Is CRM Responsible for the Death of the Salesman?
Article by Guy Tweedale, Northern European Managing Director for Saratoga Systems.
“In those days there was personality in it . . . There was respect, and comradeship, and gratitude in it. Today, it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear — or personality.” – Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller, 1949
These words were first spoken on the stage over 50 years ago, but when you talk to salespeople today, the sentiment still exists. The goal of CRM was to empower the salespeople and to supply them with the means and information to be more successful. CRM was intended to foster the skills of the salesperson as well as support the sales methodology of the company, but that has not always been the case.
The fact is that long before CRM, companies were successfully developing and driving their own strategies and best practices in building pipelines, providing good service, and uncovering market trends. CRM was intended to enhance a company’s business model by automating many of the processes, but software companies felt that they knew better than their customers, and developed their own processes and templates. They required companies and their salespeople to adhere to what these software providers deemed as “industry standards” rather than offer these companies solutions that leveraged and improved upon the specific and successful sales practices they had been engaging in for years.
The result has been poor adoption of CRM by salespeople. In a report issued earlier this by year by Gartner, entitled “Align Sales Organisations with Technology Investment”, the analyst firm quantified the impact that this disconnect between the salesperson and the CRM system has caused. In a survey they conducted, Gartner estimated that over 50% of the CRM implementations were characterised by very low adoption or abandonment after the first year. Gartner further stated that in 75% of the cases, these implementations did not achieve the expectations of the salesperson using the application. A key point made by Gartner was that these CRM systems were often in conflict with the sales culture and practices of the organisation – further hampering the salesperson’s efforts to meet the expectations of their management.
CRM solutions that force a generic, lock step approach that neither reflects the business model of the organization nor enables the salesperson to use their individual skills will have limited results. As the philosopher, Henry David Thoreau said: “Men have become tools of their tools”.
CRM goal: Help salespeople sell
A CRM solution can achieve high adoption and success for a company by empowering the salesperson rather than trying to put them in a niche. One way is to give the salesperson a stronger foundation to build better relationships with their customers and prospects. To support this goal, CRM solutions need to provide salespeople with the control, contact, and consistency they require to maximise sales efficiency. In short, help them do what they do best.
A CRM solution should give a salesperson control by enabling them to incorporate processes they are comfortable with into the system – especially today’s generation of salespeople. The VP of sales for a global supplier of office equipment recently made an interesting observation. He stated that companies now have to deal with the “xBox generation” of salespeople, employees who are used to having control and defining their environment in video games and bring those behavioral patterns to the work space. CRM solutions that allow users and administrators the control to easily add or change fields to fit their sales processes rather than filling in numerous fields and checkboxes on a template will drive sales efficiency and system adoption.
Putting salespeople in real time contact with the information they need is another way CRM solutions can improve the lives of salespeople. Providing instant information on pricing, inventory, shipping or alternative products enables the salesperson to be a valuable resource for customers. To support the salesperson with contact to information, a CRM system must make access to that data seamless to the user, whether it resides in the CRM system or any other database. Salespeople do not want to launch and navigate different applications, they just want immediate contact with the data.
A CRM system that is consistent with a company’s sales culture will improve the productivity and value of the sales force. By mapping to every step of a company’s specific sales methodology, salespeople know that they are using a system that accurately captures and tracks their efforts in regards to company guidelines. With management better able to assess performance and coach salespeople to improve efficiency. In addition, a CRM system must be flexible to adjust as a company’s business model and processes change. CRM solutions that only address the first level or two of a company’s sales process, or can not adapt to change will have limited effectiveness.
CRM doesn’t have to be the death of a salesman, but a solution must give the user greater control, contact, and consistency, in order to achieve high adoption and drive sales productivity, and work within the business model of the organisation.
Guy Tweedale is the Northern European Managing Director for Saratoga Systems. The company is a leader in CRM solutions that enable large, global enterprises to manage interactions with their customers at every stage effectively, from marketing and initial contact through the complex sales, service and support relationships that develop between successful companies and their customers.