they are 57% of the way through the buying journey before engaging with suppliers. Belief in this fact has led to a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’; if your sales people don’t put in the effort to engage early then of course the buyer has no choice but to make the journey towards a decision on their own. When the buyer eventually needs to contact suppliers they will have made many decisions for themselves leaving the suppliers in a position that all they can do is react and comply.

However, the evidence is that sales people who do engage early in the buyer’s journey, or better still before it commences, are seen as a valuable resource to the buyer and they will get a bigger share of the business that is going to be on offer.

Debunking this myth is the foundation to dealing with the others.

Myth Two – B2B sales people are a dying breed

They certainly are if your go-to-market strategy is based on the assumption that the buyer will come to you when they are ready. In this case all you will need are good sales order clerks empowered to give discount and offer special terms to secure the business. However if you take into account the fact that 75% of the orders for new business go to companies who engage early then you need well equipped B2B sales people who will be out hunting for you if you don’t wish to be left scrapping over the remaining 25%.

To make sure you are out there fighting for all 100% of the business you need sales people who are able to engage early and ideally before the prospect even realises they have a problem to solve. Sales people need to be equipped to help the prospect through the awareness stage which includes the vital process of education; when the prospect needs to learn about the various solutions that might be appropriate.

Fresh off the press research from SiriusDecisions states that B2B buyers want to interact with sales people at every stage of the buying journey. The findings “challenge the common industry view that b-to-b sales representatives’ roles and importance are declining due to a disintermediation by digital buying behaviors.”

Myth Three – The cold call is dead!

The truth is, the cold call was never alive. What has changed is that people are now very unwilling to take unsolicited calls, which generates that feeling that the approach is dead. However, even when times were different and most people did accept unsolicited calls, they rarely produced anything of value. This is a classic example of mistaken identity where activity was assumed to equate to progress.

Unsolicited calls are still a very useful tool in the prospecting kit bag but those calls need to be well researched and informed by the facts. When the call is made the caller must demonstrate an understanding of the individual prospect’s business, potential business issues and the state of the prospect’s industry. The caller needs to be able to educate the prospect based on their wider general knowledge of the issues at hand and the potential solutions.

Myth Four – outbound marketing is dead; inbound is the only way

Our view is that some businesses will do better from outbound, others from inbound but most will benefit from a blend.

In a recent conversation with Michael Packman of Nexus B2B he explained how their research had led them to create a blended or, as he calls it, a hybrid solution which provides both outbound and inbound in the appropriate proportions for each customer. Michael runs what I consider to be one of the very best outbound lead generation businesses so I feel very confident in his findings.

When you drill below the surface of this issue, outbound vs. inbound, another issue is exposed. Although people talk about inbound marketing replacing outbound marketing a subtle change occurs in the expectations where “inbound” not only replaces outbound marketing it also replaces the need to sell. If this is what you want then there is no issue but beware of the hidden change that could occur.

So we bust two myths for the price of one; inbound will generally be most effective when blended with outbound marketing, and inbound marketing is not a substitute for selling.

Myth Five – technology can satisfy all my marketing and selling needs

I am no Luddite, in fact I have worked in the IT industry since 1969, and I have made extensive use of technology in my own businesses since I first started in 1980. I was sending e-mails to selected customers from 1982 and commencing in the same year I provided a cloud (wasn’t called that then) service to companies with mobile sales forces.

So, if not a Luddite what am I? Answer; sceptical. Having mainly worked on the supplier side of technology I know only too well that we can get carried away with the claims we sometimes make. Most technology companies are fundamentally genuine in the claims they make but all are commercial businesses who need to make sales to survive and it is this simple commercial fact that sometimes applies a rosy tinted filter to reality.

In the interests of keeping this short; technology can be extremely useful in marketing and fairly useful in selling. In certain circumstances, technology can all but replace the need for human involvement e.g. when you are ordering something on line. However in B2B sales human-to-human engagement is essential and some of the reasons why have been covered earlier.

Don’t be seduced that technology can do it all and don’t be seduced by the cost argument – technology may be cheaper than human beings but when you find the orders are not flowing as expected the outcome might prove very costly.

