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The Sales Initiative With the Highest ROI

There are so many initiatives to choose from in sales performance area — it can be hard to prioritize, but limiting discounting is a no-brainer.

Which one has the highest ROI?  For most businesses, the highest yield comes from building a systematic approach to pricing and discounting.

Here’s the math.  For the average company making 10% pretax profit:

  • One dollar in new sales yields 10 cents of profit.
  • One dollar in avoided discounting – on all the deals you’re already winning — increases your company’s profits by that entire dollar.

Certainly, every business has different issues and challenges, so exceptions exist.  However, controlling “discounting spend” carries a built-in 10:1 advantage in ROI. In all of my years of experience consulting sales organizations, and leading others, 10:1 boils down to “a worthwhile issue to explore” (being married to a Brit has developed my skill at understatement).

Your pricing and discount approval system might be invisibly killing your company.  If you are a CEO, CFO, CRO, CSO, in Sales Leadership, or Sales Enablement, you are probably suffering a profit leakage. Worse still, many companies aren’t even measuring or tracking the problem.

What’s Your Discount Spend Per Year?

At this past week’s Sales3.0 Conference, I conducted an unscientific “man in the lobby” poll on company processes around pricing and discounting. I had conversations around this question:

How many dollars in discounts did you give out last year? I don’t just mean discounts based upon invoice terms. Include any reduction in price below list, standard, or typical (for semi-custom and custom products).

Nobody I talked to could answer.  Think about that: a significant number of sales enablement and sales leaders I talked to didn’t even track discounts given.  Gut check time:  do you? Given the profit impact of discounting, this begs the question “why?”.

Pricing and discounting is my specialty, of course.  If you would like to address the issue, I’m happy to give you my best thinking about your situation.  Contact meIf you don’t have a crystal-clear analysis of your discount spend, call me anyway.  As you can see from my informal poll, you are in good company.

How Do You Distribute Discounts?

To make you feel even less alone, let me share a few more common situations. Many companies give discount dollars out reactively. Discounts often go disproportionately to:

  • The salesperson is best able to game the system, possibly the squeakiest wheel.
  • Reps reporting to the regional manager who used to be the salesperson above.
  • Whiniest customer.
  • Most politically connected channel partner.
  • ..I could go on.No need to, though, is there?

These schemes not only kill profits, but they also demoralize your salesforce.  Everyone in your whole company knows who gets the discounts.  If the distribution doesn’t make good sense, word gets around.  Especially if you are paying your salespeople on revenue instead of profit, you are steadily stirring a pot of resentment.  Some of your salespeople think that “favors” (a perversion that only sales-compensated teams believe in) are being doled out to select “golden children”.  This can have an effect on morale and retention, in addition to the direct “profit surrender” effect above.

When you discount vs. when you can build value

It’s no mystery that sellers combat discounting by building value in the customer’s mind. I don’t favor the term “selling value” because value is only in the customer’s mind, and “selling” sounds too much like “telling” to the untrained ear. Here’s the thing, though.  As the graph below shows, your ability to build value has pretty much faded by the time the customer wants to discuss price and discounts.

Ability to sell value vs discounting

Here’s the good news: Most sellers need only a few simple tweaks to their regular selling process and methodology, and coaching those tweaks is straightforward for sales leaders.  I don’t want to sugarcoat it, though:  these tweaks require coaching sellers through a behavior change.

Here’s the better news: when your sellers build value,  prospective customers have clearer expectations of their outcomes — financially and personally. Very often, they have a higher preference at a premium price.  It often happens that the premium price is more resistant to competitive price discounts than the lower price you might have agreed to without using good value discipline.

Who Can Build Value?

Here’s the best news of all: it all works even better when everyone who touches your customers is on board.  Your product can trigger value in many unexpected corners of a customer’s company, and the more of these you find, the more value there is to be built.

What does Great Look Like?

A robust, disciplined price exception system can work a lot of ways.  In fact, it may have the same process steps and participants you have now.  The process steps are less important than changing what gets discussed during those steps.

