Sales organizations can succeed solely with good sales reps and solid leadership driving them in a focused way. However, with a little thought given to tools and processes, those facets of the job that are sometimes the least rewarding, or let’s be honest, the most frustrating, to reps and their managers can become valuable and efficient components that enable the entire organization to reach greater heights.
Below is my list of the top considerations for any Sales Ops group that aspires to truly enable the sales team. Here are 7 simple concepts that will enable greater success, predictability, and control:
1. Make Core CRM Useful to Reps to Drive Adoption
Nothing good can come out of a CRM system until the sales teams put information into it. You can’t expect good account plans, quotes, or pipeline forecasts from a system with spotty or poor information. However, in trying to drive adoption, too often we emphasize the tracking and accountability elements of CRM rather than the benefit to the rep him/her self. Equipping reps with tools and data that benefit them in the field (or on the phones), and doing this through the CRM system, is the key to driving adoption.
The benefits start with information at the right time and place. Nobody wants to approach a customer only to find out that that customer expects information from you that you don’t have. This does little to advance any sales cycle, not to mention the uncomfortable or even confrontational nature of these situations. The good news is that this problem is easy to fix (at least in concept) by ensuring that all customer, sales, support and billing information is available to the rep via CRM. Pricing lookups/calculators, automated quote or contract generation, product data and literature libraries and even easy case entry all become valuable tools that the rep can use when in front of a customer. When used this way, CRM becomes a tool for real-time use as opposed to a “big brother” system that sales reps are obligated to fill out at the end of a long day (or week).
2. Enable Sales Team Mobility
Letting reps work where and how they want is another way to meet them halfway and get them to use your systems for their own benefit. This can really be a modern-day extension of the previous point. We now have the technology to put real-time data in the hands of reps and on a device that is easy to use while in conversation with the customer. In fact, organizations that are truly embracing the mobile platforms such as tablets are designing interfaces that allow reps to use their CRM system to facilitate customer conversations, rather than merely record them. Gone are the days of retreating into a closed office to “check with my manager”, sales reps want to show customers on their device how they’ve arrived at a price and how it is justified.
To that end, companies like Salesforce and Workday are making significant investments in extending their core products to be more mobile friendly. Just today, salesforce.com announced Salesforce Platform Mobile Services to extend the the company’s core platform to accelerate mobile app development and deliver new tools and programs to support mobile capabilities.
3. Bring Social Collaboration and Files into CRM
If you ask most sales reps which applications they use the most, they’d tell you it’s email, calendar and documents/presentations. Sales reps are constantly on the go and are always trying to get the best people and information in front of their customers. Whether on the desktop or on mobile devices, these collaboration applications are usually disconnected from CRM. There’s a huge value both for the rep and for sales ops in bringing collaboration into CRM. With applications such as Salesforce Chatter, sales reps and teams can collaborate right in the context of a contact, account or opportunity AND they can even follow files, leads, cases, etc. and get alerted when anything changes. Perhaps the biggest benefit of social collaboration platforms is the ability to form virtual account teams with experts from across the company, even experts that the sales rep may not know directly. Being able to access the right people and information on a mobile device right from CRM can be a game-changer for CRM adoption and usage.
4. Integrate Configure Price Quote (CPQ) with CRM
Another way to empower reps and drive adoption is to equip them with the data and tools to configure their own product solutions for customers, price those solutions, and then produce an accurate and attractive proposal to convey that information. Accomplishing this always starts with a clean and easy-to-navigate price list. It is amazing how many companies allow their Item Masters to become overly complicated, which has a disastrous effect on margins.
Once the price lists are cleaned up, you may or may not need some type of configuration depending on the complexity of your product or service. Use your engineering team to design the configuration models and then let the sales team run the program. Companies that still engineer each and every quote are quickly becoming unprofitable.
Lastly, forever eliminate the need for reps to manage document creation. They may not like giving up the ability to drop custom messages on each quote, but I can promise you that they will warm quickly to the speed and efficiency of push-button quoting. Accomplishing this is easier than you think. All elements of a quote or contract that are boilerplate can get baked into a template, while other data points that are negotiable or variable can be fields in the CRM. A simple mail-merge tool then allows reps to define the deal in the system and instantly create a proposal when they need one. If you must, you can even give them a big text box where they can write that custom message!