Myth Six – technology enables my sales people to be more effective

Always? As a result of technology your sales people can access huge amounts of data both internally and externally about your prospective customers and their markets. All very empowering! However, we see a lot of cases where sales people are literally swamped in data.

Before making a call they check; CRM, LinkedIn, Social Media, Google, credit rating agencies, maybe Companies House and they will typically access internal documents such as call reports. After the call they send a meeting invite, populate the calendar, send a confirmation e-mail, prepare some material for the meeting (perhaps a PowerPoint), and check with marketing for case studies and other sales enablement material. Then a further set of activities follow on from the meeting, and so it continues.

All of this activity looks like work but the ultimate test is whether it makes the sales people more effective and productive or just busy.

Technology should be used sparingly to empower the sales people to make better calls and conduct better meetings but ensure the proportions are right. If your sales people are spending more time in front of the screen than they are on the phone or in the customers’ offices the proportion is probably wrong. The other thing to ensure is perfect alignment between the needs of the sales function and what marketing is delivering to support it. All too often sales people have to spend time re-working things to suit their needs.

A myth is defined as something fictional or unproven
– not a great foundation for business success!

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Tools to support the sales environment

Select the tools for the result you want

Select the tools for the result you want

The first thing to note is in the title. Tools can only really provide support to a planned, organised environment, where the important is distinguishable from background noise.  Tools for tools’ sake are less likely to deliver benefit and may even increase overhead. Before considering tools, you need to decide what challenges you are intending to resolve, what existing processes they need to support, and what level of improvement you are expecting to achieve.  From that position you have a more objective measure for comparison.

By their very nature, computer applications have the capability to process larger volumes of input, more quickly than their human equivalent. Equally they can produce a larger volume of results at a faster pace. Harnessed appropriately, they can free existing staff to address their brain power to some of those wish-list tasks.

Evaluation

Some things to watch out for:

  • Features and functions; many applications are advertised as “flexible”, but the key aspect to consider is whether that flexibility is configurable or customisable. Why the difference? Configurable tends to be the simplest, take a car as an illustration. When you buy a new car you configure the set options to suit your needs: alloy wheels, metallic paint, satnav. Once you get it home you may consider customising it; mega sound system, noisy pipes – how many of these customisations will be supported by the standard warranty, maintenance or insurance policy without additional cost? With software customisations, the question is what impact do they have on patches, upgrades or new releases?  The ultimate question is whether your personalised system is robust and maintainable?
  • Integration with existing sources of data; many tools incorporate their own mini-contact management system. Whilst you can import and export data, this doesn’t exactly help with seamless interfaces and non-duplication of information. However, dependent on the purpose of the tool, some information may need to earn its right of passage to another application, e.g. through qualification. In all events, the users must not feel confused as to where their real data exists or they will become less committed to maintaining it.
  • Pricing; there are several aspects to consider here dependent on your budgetary perspective.
    • Pricing bands may not conveniently map to your current requirement or growth predictions. Dependent on the pricing structure, the outlay could affect either operating or capital expenditure.
    • Total cost of acquisition (TCA) may be increased by such as the need for expert installation, initial user training, or possibly even upgrade of associated applications and hardware.
    • Total cost of ownership (TCO) may be a more important factor than the price tag. TCO should take into account the resource required for installation, configuration, maintenance, support, training, operation, data processing, back-ups, licencing & renewal, data transmission and other oft overlooked aspects.

Whichever perspective of outlay you focus on, it should be balanced or even outweighed by the benefits to be accrued, not all of which can be measured monetarily.

  • Usability; does the application work for you or do you work for it?  Is it intuitive or frustrating?  It’s great throwing all that data into an application, but does it provide you with useful analysis that you can access easily?  Is any value (advantage or lack of disadvantage) obtained by those entering the data, or does it feel like it’s all for someone else’s benefit (all pain but no gain)?   This last being a common cause of poor uptake of CRM systems by sales people.

Scope

I have not named any tools below, as each potential application of a tool needs specific requirements analysis and a wider trawl of competitive offerings.  However, if any of the descriptions pique your interest, feel free to contact us for initial suggestions.

