Eat Your Own Dog Food -- And Other Challenges To Using CRM Tools

Over the past few decades, CRM has evolved extensively. The genesis of CRM was really database management. For the last 25 years, I have worked in sales and sales management for several organizations, and I don't think there is a CRM tool that has existed in that time span that I haven't used. Lotus spreadsheets, ACT, Siebel, SAP, Oracle; you get the picture.

The initial CRM drivers were used to enable sales management to view forecasts of the sales team. They could track the activity of individual sales representatives, their accounts and prospects. Managing the pipeline and predicting future outcomes were paramount for internal reporting up the corporate food chain. In addition to internal reporting, maintaining contact lists (protecting the company if a sales rep left the company) became the second most common use.

These were really the two main reasons I was asked (forced) to use the CRM tools as a sales rep and why I have asked (forced) my sales team to use them as well. In my experience, it was evident that sales people who were best at managing the CRM tool of the day were often the least successful sales people. Also, if you had a sales rep who was consistently obtaining and exceeding quota and wasn't great on updating the CRM tool, you let them slide. CRM in the early days was really just database management and, at best, database marketing. I hired people to sell, not to build and run reports.

Fast-forward 20 years, and the tools have progressed. Some of the CRM tools are the same, and there are a few new ones as well. Customer database tracking became customer database marketing, and now this has morphed into customer relationship marketing. The "database" is integrated with email marketing tools and allows sales and marketing to run comprehensive campaigns. The database software exists in "the cloud" and can be accessed and updated through mobile devices. It's customer relationship Nirvana!

Sounds great, right? There are a few fundamental challenges to consider when utilizing these tools that have existed through CRM time immemorial:

  • Garbage In, Garbage Out: Many sales people will fill up the database just to create the illusion of activity. This is especially true for new sales people or more importantly struggling sales people. Make sure you have a process in place for CRM "garbage disposal." Keep the database as updated as possible, and consistently inform the sales team that Big Brother is watching. Thanks to the integration of email marketing tools, keeping an accurate and updated database will actually feed the sales funnel and make it easier to communicate with prospects and customers.
  • Eat Your Own Dog Food: Sales management and even executive management must use the tools that they ask their sales team to use. They need to lead from the front. If management doesn't use it, they can't expect salespeople to either. By utilizing the CRM as the default tool for the entire sales organization, you are ensuring that everyone is speaking the same language. This will streamline the entire customer communication process and will translate into more sales.
  • WIIFT: The sales team has to understand "What's In It For Them." Using the tools properly will expedite the sales cycle and ensure that you get the internal support that you need. The CRM will help you make money. Economics drive behavior, so understanding the connection between the CRM, the company's economic goals and your personal success will help determine how you communicate with your customers. Likewise, the integration of email marketing tools will prove, via warm leads, the validity of keeping good data.

At the end of the day, or should I say at the end of the month or quarter, the sales tools are as good as the sales people who use them. This is why the organization needs to train sales people to incorporate the CRM into their deal cycle. It will help sales track the relationships, provide better customer service and give management a firsthand view of the deal cycle. There will always be great sales people who are not so great using the CRM tools. There will always be great "CRM updaters" who are lousy sales people. The key is finding the right balance that makes the CRM a utility that drives sales and more successful customer communication.

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