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Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, has traditionally been used as a glorified and expensive contact management system by outside sales to log call reports. It’s time to expand that view of CRM, and think of it instead as a system for sharing and leveraging knowledge across the entire organization. And it’s more than just technology: CRM is about building an effective process around sales — the technology itself helps you manage that process from lead to close and directs your team to focus on what matters most.

Despite the clear benefits, based on our own work in the industry, we estimate just 20 percent of industrial companies perceive they are getting the ROI they were looking for from CRM. In other words, there’s a huge gap between implementing CRM and feeling like your company is reaping a return from that investment.

Here are the top 5 reasons for that gap and how you can avoid them:

5. Your team not understanding “What’s in it for me?”

Many companies expect that CRM will be a silver bullet: It will solve all of their sales woes, and will do so quickly. Many also believe that the change will come easily. But it probably won’t. Doing CRM right is work. Companies cannot just install software and expect everything will fall smoothly into place. Planning for the shift is critical, and that includes ensuring that your team is using and taking full advantage of the benefits that CRM can provide.

This is where training comes into play. Each member of your team will be looking at CRM through his own eyes. Help him understand what he will get out of the system. For example, an outside salesperson is asked to log a sales opportunity, link it to a product code, and a potential close date. As a result, the sales manager can easily pull up a forecast for a manufacturer that wants to know what may be in the pipeline for that product. Or an inside salesperson logs a complaint from a customer so that an outside salesperson on that account isn’t blindsided the next time she visits.

This is the “why” of training. Most companies focus purely on the how – which button to push to add a new contact to the system, for example. But the why is more important. The why shows your team what’s in it for them, and dramatically increases the chances of success with the new system.

4. Doing too much too soon.

Start slow and grow. Don’t cram too much into the start of your CRM implementation. If you do too much too soon, you risk overwhelming and confusing your team. Instead, pick a handful of items you want to focus on for improvement in your sales process. Areas of focus may include opportunity management, lead management or complaint tracking, among others.

Before you even start using the software, use a tool like a CRM roadmap to home in on an area of focus in your business, determine which departments are affected, why a change is needed, any obstacles that may stand in your way, the difficulty and impact of the change, internal champions, and the major action items to accomplish the change. Then you can take those items and build a phased approach to implementation to avoid overwhelming your team with all of your CRM’s functionality at once.

I’ve gone so far as to hide certain features in a CRM system so that teams will only focus on and excel with what’s in front of them. Build on a solid foundation and only move forward to new functionality when your team is ready.

3. Approaching CRM like a technology project.

We see this a lot. Many companies position CRM as a software implementation project and immediately turn it over to the IT team to manage. This is a mistake and should serve as a red flag. IT certainly needs to be involved, and should be a part of the implementation team. But for a much greater chance of success, CRM needs to be viewed and managed as a sales solution and approached with process front of mind. Build a cross-functional team – sales, marketing, inside sales, customer service, and so on – to select and pilot the CRM system.

2. Not positioning CRM as a team solution.

For CRM to succeed, it has to be used to leverage data from all customer-facing touch points in your company. If you include just outside sales, you’ll miss more than half of the value of the system. Unfortunately, islands of data exist throughout your business, and they aren’t usually in synch. Outside sales may maintain a spreadsheet (or several); another repository of data sits with the service department; and customer service may manage another valuable trove of data. The problem is they live in different systems. What’s more, your departments aren’t sharing this valuable information.

These resources actually offer a huge opportunity for companies that are able to bring them together under one umbrella and implement processes to bring a team approach to CRM for maximum ROI.

1. Culture.

And the No. 1 most important contributor to a CRM project’s success or failure? Culture. In fact, if culture is standing in your way, you’d have a better chance of succeeding if you took the money you invested in CRM to a local casino. But despite the challenge, it can be done. Recognize from the start that the transition will be painful. Your team will want to revert to their comfort zones: Excel spreadsheets, sticky notes, notepads, Access, and other security blankets. In some cases, they’ll double-dip and put the data in two places – the new system and the old. This can result in a slow death for CRM.

Create a cross-functional team, and include project champions, including what I call top guns, or successful and respected members of your team. But also invite nay-sayers, those that maybe aren’t 100 percent sold on a new CRM system. Make sure you reflect reality with your project team. Your employees also have to see that management is backing the CRM project, and that CRM will be part of the culture and strategy going forward. Set a vision for what CRM can do to get the company from A to B to grow the business, make sure that the project stays on course, set expectations, and reinforce them constantly. And to maintain buy-in after implementation, continue to seek feedback from your team – then act on that feedback. This is critical.

It’s been said many times: Culture can eat new initiatives for lunch, and that’s especially true with CRM. So if your company is not truly ready for change, don’t pull the trigger. But if you are ready, drive the change and set a new course for your business.

Brian Gardner
Founder of SalesProcess350

Brian Gardner is the founder of SalesProcess360 and has spent more than 25 years in sales and sales management in the industrial market. He served as a sales manager for a major regional redistribution company for 15 years. Learn more at salesprocess360.com. Contact him at 504-355-1150 or brian.gardner@salesprocess360.com.

This article originally appeared in Industrial Distribution's March/April print issue. To view the complete digital edition, click here.

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