Some recent examples I have been having a look at:

Website visitor tracking; great at helping you identify exactly the company who has had a look at your website, which keywords they used to find you and which pages they have accessed, even though they’ve not actually contacted you. What an opportunity to make that sales call knowing they are probably in buying mode, and with an idea of the issues they may be experiencing or solutions they are seeking. We are told that latest buying behaviour indicates 60% of the buying process is done through on-line research, so you could gain a positive advantage over your competitors by your interactions in that research phase. Sounds great? Well the other side of the coin is that the traffic needs to interact with your website in the first place not just look at the landing page and they need to have come via a company network (fixed IP address), so all those mobile devices which are now the rage probably also mask their identity – so don’t be surprised if only 20% of visitors are identifiable.

“Marketing automation”; more a question of corralling the multitude of channels for market interaction and instilling some organisation to spot and respond to potential leads. Such a tool might filter internet traffic for specific conditions and then trigger a custom workflow to initiate appropriate action, such as if a keyword is used in a LinkedIn status update or a tweet comes from a focus segment, you might be alerted to follow-up. Potentially a great boon, but it may only return true value if you have a strategy already in place and a definition of where you want to hunt and how you want to react/respond.

Field reporting; when you’re running from meeting to meeting covering your territory, wouldn’t it be better if the reporting didn’t consume more time than the meetings and you felt the reports actually made your life easier as well as keeping your boss happy. In many environments, the results of a meeting produce a finite set of outcomes requiring a finite set of next actions. Capturing these results in the most efficient manner leaves your field personnel more time to focus on the human interaction with your customers and less chance for results and actions to pass their due date or be forgotten altogether.

Bid support; tools which help you to quantify progress of an opportunity, plan a strategy and ensure all key bases are covered before a proposal is issued will not only increase the value of your proposals to your customers, but will also flag those opportunities which are not making good use of your resources or are no longer viable. Such tools are best targeted at a sales cycle which may require multiple touches with the customer, require customisation of the proposal, or is typically in part a competitive tendering exercise. Whether a particular tool will assist you will depend on how you address the critical success factors of your bid/proposal preparation process. If the process is not currently formalised, addressing that aspect alone could return benefits without the aid of additional tools.

Collaborative environments; if you have ever considered the lost opportunity cost of a meeting ( e.g. man hours x charge rate, plus venue cost, plus travel time x charge rate, plus travel cost, plus cost of delay whilst synchronising diaries, etc.) and then tried to value the benefit achieved through holding that meeting, the value achieved is no easy sum. If however you can facilitate collaboration on the move, thus reducing the occasions when physical face to face meetings are required, you could speed decisions, avoid extended interruptions to activity flow and potentially have better records of the decision basis and action plan. Sounds wonderful? Is it a natural extension of our “always accessible” existence due to the mobile phone and such devices?

Learning environments & learning support; from simulations enabling safe experimentation with strategy, to a library of subject matter with the management oversight/administration function to aid targeted personnel development in key non-technical skills. These types of tool may be an adjunct to daily business routines, but may boost morale.  They will typically enhance the delivery of learning experiences through flexibility in access, timing and medium, but they can also aid team building through the results of collaboration, enabling recognition of individuals’ expertise.

Summary

There is a plethora of tools available to help “automate” your systems and processes, but at the end of the day, it’s the view of the end-user which will dictate their success. If the tools can smooth their day-to-day administration, aid in winning business, and free more time for customer interaction, they’ll probably be actively used. If on the other hand, they have a myriad of authentications to go through, have disjoint or duplicate data, and nobody notices whether they’ve been used accurately or not, then they will become a fashion fad.

Sales Performance Improvement

When something is not right, the pain points we recognise first and seek to address are often only symptoms.

  • Are the sales team are struggling to meet their targets?
  • In the search for new customers are marketing initiatives generating the response you need?
  • Do you find sales training effects are short-lived or negligible?
  • Do the new sales people you recruited live up to their promise?
  • Are you losing more deals to your competitors?

Individual symptoms, addressed in isolation can give short term relief but rarely provide a lasting result.

Performative recognises that while a remedy for the immediate pain is a priority, a holistic approach, diagnosing the root causes of under-performance would enable them to be addressed in the most appropriate sequence to assure sustainable improvement.