Price exception decisions need to use much more objective information than most do today.  When they do, they are harder to game, and can be deaf to whining.

Coaching salespeople to build value becomes part of the sales culture.  Luckily, this doesn’t have to complicate coaching.  When a seller can articulate value built, coaches know they’ve done a great job with the entire sales process and methodology. It’s only when sellers can’t articulate value that coaches need to diagnose problems with detailed methodology and skills coaching.

Finally, sales shouldn’t be the only department who cares about revenue instead of profit.  That value system keeps sales leaders from making the transition to general management.  It creates culture problems in organizations.  To that end, your compensation plan may need to change.  If your people aren’t paid on profits, they’ll settle for profitless revenue.  Even if you can’t measure profits precisely, pay them precisely based upon a consistent profit estimate

Pricing is Profit.

Every dollar of additional price on a won deal is a dollar of profit for your company. Discounting discipline is a great way to stop profits from leaving your firm.  An investment in shaping up your discounting discipline is one of the highest return on investment places you can apply your company’s scarce resources.  If you know how many dollars in discounts you gave out last year, what would happen if you could only prevent 10% of those lost profit dollars?  20%?  5%? Now compare that number to the cost of other sales performance initiatives you’ve implemented. Does this shape your upcoming priorities?

Contact me if you’d like to explore your situation together.  If you found this post valuable, please share with your networks, like, and/or comment below.

To your success!

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Best Practices Entrepreneurship Management Marketing Sales Skills

The 3 Levels of Customer Acumen and Which One You Want

Part Four of a Five Part Series.

Customer acumen the third essential pillar of perspective selling.  Consider this situation: you know your prospect’s business in-depth and how your solution perfectly connects to their situation. Still, you can’t seem to make progress on the deal. Why? It’s all because you can’t figure out how they are going to make a buying decision for your proposal.  While also you need the other two, you can’t sell with perspective unless this third pillar, customer acumen, is strong.

To recap, perspective is knowledge or insight that expands a customer’s understanding of one or more business issues. When a seller provides perspective, they apply customer-valued (not just any) insights and expertise about unanticipated outcomes.

This series discusses three foundational “pillars” of expertise (or three legs of a stool) a seller should master:

  1. Business Acumen…The focus of part two. Basically, this expertise helps evaluate a prospective customer’s (or any company’s) operational efficiency and effectiveness, then identify value gaps.
  2. Solution Acumen. Feature/benefit selling is dead.  From part three, perspective selling means translating  your product or service into results/outcomes for a prospective buyer.
  3. Customer Acumen…The third pillar

Customer Acumen: Expertise in Customer Decision-Making

In contrast to business acumen, which helps you understand a prospect from a business/operational standpoint, customer acumen seeks to understand your customer from a social/human standpoint.

I recall a former colleague saying that “every [B2B] customer makes every decision differently…every time”.  By this, he meant that every group buying decision dynamic changes over time, sometimes subtly, but always importantly.  Even if your current opportunity pursuit seems like a straight clone of the last pursuit at the same customer, you shouldn’t simply clone your opportunity pursuit.  Mindlessly repeating the past is one of the easiest – and most serious – mistakes you can make.  To avoid this mistake, customer acumen gives sellers the ability to master each buying decision on a case-by-case basis..

The best sales people approach each new opportunity trying to learn the group decision dynamic currently in play…including in repeat buyers.  Perspective sellers approach each new sale on the lookout for key changes.  Sales methodologies (OK,  shameless plug for my favorite, Miller Heiman Group’s Strategic Selling® (…now,) with Perspective®)  help sellers tailor each pursuit to the needs of each opportunity.

