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CRM: Not the Solution ... But Maybe a Part of the Solution?
By Timothy McMahon, McMahon Worldwidwe

The old saying says "don't bring me a problem if you haven't got a solution" so lets start with the "CRM problem": It just doesn't seem that CRM (and it's partner Sales Force Automation) has of yet lived up to its promise and expectations.

The old saying says "don't bring me a problem if you haven't got a solution" so lets start with the "CRM problem": It just doesn't seem that CRM (and it's partner Sales Force Automation) has of yet lived up to its promise and expectations. The CRM/SFA industry began about 15 years ago and CRM can be found today in thousands of sales organizations around the world. But the stories of "raging success" are still too few and we have not reached the point where the majority of salespeople enthusiastically say "CRM has made me more successful!" What's more, there remain notable examples of major corporations who have not made the CRM investment and amazingly continue to be market leaders without it.

The Problem: Brilliant in Theory

CRM, from a corporate sales perspective is brilliant in theory. Simply speaking here's how it works: salespeople (and others) enter customer information, sales opportunities, activities, contacts, etc. into their CRM system. Data is "rolled up" where it can be used by management, marketing, support, and other corporate functions to fine-tune the company's customer focus. As the company does a better job of customer management, this benefits the salespeople and they sell more. So what's the problem with this great idea? The Salespeople.

There are a few important facts about salespeople that CRM strategists forgot. Bottom line, salespeople are only interested in things that help them sell more NOW! A sales rep's only resource is time; his or her most important goal is meeting quota or budget for this month, quarter, or year. Yes, they are concerned about the long run, but if they don't make quota now, they know that they probably won't be around to worry about the long-term. It's not completely fair to say that CRM doesn't benefit a salesperson in meeting short-range goals because in some respects it does, but most sales reps feel that they can be just about as effective in selling in the short term without it! In other words, the benefits of CRM don't seem significantly greater than the investment of time and effort required to use the system each day.

Why hasn't CRM lived up to its promise? If the sales reps don't use it (or the information they do put in is out of date, inaccurate, or spotty) then there can be little value to the company who "rolls up" all this "junk data". Can we do something to make CRM valuable to sales people? Is there a clever redesign somewhere or a new piece of software or technology (wireless, for example?) that will change everything? Probably not, at least not significantly so. CRM is what it is and it can be useful to salespeople. The problem isn't with the solution; it's with the packaging. If CRM were a part of something else that actively helped salespeople sell more, we would begin to see the kind of usage that could realize the promise of CRM!

CRM is not the Solution for companies and their sales organizations, but it could be a powerful part of the Solution ...

The Solution: Collaborate, Communicate, Coach

This requires a brief history of selling and salespeople: in the "old days" of selling (pre-1990) most sales organizations had established office locations from which their salespeople worked. On a typical day, a sales rep began his or her day in the office, then went out into their territory for a day of selling, and finally returned to the office at the end of the day. Today, our sales world is mostly distributed - many sales reps work from home offices or shared office spaces with limited direct contact with other salespeople and sales managers. CRM, cell phones, and email have replaced face-to-face contact.

We have gained some things with our new "distributed" sales organizations and lost some things as well. Salespeople working from personal offices has clearly proven to improve sales productivity and results as well as reduce overhead costs. What we lost however was "The Sales Mastermind" - the value of constant and direct communication and collaboration with other salespeople and coaching by sales managers -- as well as the value of easy access to office selling resources. Time spent in the sales office wasn't wasted - it was in many respects the most valuable time of the selling day. Salespeople shared successes, competitive information, selling ideas and solved problems. Experienced sales reps (and managers) supported, advised, and coached newer reps. Sales managers had a finger on the pulse of the business that could only come from regular personal contact with the sales team. But those days are gone ...

Collaborate, Communicate, and Coaching - these are the tools that have real and immediate benefit to salespeople - that they recognize will help them win more sales!

The Future: The Virtual Sales Office

Predicting the future is easy especially when the future is already here, if only in its infancy. Emerging technologies from companies such as Groove Networks are providing a collaborative technology framework capable of building a Virtual Sales Office integrating many CRM capabilities with active collaboration tools. It is an approach already being used by a number of sales organizations to power their sales teams and its meeting with enthusiastic sales representative response.

What does a "Virtual Sales Office" look like today? The leading emerging collaborative technologies use peer-to-peer networking - salespeople share a common sales workspace that resides on their PC that can be used both on and off line. When online, all the PC's of all sales reps (and their managers and support team) communicate directly with each other in a virtual community, eliminating the need for complex servers (and high costs). In that community workspace (and resident on each PC) is a customized suite of sales tools to enable salespeople to plan, track, collaborate and communicate - and managers to actively coach, hold sales meetings, and train.

There are some interesting initial capabilities that are appearing in the Virtual Sales Office "sales toolkit" and we expect to see these grow significantly as this approach matures and gains wide acceptance.

  • Live audio and web conferencing ("Virtual Classroom") enabling easy "virtual team sales or project meetings" as well as sales reps to speak with other sales and support team members.
  • Opportunity Management - an integrated opportunity tracking and sales forecasting database seamlessly synchronized 24/7 and "rolled up" among all team members, easily exportable to other databases or analytical tools.
  • Resource Center - posting and sharing of sales tools, presentations, marketing and sales materials as well as materials developed or modified by team members.
  • Message Center - a common hub for sales team announcements, messages, etc.
  • Document Collaboration - team members can jointly work on, review, present, or edit documents such as proposals, sales presentations, worksheets and reports
  • Team Calendar and Contact Management - integrated with popular tools such as Outlook or Lotus Notes.
  • Sales Team Collaboration Center - all members can participate in discussion topics such as competitive strategies, sales ideas, product issues, etc.

Conclusions: CRM and The Virtual Sales Office

In summary, the key to making CRM a powerful, accurate company-wide tool is and will continue to be the salespeople. We believe that accomplishing this will require CRM's repositioning as an element of a dynamic "collaborative sales toolkit" that salespeople and their managers recognize will actively help sell them more NOW! In other words, CRM will complement these other sales applications perceived as having higher value to salespeople.

In searching for those "higher value" applications, we identified the need and the desire for enhanced Collaboration, Communication, and Coaching capabilities as having clear and immediate selling value for sales teams. Emerging collaboration technologies and early user successes point a direction for building and implementing "Collaborative/CRM" systems that may eventually help companies realize the promise and vision of Customer Relationship Management in their sales organizations.



Tim McMahon is the bestselling author of four books on Sales and Technology including Selling 2000 - The Vision and Promise of CRM and The Sales Management Equation. He is a frequent conference keynote speaker and advises clients around the globe on sales process and technology strategies. McMahon is the founder of SalesConference.Net headquartered in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

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