So how will it feel once we have completed a programme for you …

  • Customers will be happy and communicative at multiple levels, giving you advance warning of upcoming opportunities.
  • Your senior management will be able to identify and focus on strategic activities.
  • Sales management will have the tools to be in control, avoiding unpleasant surprises.
  • The sales team will be motivated and operating in harmony with the business goals.

arising from …

  • Your proposition, target markets, routes to market and collateral will be consistent and your outbound sales and marketing activities will be sharply focused.
  • You will have a defined end-to-end process from the initial identification of targets through the evolutionary cycle from suspect to prospect and eventually to customer, resulting in more closed deals.
  • Contacts and opportunities with least potential will be weeded out early; sales activity will be focused on contacts with the greatest potential.
  • Your staff will be fully familiar with the process and supporting tools, and understand the methodology sufficiently to immediately adapt to varying scenarios and customer needs.
  • Key customer account and new business activities will be balanced to achieve your business goals.
  • Your pipeline will be a known quantity, providing objective measures of business potential.
  • The pipeline will provide meaningful KPIs giving advance warnings of problems.

“Performative have unquestionably helped us to become better focused and more structured in all aspects of our selling activities. This has enabled us to accelerate the growth of the company with certainty which is a great foundation for planning and investing in our future.  Throughout the period of involvement with Performative we have found them very supportive and responsive and they have provided advice on a diverse range of topics. They are a great partner to have. “

If this is how you’d like your organisation to be, contact us now!

shorter sales cycles, new customers, more business, increased profilts, better cashflow

Deals on Wheels – Optimise your quotes, accelerate your sales cycle

The mobile market is more competitive than ever and some might say, saturated. It seems like every day there’s a new announcement from Samsung, Apple, Microsoft announcing a new, “must-have” mobile gadget.

A lot of these new devices will find their way into the enterprise – Forbes put the compound annual growth rate of shipments to business at 49% over the next four years, many of which will end up in the hands of sales organizations. The surprising thing is that most will only use them for note taking and email (Angry Birds aside). So if you have one of these new tablets, what more should you do with it?

Three areas that we see as delivering immediate value to the mobile salesperson are Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ) tools, Learning and Field Coaching.

Picture a typical scenario, a sales executive on a call with a prospect, with their manager attending to provide guidance and coaching. The customer needs a solution to a critical business problem fast. Imagine two alternative paths from that meeting.

The first – Using the familiar paper-based or manual approach, the rep returns to the office the next day with the notes scribbled on a notepad. After wasting 60 minutes looking through the ambiguous filing system on the laptop, the sales person finds a 2 year old copy of a pricing spread sheet with out of date products, pricing and incorrect margins. After spending a whole day copying, pasting, replacing text from an old proposal, before deciding to apply an unsanctioned discount, the sales person emails the prospect a word document full of unprofessional mistakes. The deal is either lost or at best severely detrimental to a positive outcome.

The second – With mobile technology, the sales person opens CPQ app on their mobile tablet during the meeting, follows a guided selling process based on company rules, with controlled pricing, suggested up-selling and cross-selling and sends an electronic proposal before leaving the meeting. The electronic proposal is full of relevant case studies and the most up to date product information to present a compelling case for the products and services on offer. The initial proposal maximises the revenue, and is free from errors. The prospect impressed by the rapid, accurate response to their needs, decides to move ahead quickly. The workflow and margin approval rules in CPQ ensure swift progress throughout the negotiations and the deal comes to a swift positive conclusion. Of course, it is never that simple, but since businesses can live or die on the business they bid for, surely a professional, guided and controlled process that maximises revenue and accelerates the sales cycle is one business process that is worthy of strategic review.

Callidus

Giles House, Vice President, Marketing, CallidusCloud

At CallidusCloud, a supplier in this field, proposal automation is a particularly hot topic with their customer base. Proposal automation can provide a tactical quick fix but done strategically, makes a compelling business case. I recently hosted a session with one of our CPQ customers – Xirrus – who have realised many of the benefits they were expecting as well as a few they weren’t! Their CPQ case study delves deeper into the business case, but one of the key findings was that by simply prompting the salesperson to include an additional service in the quote, Xirrus saw a near 100% attach rate for the service and a significant revenue increase!

