How to Make CRM Work For You (Instead of the Other Way Around)

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Oliver Lopez
Oliver Lopez



Are you using a CRM software today? If your employer is a smaller company you might be using one of the more niche products or a homegrown system. I'll also go out on a limb here and suggest that you are using or have been using Excel as your main CRM.

Regardless of your industry, the need for a system to manage all conversations, meetings, and calls with clients is a must. While many sales organizations lack sales processes and a well-documented way of conducting sales and managing customer interactions, even more organizations have failed to make the CRM work for their organizations instead of the other way around.

The Relationship Between Sales Process and CRM

A relevant question at this point is "Why do we need to have a CRM at all?" The follow-up question would be, "What should we use it for?"

Let me give you an example you might be able to relate to. Let's say that I decide to get married. First I make the arrangements for the venue, then I decide on music, invite guests, and plan dinner. When all this is done, I realize that I haven't met my soon-to-be-wife, so I start looking for a bride.

This sounds like a poorly thought through wedding, right? Well, this is the way many sales organizations buy CRMs today. If you think of the bride as the sales process, you know where I'm going with this. Without a bride, the wedding cannot be planned in the most efficient way. I mean, who will you invite from the bride's family if you don't even know who she is?

Similarly, which CRM should you buy if you don't have a well-documented, well-defined and agreed upon sales process in place? If no sales process exists, you won't know which CRM to choose since you don't know what you'd like to measure.

Find Your Key Performance Indicators

With this said, let's suppose the sales process is clearly defined and ready. 

Things you would like to measure and keep track of might be but are not limited to:

  • Phone calls
  • Meetings
  • Proposals
  • Pricing
  • Product information
  • Etc.

These are all standard KPIs. However, the sales world of today is not the same as the one of yesteryear. When I help my clients choose a CRM I start with the sales process and move on to the KPIs we are going to track. Today, many leads come from online activities, and these also need to be integrated into the CRM in some way. Either you can connect a marketing automation system to your existing CRM system or you can choose a product which integrates the two from the start.

Some of the KPIs our clients use for their outbound sales teams are referral email response percentage, calls per day, meetings per day, and connect rate. Remember that outbound is not only phone calls -- it can be social media interactions, emails, and so on.

We also track opportunities created per booked meeting, and how many are deemed to be "sales ready leads." The leads who are not ready to buy right now are put into the "nurturing bucket" in the marketing automation system.

One of several important things to highlight here is the timeframe for our activities. Let's say that we receive a sales qualified lead (SQL) from Marketing. What's the timeframe in which Sales must contact the lead? How many SQLs does every rep need to make quota? What makes a lead "sales ready," by the way? There is a lot of work to be done before choosing a CRM indeed.

Give Reps Clear and Compelling Guidelines

I've been in sales for almost 17 years and I've tried out many different CRMs. The challenge in most cases is that sales reps don't want to enter irrelevant information in the system -- they want to use the data to help them sell.

Often, there are no guidelines as to how reps should use the CRM at all. The most common guidance sales reps get from their managers regarding the CRM is to register how many calls and they've made, how many meetings they've had, the number of proposals they've sent, and -- oh yeah -- set the probability to 50% after emailing the proposal. There are so many wrongs and very few rights in the scenario above, but I'll focus on them in another post.

Less is more and I would like CRM systems to start focusing on the deal again. I'm seeing CRMs where the sales process is the least important component, and product codes and pricing are the most important. This is wrong and we need to refocus. We all know that sales reps are not very excited about being forced to enter meetings and calls into the CRM, and I would not be thrilled if I needed to register information without seeing the big picture and understanding how these actions will help me close more deals.

But what if the CRM could help you make smarter decisions along the way? What if the CRM could help you as a sales rep follow a structured sales process which you know from experience will help you close more deals? Now wouldn't that be something! Managers would have a much easier time explaining the value of CRM to reps in meaningful terms. 

Link Sales Process to the Buying Process

Instead of having our sales reps put in probabilities and close dates in the CRM, shouldn't we base the figures on the well-defined sales process we already have? I think so. If we have defined not three or four steps in our process, but maybe 25 steps which we check off as we move down the path to closing the deal, the CRM will automatically tell us if we are 15% or 78% of the way to bringing home the client.

The worst thing we can do is let sales reps make their own assumptions about how close a deal is to closing. This should not be done by the reps. It should be automated based on a pre-defined and agreed upon process, so that the probability is in direct correlation with the steps of the sales process. It's not fair to put that kind of a responsibility on a single rep.

But what if there is no sales process in place? In this case, the rep has to resort to the "guessing game."

The "guessing game" is where the sales rep estimates a deal to be worth 500K, to be closed in August and attaches a probability of 75%. The sales manager now enters the game. Knowing from experience that this particular rep always thinks more of his deals than reality shows in the end, the manager deducts 20% of the order value and reduces the probability to 40%.

The guessing game is not something sales organizations should take part in. It's kind of like putting your finger up in the air and feeling where the wind is blowing. 

Speaking of guessing -- are you observing and measuring the way your prospects actually buy your products and services? Most of the deals we lose today are not to the competition, but to no decision. The reasons for this are many, but I think one of the most common is that we as sellers don't know where our prospects are in their buying process. And if we don't know what they are thinking, how can we offer them the help and support they need?

The sales process needs to reflect the sales organization's business process, but it also needs to be aligned with the customer's buying journey. The CRM should line up with both of these.

What You Need in a CRM

Here are the things I think must be included in a CRM and how we should use them to our advantage.

First, we need a CRM that helps us define and reflects the stages in our sales process. To make things as simple as possible, I would recommend something like "Prospecting - Qualifying - Presenting - Closing." There can be a few more steps in between but these four cover most of the scenarios. Every one of the stages needs to have sub-steps, and these can be as simple as checklists.

The CRM also needs to give us visibility into what the prospect has done online as well as offline. By building an integration to our marketing automation system (or by having that functionality natively in our CRM) we can target sales activities more directly and align them to the buyer.

When the process has been built, we then need to define the value of each step. It is incredibly important to document all prospect activities. Whether we close a deal or lose it, we also must record the reason for the win or loss in the CRM. In this way, we can discover what we need to stop doing or do more of based on historical experiences.

So how do you get the CRM to work for your sales team, and not the other way around? Keep these key takeaways in mind:

  • Start with the process. What are you trying to achieve with the CRM?
  • Measure everything of importance (and leave the rest to the wayside).
  • Give the sales reps a compelling reason to enter data into the CRM.
  • Find the bride (process) before you plan the wedding.

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