I get odd feelings of nostalgia when I reflect on my earliest days of professional selling– no cell phones, no laptops, no CRM’s. Just a digital pager that worked in most populated areas, a small collection of phone books, a car console stuffed with quarters, a paper map, a pen and a notebook of lined paper. Planners were just becoming commonplace and I preferred a notebook as the calendar style of planner felt too restrictive for my free-wheeling self. The internet had not yet been created for public use.
The Evolution of Sales Managers
Successful Sales Managers had to focus on equipping the sales team to be effective on their own. The nature of technology, or lack of it, meant that a sales rep needed to have a broad pallet of skills to succeed. The most effective Sales Managers developed the most effective Sales Representatives to execute when the managers were not or could not be available to help.
Fast forward a decade or two and the tools of the modern sales team became far more sophisticated with instant and global communications, tablet computers, internet information resources, gps and Customer Relationship Management, CRM, software to tie everything in a nice bow. Sales performance can practically manage itself today.
What do sales managers even do anymore?
In what I believe to be attempts to over-manage sales, I’ve encountered some people trying to automate the Sales Team with a CRM. Note I said automate the Sales Team, not automate sales data, analytics or process. Having spent most of my career directly accountable for the sales function in my business, I have a sensitivity to the art of good sales execution.
Good Sales Professionals need to have a unique set of soft skills.
- A nose for the needs of the customer
- Coaching gifts for the developing sales team
- Ability to see emerging opportunities and threats before others see them
- Managerial courage to act on emerging opportunities and threats
- Diplomatic presence to negotiate with external and internal partners
The CRM Conflict
The craft of a good Sales Manager can be difficult to quantify, measure and analyze in practice while Customer Relationship Management tools are designed to do just that. Do you see the potential conflict? The harder we try to automate the people that make up the Sales Team, the more we may be working against the successful practice of actual sales.
CRM developers and advocates please hear me out. I’m in no way suggesting a good CRM system is bad for sales, quite the opposite is true. Like so many technologies, it’s in the application of how we use and apply the technology.
Managing CRM implementation for a large sales force and knowing well that I was fully accountable for all sales performance forced me to learn lot of hard lessons about maintaining an effective sales staff while also benefitting from sales information technologies. Working through some recent client experience reminded me to dig up some of these learnings.
Tips for using your CRM to improve your sales staff:
- No pencil whipping: It’s a good idea to affirm to the sales team that the performance metric you most value is sales objective attainment. Never focus so much on CRM data or reports that you confuse the sales staff regarding the true goals. The consequence of this mistake is a lot of pencil whipped data with no benefit and a false read on activity.
- Avoid trying to manage the sales staff by the CRM. This one gets controversial. As long as you have human beings executing the sales function, you need to focus on good management practice of those human beings. CRM systems invite business managers to feel they can manage the staff by the system. There are lots of different ways to look at data, nice reports, forecasting, history of activity, charts and graphs.We must stay close to the art of sales whereby we focus on equipping the sales team with skills and communication driving toward serving the customer. As a check, look at the time your Sales Managers are spending on CRM data and reporting versus sales staff development and customer needs centered activities.
- Keep the CRM system in the right perspective: Your CRM system is a tool capable of helping the sales staff manage their work so make sure you approach the implementation from that perspective. CRM’s are most effective when the sales staff is motivated by value they can see in use of the CRM. As most CRM’s are populated by the sales staff, if they see it as busy work with no added value for their sales performance, you will not get the best use of the CRM. Conversely if the sales team finds the CRM to actually help them improve execution, performance and customer support, the overall organization benefits from the CRM will be great and consistent.
Many business owners have made a significant investment in Customer Relationship Management systems and it is important that those investments are applied such that the organization reaps the best possible return on that investment.
I would love to hear how you get the most out of your CRM in your business! Leave a comment to share your experience.