A huge benefit, realised by a simple prompt, accessible on a device you can take anywhere. On a recent Configure Price Quote webinar we covered many more of the benefits of arming your sales teams with a mobile app like CPQ.

Article kindly provided by guest author Giles House of CallidusCloud for our March 2013 newsletter.

Automation in sales – the other side of the coin

As highlighted in the recent articles our view on automation in selling is to use with caution; a blended approach will serve you best. The optimum solution uses automation to deal with the 80% of the job that is routine repetitive stuff, leaving the remaining 20% for the sales person to apply their ingenuity and creativity to produce an innovative solution for the individual prospect.

There are real benefits to be gained from proposal automation but there are also some real dangers to be aware of as well. While it is true that automating will ensure proposals are perfect in; spelling, grammar, presentation, etc., they could appear to be sterile and generalised. If the whole solution is presented from pre-existing information then you are really producing a brochure which they have probably already previewed, not a proposal which echoes the needs of the individual customer and speaks specifically to them.

Sales Force Effectiveness

In a recent survey “60% of Chief Sales Officers (CSOs) reported that, their number one priority was to improve Sales Effectiveness” according to Alinean.com and in a recent report by Deloitte “In 2012, only 50 per cent of respondents indicated they were happy with sales productivity”.

The cost of field sales is rising as is the overall competitive landscape so companies whose business model is reliant on face to face selling are now looking to move from what has been historically viewed as an ‘art’ form, reliant on intuition and personality, into a process where the inputs and outcomes are understood and reproducible, this approach is commonly known as ‘Sales Force Effectiveness’ (SFE). In the world of acronyms, other terms often used in the same sentence as SFE are Sales Performance Management (SPM) and Sales Force Automation (SFA); an overview of these terms is given below before exploring SFE.

Gartner describes SFE as ‘The focus on the tasks and processes of selling’ – the individual tasks and activities a salesperson uses to develop opportunities which are supported through SFE applications and tools. SFE tools should help both managers and sales people optimise and improve the impact of their behaviours on the outcomes in the sales cycle. SPM and SFA form part of the SFE tools.

SPM is the marrying of activity data with business improvement processes in order to drive sales effectiveness. At its core, and the focus of most tools, is the practice of incentive compensation management. SPM is often combined with other tools/approaches, such as activity management, customer focus, territory & quota management, analytics, and coaching.

SFA is used interchangeably with CRM; however, CRM does not necessarily imply automation/focus on sales tasks. In reality there are few if any SFA vendors left and SFA has been consumed within CRM offerings.

Other tools/ areas which should be included within SFE include: Pricing, Territory Management, Sales Training/Coaching, Reporting/Analytics and CRM.

One of the biggest historical challenges in sales management is that many decisions and actions, including investing in tools and training, are made without a clear understanding of their expected impact and how the tools will help achieve this.

Remember you cannot manage the outcome only the input.

SFE Framework: a suggested methodology to start an SFA project

SFE Framework: a suggested methodology to start an SFA project

Diagnosis

It is the author’s experience that despite the move towards the appliance of science, many organisations miss out a diagnostic phase either because of a lack of data or because historically frameworks and methodologies were not readily available, yet undertaking a fact based diagnosis is crucial to the overall success of any SFE project. By example, if you do not know current customer coverage and the impact of that coverage how can you determine if this is important and if so at what level.

Example: A bank’s Mortgage Sales team calling on ‘introducers’; the introducers were graded A-F based on revenue. We compared contact rate against revenue and the results showed that if the introducer was not seen at least 6 times in a 12 month period the probability of down trading rose by 50%, however if they were seen more than 15 times there was no probability of up trading. Before the insight, contact with introducers ranged from 0-60 times per annum. Based on this the strategy and KPIs became easy to identify and action.

Strategy

After analysing the inputs and outcomes from 11 million field sales visits across 9 countries and many industries including Financial Services, FMCG and Pharma we have only seen 6 basic strategy choices/levers (6 Ps) that managers can execute:

  • Productivity
  • Performance
  • Prioritisation
  • Product
  • Place
  • Process

Which choices you focus on is based on which underlying challenge your organisation is trying to address, identified from the diagnosis.

