Aligning CRM with Sales Improvement

Launching any new sales improvement initiative is no small undertaking. Tinkering with the revenue engine of your company always entails some degree of risk. Introducing anything new to your sales team requires forethought and planning to ensure that all goes smoothly.

We have observed that many of our clients misunderstand and underestimate how changes in sales processes, methods, rewards, training, or enablement tools can affect the successful use of customer relationship management (CRM) applications. They sometimes forget to plan for adjusting CRM to align with these changes. When there is misalignment, salespeople often stop using CRM because it becomes an obstacle, rather than a help, to their success. Additionally, they are unlikely to fully adopt the changes in behavior that you are seeking. CRM supports old habits.

According to a study by the Gartner Group, companies are spending nearly $20 billion on CRM annually. Yet, the adoption rate, as measured by regular use of the system, is less than 50 percent. Other studies have been even more pessimistic, showing CRM adoption rates as low as 26 percent. By Gartner’s calculations, this means that about $9 billion is essentially being wasted on CRM solutions to under-utilization and related costs. You can’t afford to let this happen in your organization.

So, what does it mean to align CRM with sales improvement initiatives? And, how do you do it to drive higher adoption rates? We’ve put together a CRM Alignment Checklist to help you.

Then, consider these four lessons that we’ve learned from working with our clients:

1. Align sales process language and behaviors with CRM workflow

Plain and simple, your CRM system must support reality. You must consistently use the language in your sales processes to describe your stages, activities, and verifiable outcomes in your CRM system workflow.

You need to involve your CRM team as early as possible in any sales process enhancement initiative, so they can develop a clear understanding of expectations and timing for implementation. Making these changes usually seems straightforward. However, there are often unexpected domino effects that impact reporting and integration with other systems. Your CRM team needs sufficient time to realign, reconfigure, and test your systems.

2. Illustrate your sales process visibly in CRM

Most companies represent their sales processes as a series of steps that indicate the high-level stages, flowing linearly from identification to close, and then sequentially list the activities that support each stage. Unfortunately, too many companies only show their sales processes as textual menus, tabs, and links in their CRM system, which can be overwhelming and confusing to users. About 65 percent of us are visual learners, so we recommend representing your sales processes visually in your CRM system. It’ll make them easier to learn, understand, and use.

If you represent your sales process as a visual flow diagram, your sellers will have an easier time navigating the process as they work in opportunities and thus execute good sales behavior more consistently. If your CRM system can’t support visual representations of your sales processes, there are relatively inexpensive plug-in applications that can help. This small investment will pay off almost immediately by encouraging higher adoption.

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3. Embed sales process coaching and tools into your CRM workflow

Sales professionals will gladly leverage new techniques and tools, if they help them to sell more with less risk and effort. Your CRM system should become the central hub for sales rep activity and provide access to tools and resources that improve their day-to-day productivity. Make this easy by embedding links to supporting resources and tools in CRM, eliminating the need for a salesperson to search for these elsewhere when they really need them.

This is especially powerful when you bring your sales process to life visually in your CRM system. For example, if your sales process requires the use of tools such as a call planner or opportunity evaluation checklist, then provide those tools at the point of the process when they are needed. If there are coaching tips or examples that make a particular activity in the sales process easier to execute, then link to those from the recommended activity in CRM that the coaching impacts. These links can be connected to help in many forms besides text, such as PDF documents, podcasts, recorded webinars, and YouTube-style videos.

4. Build more flexibility and responsiveness into your CRM system

As we describe in our latest book, The Collaborative Sale, buyer behavior has been changing rapidly. You should continuously improve your sales processes to reflect these changes. Maintaining alignment of your sales processes with buyer behaviors is key to CRM usage. Fortunately, there have been many innovations in sales technology that help to support rapid system changes and easy embedding of new coaching and tools.

Download our CRM Alignment Checklist, and let us know if you would like to learn more about how we can help you ensure that your CRM system aligns with your sales performance improvement objectives.

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