5. Implement Pipeline/Forecasting Best Practices
Knowing where the numbers come from, and understanding what they are telling you is the key to getting the data you need without asking for too much. I am always amazed by the variety of ways that customers define these common terms. Often times, even from department to department, the definitions will vary.
Pipeline: Opportunities by stage and total bookings or revenue based on probability
Activity: New Opportunities, Biggest Wins, Stalled Opportunities, Average Stage Duration, etc.
Forecast: “Where will we (or I) finish this month / quarter / year”
Schedule: Line Item detail describing the flight date and all incremental installments
Once these terms are defined consistently, the next step is figuring out how to produce them. Simply put, all of these reports are an “Output” not an “Input”. Pipeline and Bookings are a function of Opportunity Management whereas Revenue Forecasts are a function of Order Management. In either case, what we want is for our reps to manage their opportunities and orders so that we can extract this data. We never want to ask a rep to “document the pipeline” or “turn in a forecast”. As managers, we should be looking at this data at all times and approach the rep with these reports in hand (or live on the screen).
The more integrated CRM is to the revenue system, the more complete the picture is that we can paint. Many companies can get this picture via a BI solution, however, if we can get this level of visibility into the hands of the reps and their immediate managers, then we are able to collaborate on opportunities that affect the forecast, and do so with a concrete understanding of how our actions will affect the outcome. This is when forecasting becomes truly collaborative.
6. Use CRM to Drive Sales Strategy and Account Planning
Whether you operate a highly transactional business or a very consultative, relationship based business, the idea of planning is a key use of the information stored in CRM. Build reports that highlight how activities and trends tend to be predictors of future patterns. Doing this will help reps draw correlations between the objective milestones in the sales process and the likelihood of winning that deal. This is when behaviors start to change, and that is what we are after.
As for more strategic selling, most of the attributes of an Account Plan are already in your CRM system. Therefore it’s only logical to build plans inside the system and relate those plans to the people, opportunities and product records you are already maintaining. After all, what is a plan other than a link between these pieces of data that results in highlighting a particular approach to maximizing the revenue from each client. This is another opportunity to minimize redundant work (in the form of data entry) from sales reps and provide more insight and value with the CRM application.
7. Recognize Process Issues vs Technology Issues
The last topic, and perhaps the most difficult one to wrap your head around, is understanding the difference between a process issue and a technology issue. For example, sales reps poaching opportunities from each other is a problem. However, too many companies react to this problem by tightening security and limiting visibility of accounts, contacts and opportunities between reps. What they’ve done however, is address a process problem, with a technology fix. In doing so they have removed the ability for the organization to be collaborative and hidden the data that should be used to find cross-sell and upsell opportunities. They have also created an environment where the customer could potentially pit one rep against another without them knowing (you’d be surprised how often I see this).
The right thing to do is to understand what is driving the behavior, then address the root causes. In this case, perhaps the offending rep is not getting a sufficient number of qualified leads or is not a good prospector. However, they may be a good closer who is under-performing because of these other issues. Fixing the root causes of these problems, and then defining rules-of-engagement and consequences for breaking those rules, provides the reps with a structured environment where they feel safe and empowered.
These are all concepts we have seen and heard before, but they are the fundamental building blocks of a healthy sales organization. Far too many companies have glossed over these fundamentals in favor of just latching on to a top performer and attempting to clone that behavior. That is a hit or miss approach, whereas focusing on these fundamentals can help you build an entire team of top performers!
Tom Saracene is a CRM Strategy Practice Lead at Appirio and has a 17 year track record of completing successful CRM & ERP implementations on a variety of client/server and hosted platforms across a wide variety of business processes. Most significantly dedicated to Cloud Computing and helping business move their processes and infrastructure into the Cloud with the help of platforms such as salesforce.com, Workday, Google Apps and others.