A basic formula which breaks the key behaviours into drivers of sales revenue

A basic formula which breaks the key behaviours into drivers of sales revenue

Metrics/Behavioural KPIs

YOU CANNOT MANAGE THE OUTCOME!

Many sales leaders do sales forecasts based on last year’s performance, plus the growth rate envisaged by the CEO, the reality is as directors and managers the only things we can manage is the activity, focus and behaviours of our field sales teams, and it is these activities and behaviours that will ultimately lead to revenue.

The chosen KPIs should let us know how we are doing in managing the chosen inputs in a time frame that lets managers manage, influence and change. We have identified 36 main KPIs which relate to the 6Ps.

The validity and timing of the KPIs are also crucial and where many organisations fail, the input data from the field needs to be quantitative and in real time, if you are measuring prospect calls, if you get the number on a Friday you cannot get the week back to try again! Choosing the right tool for sales management is critical, often companies try to repurpose CRM but this focusses on qualitative data and with a significant time lag.

Below are 2 examples within SFE which use data/information to drive performance improvements.

Example 1: Company 1 used to take 6 months to identify sales people who were failing, and often at this point they had ‘gone native’ so had to be let go, losing 6 months of sales effort plus salary and recruitment costs. Analysis showed that the best predictor of sales success was behavioural KPIs i.e. what and how much they did, and these behaviours were set in the first 10 days if not challenged. By using real time field reporting to diagnose failing sales people, the company could and did intervene and reduced failure rates and increased sales.

Example 2: Company 2 identified that typical account coverage of allocated customers was <50% and the customers that had not been contacted were key customer groups. It was decided to allocate sales resources as follows across each 12 week cycle: Top 20% customers by value, Top 20% customers by growth, Top 20% customer fallers, 20% equivalent of prospect calls and 20% equivalent of free choice by the salesman. Each salesman used a field reporting tool and each night they were provided with summary metrics and details of outstanding customer calls. Within one cycle, coverage had exceeded 90% and revenues grew by >20%.Example 1: Company 1 used to take 6 months to identify sales people who were failing, and often at this point they had ‘gone native’ so had to be let go, losing 6 months of sales effort plus salary and recruitment costs. Analysis showed that the best predictor of sales success was behavioural KPIs i.e. what and how much they did, and these behaviours were set in the first 10 days if not challenged. By using real time field reporting to diagnose failing sales people, the company could and did intervene and reduced failure rates and increased sales.

Actions

The actions that can be taken within an SFE framework draw from the range of existing interventions such as training/coaching, territory planning to name a few of the more popular ones, the difference comes from application of the diagnostic phase and the definition of success and associated KPIs. Using the old adage, what gets measured gets done!

Data from i-snapshot shows a high correlation between the use of i-snapshot, as measured by system access time and frequency by a sales manager, and the improvement in the performance of his team.

Tools

The choice of tools should be the final decision in implementing SFE, the tool should be selected against a clear understanding of the data they can/will produce and how managers will use that data to drive performance. There is not one single tool in SFE but a range of tools depending on the outcome of the investigation process, key areas and sample tools for those areas include:

Alan Timothy; focuses on the science of sales

Alan Timothy; focuses on the science of sales

 

Article kindly provided by guest author Alan Timothy of  i-snapshot for our February 2013 newsletter.

Should the Sales Force or the Sales Process be Automated?

I think Alan’s article is excellent but I find myself at odds on a couple of points.  So as I think debate is healthy, I am providing some additional thoughts below.  These are just a different perspective and in no way am I dismissing the many excellent points made by Alan.

So, what do I find debatable?  Firstly; “You cannot manage the outcomes only the input” and “… the only things we can manage are activity, focus and behaviours of our field sales teams.”  In my experience the greatest failure of sales management today is the focus on managing activity.  I do agree that when wearing the coaching hat, the sales manager must act to influence focus and behaviours but as soon as attention turns to activity, their role has changed from manager to supervisor.  No matter how “real time” that activity is monitored it is still history.  So, we believe you can coach and lead people in such a way as to get the desired outcomes using activity monitoring to check and modify assumptions e.g. conversion ratios which feed into workload planning.