Customer Acumen: Good, Better, Best

Upon examination, customer acumen isn’t a binary “you either have it or you don’t” property. Instead, it grows by degree.  Look at the good/better/best descriptions below.  While reading, try to determine where you and your sales organization land:

Basic Customer Acumen:

For clarification, “Basic” is not the same as “zero”; basic customer acumen represents progress for some organizations.  Here are some characteristics to help you identify that you’ve progressed to this level:

  • Sellers no longer pursue “single-threaded” opportunities with a single persona, counting on that person to facilitate a decision within their own organization..
  • At least for the main value proposition communicated by marketing and sales leadership, sellers regularly learn all the relevant players, what is each trying to solve for, and their motivations.
  • Even at this level, sellers can provide value-adding perspective, facilitating a buying decision among a group of buying personas making an unfamiliar decision. Thus, it’s useful, but far less than possible

As an aside, the HBR article Dismantling Sales Machine, derived from The Challenger Saleby the same authors, make valid criticism of “sales process” by falsely characterizing  that all “process” exists at this level.  While selling activity-based process often tops out at this level, methodology is just kicking in (click here) to learn the differences in more detail).

Basic customer acumen is better than none at all, but it those aren’t the only two options.

Elevated Customer Acumen:

As they elevate customer acumen, selling organizations emphasize mastery of the customer’s buying dynamic.  Where basic customer acumen focuses on understanding individuals separately, elevated customer acumen seeks to understanding a group dynamic…then successfully navigating that dynamic with the customer.

Sophisticated consensus selling methodologies emphasize this level of customer acumen.  Characteristics of this level look like this:

  • Sellers have — and use — tools to discover the group decision dynamic and solve for it.
    • They uncover if there is a ‘bully” in the group herding them along, or its softer cousin, the “first among equals” player.
    • Sellers learn to uncover any rivalries shaping the dynamic, using personal credibility and coaches.
    • They learn how the budgetary authority makes their decisions, who they consult most closely, who their key lieutenants are, what criteria they emphasize etc.
  • A key indicator of elevated customer acumen is that sellers focus on of customer buying processes, and follow metrics to make sure that their selling efforts are aligned with the customer’s buying process.
  • Additionally, sellers articulate a common theme, or customer objective — for everyone, focusing stragglers back on task, and reducing mission creep.
  • Sellers can effectively introduce new decision criteria to the group, but generally as simple extensions of the main/core value proposition contained in feature/benefit marketing materials.  At this level, though they seldom if ever introduce unconventional value or new personas relating to it (and their accompanying criteria) to the group.

At this level of customer acumen, adding perspective happens in two ways. First, sellers can add value to the decision by helping the group make a case for change.  Second, sellers can introduce new value/unanticipated outcomes to the customer…generally restricted to the core value proposition.

World class customer acumen:

Often, a solution delivers value outside the conventional value proposition(s) communicated in basic and mid-level solution acumen. For example, piece of hospital equipment (typically sold to lab personnel, doctors, finance, and purchasing) could reduce error rates, the third leading cause of hospital deaths.  Unsurprisingly, risk managers — well outside of the core value proposition, and outside of the typical collection of personas — cares deeply about. While good sellers can communicate value to the familiar buying personas, elite sellers articulate these next-level outcomes to personas outside of the typical buying group.

World class customer acumen has a few defining characteristics:

  • Sellers understand their offer’s value picture outside of the conventional selling box.
  • Whenever it yields a value advantage, sellers recruit new personas into the decision dynamic,  They can discuss value in a persona’s language, describing persona-specific outcomes. As the prior two parts of this series indicate, solution and business acumen are key foundations.
    • As a result, world class sellers regularly “pack the court” in the decision group by adding players supportive of their solution.
  • They can discuss any and all value drivers at C-suite level, translating it into C-suite language and outcomes.
  • Truly elite sellers can sell so effectively at the executive level that they get “introduced down”

Elite sellers introduce unanticipated value.  They are skilled at adding new personas to a decision team in order to leverage that value. Certainly, most selling methodologies teach sellers how to contact new personas and have meaningful conversations.  Unfortunately, I see too few teaching why or when, much less how to have conversations in a new persona’s language.  Without business and solution acumen, your selling organization will struggle to bridge this gap.  This is why the three acumens form a three legged stool that topples if any leg is missing.

So…

So…where did you land?  Do you know how to elevate yourself and your team to the next level?  Want to talk about it?

Excellent sales people are strong at all of the levels described above.  High-performing sales organizations develop all of these capabilities in their people.

