Where Next for CRM?

Remember when all the sales field force had their own contact management software – the likes of ACT!, Frontrange and so on? Remember the problems that meant for the business, as sales people left the company and took all the information with them, making handover impossible? Remember how these tried to evolve into sales force automation (SFA) packages, with sales people supposedly inputting data into a shared environment – but rarely doing so?

Remember how customer relationship management (CRM) systems began to allow the business to see the interactions between themselves and the customers, and how this led to SFA being embraced by CRM to get the upstream activities of sales people included in the details?

Remember how salesforce.com started off as an SFA vendor, but rapidly re-positioned itself as a CRM vendor?

Remember how difficult it has been to see the real return on investment from any of this? I bet you do.

The problem has been that the way that most SFA/CRM systems have been implemented has been as a simple system of record: an employee (whether it be a sales person or a contact centre agent) puts information into a system that can then be looked at by others. This is not helping the business in its main aim – which is to optimise the process of selling goods or services to new and existing customers at a profitable margin. Combined with this is that the system of engagement – the way that the user interacts with the system of record – has not been conducive to use. Sales people see it as getting in the way: they avoid it wherever they can, so minimising the value of the overall system.

This is how CRM now has to evolve. The sales person needs more of a framework to work within; one that provides actionable advice as they move along the sales journey in an intuitive and easy to use manner. They need a way of being able to see not just what has gone on before with a prospect or customer, but also need to fully understand whether they should continue with a possible sale – or cut loose and move on.

There are plenty of books available that deal with “Sales 101”, showing how a simple sales pipeline works. However, these tend to be pretty simplistic, working against probabilities of deals being made based on the qualitative feeling of the sales person involved. A gung-ho salesperson may well have all of their prospects as 80% probabilities; a more pragmatic one may have theirs spread from 10-80%.

Given this, just how can the business then look at the realistic situation and make a sensible analysis on how well the sales force is operating and what the likelihood is of sales revenue through the next quarter or year?

A solid system of record is still needed: salesforce.com has proven itself to be a suitable engine here. While salesforce.com has shown sales people the ‘What to do’ of Sales, what has been missing is the ‘How to do’ of Sales. However, with the systems of engagement not currently sufficiently intuitive or valuable to the different roles involved in the overall process to be used effectively, this needs to be addressed. In the case of the sales person, he or she needs a system that they see as adding distinct value and that is so easy to use that they see it as better to use the system than not to. Using a system that, dependent on the sales person’s input, provides contextual advice that enables the sales person to make better informed decisions of the next steps they should take makes the system work for everyone. Using a system that works with them – on the device that they choose, at a time and place that fits with their work pattern.

The individual is working against a more complete data set – not only the sales pipeline, but information from other parts of the business that are inputting information from existing customers; information that is coming in from other feeds, such as social media, business information systems (e.g. Dun and Bradstreet, Equifax, Experian). This data and insight can ensure that the sales force is working on a level playing field, normalising each person’s approach so that the probability of a sale can be better judged – and can be compared across a mixed set of sales people.

For sales enablement, they get to pull together the two constituents of their world that seem to be fighting against each other – the individuals in the sales force fighting for their commissions and the rest of the business trying to optimise bottom line performance. The sales force get to work effectively; the data they create is being logged centrally in a manner where not only sales managers and sales directors can monitor and measure performance, but also where the business can look at what is happening. This is not so that they can wield the big stick, but so that they can work with sales to ensure that they are fully supported.
For example, if it is obvious that a campaign, product or service is not working, then marketing or product development needs to know this. The next generation of CRM has to enable this.

What is this next generation CRM, then? It is the bringing together of all the requisite data required by the business in order for an effective iterative product development-campaign management-sales cycle to be created. This requires better tools so that the sales force can become a peer pr ovider and user of the data involved. These tools need to encapsulate advice that is pertinent and contextually aligned to the position the sales person is in.

What it shouldn’t involve is users having to move from their existing salesforce.com system of record to a new system.

This blog first appeared on the SalesMethods site.