You may have read other articles on this topic in previous newsletter so we won’t labour the points here.  Suffice it to say our experience is that the management discipline can only be applied to the sales and selling processes leaving leadership and coaching as the tools to use to influence the people and their behaviour.

This leads neatly to the second point which is the term SFA.  From our early days, back in 2002, the customer projects we worked on led us inexorably to conclude that CRM systems offer little to those seeking Sales Performance Improvement.  Alan makes the point that CRMs offer little to the sales person. However, he also concludes that SFA systems, which should have plugged the gap, have all but disappeared being consumed by CRM.  Part of the reason is that they were never really different to CRMs.  A stronger reason for their disappearance is that they were the wrong solution; what needs automating is the Sales and Selling Processes not the Sales Force.  So, we talk about Sales Process (not Force) Automation; SPA.

However, you cannot automate what does not exist, or if you try to introduce automation where the current system is flawed and/or incomplete then your automated system will carry the same flaws and gaps.  Worse still and this is an issue with a lot of CRM implementations, the processes contained in the automation system are in effect imposed on the organisation because they fill gaps.  Such poor implementations also tend to emphasise and magnify the flaws.  So you now have a clumsy automated system that fails to match the established working practices and you don’t need me to explain the potential for conflict that this creates.

Our recommendation is to design and deploy a complete set of tailored integrated processes, within the framework of a sales methodology and ensure that they work smoothly and deliver a complete solution.  Train everyone to use it, train the sales managers to coach it, make sure it is settled and delivering the desired results and then automate it.  If you buy a system in the hope that it will fix all your problems you may well be disappointed; as the earliest computer experts recognised “rubbish in = rubbish out”.

SPA is a critical component of SFE.  If you automate the processes which will typically cover say 80% of the sales person’s work; the routine stuff, it frees up time both for the sales person and the manager to be creative.  If you don’t automate the standard stuff then it consumes most of the available time leaving little for the creativity which could differentiate you.

Let’s put Customer Relationship Management back into CRM

CRM: A shared view of customer interaction

CRM: A shared view of customer interaction

It’s clear to me that there is an ever increasing disconnect between what the acronym CRM has come to mean and the very thing it is trying to address. I think we have to get back to basics, Customer Relationship Management is about what we do as salespeople every day – we see clients, we sell products, we write monthly reports and we convert prospects. These are our daily activities, they define our job.

CRM is supposed to help us to do these things more efficiently. In fact there are a whole host of other things which it can help all of us to do.

Let’s have a quick look at some history. Software systems or personal organisers as they were known then were introduced in the early 90’s. I was delighted because, let’s face it, we needed as much help as we could possibly get – and still do!

So such names as ACT, Maximiser and Psion came into our horizon, the first two still being heavily used today. In the mid to late 90’s, the term CRM came into being when systems such as Siebel, Peoplesoft and Vantive became more enterprise wide, linking sales teams together and expanding to marketing, customer support, help desks and other important customer facing departments. The concept being to bring all client information, contacts and activity together into one single place for everyone to view, report on and action. This has continued into the 20s with Salesforce and Microsoft and myriads of other smaller companies providing ever increasing functionality and technology changes such as Cloud and Mobile working.

As things become more complex, and technological, inevitably CRM seems to have become more system oriented, with less emphasis on the customer relationship management piece. This is where the disconnect has occurred. While CRM needs (lots of) technology and by inference, technologists, we must not lose sight of the project objectives, so system design, roll out, training and allocation of responsibilities are just a few of the important items which must remain with the remit of the business.

Let’s consider the following three points which can bring your CRM programme back on track

Keep it Simple Stupid

As said above, while CRM projects are technical and are complicated this doesn’t mean that the end result can’t be simple. The challenge for the project team is to provide the diversity and range of functionality needed to satisfy all the different interests while making it easy to use.

The 3 click rule is a good one. In design and process development, think about how to do any task in a maximum of three clicks. For example, creating a contact or adding an opportunity. Clearly this is not always possible but by having this rule of thumb in mind it enables the team to view the operation from a business not technical viewpoint.

