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When a company first starts out, the founders aren't concerned with establishing a clearly delineated sales process -- they're worried about getting any sales at all. The scant sales team (VP, and maybe one or two reps) is often given license to get customers in the door whatever way they think works best. And prospects aren't hard to keep track of when there's only a handful. 

But as a company starts to scale, managing sales isn't so simple anymore. As more reps are hired, opportunities become harder to monitor -- and some might even fall off the team's radar entirely. It's often unclear who's working on what and how far along in the buying process a certain prospect is. And with no standardized process in place, the buying experience varies drastically depending on which rep is working a given lead.

When the sales process is suffering (or undefined), more rep training and coaching might do the trick. But an even better solution, according to experts, is to implement the best CRM software you can find. Just like the frame of a house, a CRM system can provide a solid structure upon which sales leaders can build consistent policies and processes.

Here are nine ways CRM can elevate a company's ailing sales process.

1) Documents the sales process.

The sales process first lives in a founder's or VP of sales' mind, and then on a piece of paper. But scaling the sales strategy through word of mouth and scattered documents isn't exactly effective. "To be the most useful, all that information has to be built into a system that [documents] the stages, the activities, and when you're supposed to do them," said Brent Leary, partner at CRM Essentials.

Defining the sales stages in a CRM not only helps to firm up the process for your current team, but also has implications for future hires. "This makes it easy for people who have no idea what the sales process is when they get hired to hit a running start," Leary added. The screenshot below shows how sales stages are visually defined in the HubSpot CRM, and how deals are moved between them.

process_hubspot_crm

2) Creates repeatable processes.

If reps are free to approach their prospects however they'd like, your company will have as many sales processes as it has salespeople. A CRM can help standardize the interactions between rep and buyer, which not only adds consistency but also saves time.

"CRM creates repeatable processes so sales reps don't have to reinvent the wheel with every new prospect," said Marshall Lager, managing principal at Third Idea Consulting LLC

3) Automates and reduces data entry.  

Many sales teams rely on Excel spreadsheets to track leads and opportunities before they deploy CRM software. While formulas can help advanced users save time, there's no way around the burden of spreadsheet data entry. Reps who rely on Excel for tracking are in for an enormous amount of typing, copying, and pasting. It goes without saying that this frustrates sellers, who would rather be connecting with prospects than doing administrative work. 

CRM systems can help streamline and reduce the amount of data entry that reps have to perform on a daily basis with synching and auto-population features. And more active selling time means happier reps and more customers. By lessening or eliminating "busy work, the rep can focus on moving deals along to closing," Lager said. You can further automate data entry by integrating your CRM with your other apps

4) More accurate forecasting. 

"Accuracy" isn't a word often associated with Excel reporting. Broken formulas, bad data entry, arithmetic mistakes -- the possibility for errors in spreadsheets are endless. In fact, one analysis found that nearly 90% of all spreadsheets contains errors

Decisions are only as good as the information they're based on. By implementing the best CRM software on the market, organizations can dramatically increase the accuracy of their reporting and forecasting. Instead of using Excel formulas or manual calculations, a CRM system automatically assigns the proper value to a deal based on what stage it's in. Here's what the Deal Forecast looks like in the HubSpot CRM:

deal_forecast_hubspot_crm

With dedicated technology in place, it's less likely sales leaders will be blindsided by unforeseen month- or quarter-end results. 

5) More accurate quota tracking. 

When reps meet their quota, they want managers to know it, and when they don't, managers want to know it. But it's easy for both positive and negative performance to get lost in the shuffle when there's no formal tracking system in place. A disconnect between rep performance and management response will anger high performers who rightly crave recognition, and isolate low performers, who need coaching.

Automating the sales process through a CRM system enables managers to monitor quota attainment much more closely, and spot trends in time to respond appropriately. With the data readily accessible to both rep and manager, the odds of misalignment are significantly reduced.

6) Provides an information repository.

Getting a straight answer to a data question when there's no single source of truth can be frustrating. Often, it's only after being bounced around colleagues and departments that you get a response ... and then it might conflict with another version you heard along the way. Implementing a CRM that everyone acknowledges is "the" source makes these situations a lot less likely. "CRM puts all the information about your customers and your product in one place, so you never have to say 'let me get back to you with that,'" Lager said.

7) Allows managers to check rep progress.

Before CRM, how do managers know if reps are on track to meet quota? They ask them. Not the most time-effective process. A system allows managers to check progress to their hearts' desires without constantly bugging reps. 

8) Creates sustainability in the sales force.

Let's say one sales rep manages the sales spreadsheet that everyone relies on. While he's there, things go smoothly. 

... Until he leaves. On his last day, months or years of process and documentation knowledge vanish from the organization. What now?

CRM acts as a shared knowledge system by documenting the sales process outside of a single rep or manager's head. That way, any one departure doesn't threaten the entire sales infrastructure.

9) Increases visibility into customer information.

CRM is primarily intended for the sales department, but customer information is pertinent to all areas of the company. And when there's a centralized system for storing this data, getting a view into the sales state of affairs is simply a matter of opening the CRM.

Not to mention that giving Marketing or Support access to customer data helps them to approach clients better informed and more prepared to help. "CRM allows the whole business visibility into customers, driving a better and more enduring relationship," said Robert Peledie, CRM consultant. And enduring relationships are often profitable ones.

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Originally published Feb 19, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

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CRM Benefits