The average salesman thinks of CRM as a tool to help them. They are not interested in the detail, they are busy with many other things and when they come to use it, it has to be intuitive and simple.

Gather detailed user Requirements

I have heard lots of reasons why software systems get chosen – for example, the boss has used it before, a subsidiary company has some spare licences, it’s cheap.

The correct way to select is to carry out a thorough review. To agree the programme objectives, to determine the complete range of activites which will be included in scope and then to drill down into the data and process details.

Speak to representatives from different functions to ensure that all current and future needs are catered for. Ensure that the technical team are involved with everything along the way as their input throughout is essential. In addition it is important to define all reporting as well as administrative requirements.

Use the business objectives to set project success goals upfront. For example, if reducing the average sales cycle, from 6 to 5½ months, is a goal, agree this at the start and put in simple ways of ensuring that this can measured as the project is rolled out.

Find a solution that is fit for purpose

Getting the right system is important, but CRM is about people and process not just about software.

The most efficient and simplest system will fail without clarity and a real understanding by the users of their data and process responsibilities. Also they need to know the benefits which they will get from using it.

Getting agreement on the data nuggets is key, i.e. those essential bits of information which must be entered. For example, to reduce the sales cycle requires clarity around the sales cycle stages, the definition for when opportunities can be moved from stage to stage. In some cases just percentages are used and sales are given the freedom to add the value that they deem fit. This is ludicrous and adds no value to the process.

Mike Driver, CRM Professional

Mike Driver, CRM Professional

Get end users from all levels in the company to test the complete ‘soup to nuts’ solution thoroughly, kick the software and process tyres and make sure that it meets the business needs and is signed off by them.

Let’s bring the Customer back into CRM and make it the driving force of business operations, instead of sitting in a corner gathering dust!

Article kindly provided by guest author Mike Driver for our December 2012 newsletter.

 

People, Process, Technology; working in harmony

Mike makes the point very well that an effective CRM system is not just about the technology.  It should go without saying that it must also be about the people who will use and benefit from it. What is often missed though is the process.

A CRM system is like any other computer system; you get the business process right first and then you provide a computer system to make those processes easier to use, more efficient and more effective.  But what often happens is that the business processes are archaic, incomplete or full of compromises arising from having been originated from manual systems or systems based on much older technologies.  So, if you then install a CRM to “automate” or “computerise” those incomplete and compromised business processes then you are computerising an imperfect situation and this typically makes the position worse.

Another issue with CRM systems that we see all too often is that they tend to be primarily focused on helping the marketing function but they require input from the sales people to complete the loop.  This often leads to the situation where the sales people see themselves as providing data to the CRM system while getting very little information or knowledge in return.  I have heard it said, paraphrasing; “I have a really hard week then I have to spend my own time on the CRM doing admin!”.  If they at some point fail to enter the data and no-one notices or chases them, this also reinforces their admin/bureaucracy perception.

On the other hand, if the CRM system is in complete harmony with the way the sales people work then they are far less likely to see it as just admin.  If the CRM supports the sales people, provides them with selling aids and provides useful information then they will see it as a valuable tool and they will engage in using it properly.  To ensure this happens the CRM must not only reflect the way the sales people actually work, but picking up on a point made by Mike in his article, the CRM system must also reflect the sales cycle stages.  Only then will you see sales people treating the CRM as a tool to help them rather than as an onerous admin task.

I said above “..the CRM must reflect the way the sales people actually work ..”.  It would be nice if this was always true. It is common that companies do not have in place a complete, end-to-end, sales and selling process and therefore the sales people tend to function as individuals, within the confines of a set of loose rules.  It thus follows that if each sales person interprets their role in their own way then there is no common system and the CRM will not be a perfect fit for the way any of the sales people actually work.

For all these reasons we recommend that a company should define and install complete end-to-end sales and selling processes, then train the whole team in the processes and then launch the CRM system built around and supporting the processes.  The design of the processes should reflect the strategy for the business taking note of the way the business wants to take its proposition to market and eradicating anything that might have become established bad practice.  In this way the people, the processes and the technology will function in complete harmony to the mutual benefit of all concerned.
Businessman
Strictly, we are now talking about Sales Process Automation (SPA) rather than CRM and we will expand on this in a future article.