How do you build customer expertise into your sales force? If you’re interested in learning more about how World Class organizations generate their exceptional results, share your questions or comments below. Feel free to contact me directly for more information.

To Your Success!,

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Best Practices Investing Personal Development Sales

Your 2019 Resolution: Control the Suck of Discounting Expense

There is almost nothing you can do for your business with a higher financial payback than getting your arms around your discounting practices. I want you to make a New Year’s resolution to put rigor and discipline around your discounting (some call it “pricing exceptions”) policy and processes.

Why is this so important for your business?  Simple math.  When you sell your product or service to a customer, your costs to fulfill your part of the deal are the same—regardless of whether you discounted or not.

Discounting changes only two lines on your P&L statement: the top line and the bottom line.

When you grant a discount, every dollar you surrendered comes off of your bottom line, and goes to the customer’s.

For an operating business, your profits are made at the top line.  A pricing and/or discounting decision is what drives profits.  Once you see a number on the bottom line, it’s too late to do anything about it.  Discount expense sucks the life out of companies.

Resolution Part #1. Take Stock of Your Current Discounting Practices.

I am thrilled to help my readers analyze where their discount dollars go and their system for allocating those dollars. Let’s examine how you make discounting decisions together.  If you’d like to prepare, or go through the exercise on your own.  Some of the questions we’ll go through:

How many discount dollars do you spend per year?

  • Formal, through an exception process?
  • Invisible, through salesperson autonomy?
  • Does everyone in your company know that discount dollars=profit dollars? Do they act like it?

What is your price exception/discount process now?

  • What are the steps?
  • Who are the players?
  • What information/documentation is used?
  • How is the discount justified?
    • Is customer value measured/characterized? How?
  • Do you always know what the customer thinks of yours andthe competitor’s value (or just their price)?
  • How consistently do your people follow your process?
  • Have you (or can we) analyze how discount dollars are distributed? Are there concentrations by territory/salesperson, region, customer, industry, time of year?  Can we explain any apparent anomalies?
  • What do we get in exchange for price concessions?Are there any salesperson/regional/market trends in that data?

What These Questions Uncover.

The first thing we’ll discover is how well you track discount dollars. Since every one of these dollars is also a profit dollar, you need to know where every one goes. If you don’t know where your discount dollars go, your business is leaking profits.

The questions above help both of us understand how you make pricing and discounting decisions, where the discount dollars go, and if there are any suspicious trends.

Are my discount dollars being over-allocated toward:

  • The whiniest salespeople?
  • The favorite salespeople?
  • The whiniest customers?
  • A certain market?
  • At a certain time of the month/quarter/year?

That last one frustrates the heck out of me: I’ve held P&L responsibility, and have never felt that an unprofitable booking this month beats a profitable booking next month.  I’d feel that way even without the perversion of what month-end discounting teaches my customers.

I also want to explore the basis of discounting (whether/how much) decisions.  Squeaky wheel?  Best at gaming the system?  Price-based? Or…value based?

The Gold Standard of Discount Systems:  Customer Value Based.

99% of the time you hear “your price is too high”, what the person is really saying is either “your value is too low”, or “I’m inviting you to help me understand your value”.  I specialize in helping my clients have those discussions effectively. I can point you to a methodology which will steer those conversations toward value and away from price…and certainly away from unnecessary discounts.

If you have a solid methodology for understanding customer value, some great things happen to your discounting practices:

  • Discounting is purposeful. It no longer feels as random or arbitrary.
    • Your people will understand the system and feel more fairly treated
    • You might quiet the squeaky wheels; the people who scream the loudest for discounts.
  • You will be confident in your discounting decisions.
    • You’ll make better decisions about product enhancements, market entries, even market exits.
  • You will discount less and profit more.
  • You will produce more accurate forecasts. Knowing customer value is the same as knowing customer motivation. When you truly know value, you are intimately engaged with the customer’s innermost buying decision dynamics.

Resolution Part #2. Build A Value Based Pricing/Discounting System.

I can help you if you want.  Here are some options:

1. I’m feeling pretty good about the latest draft of my book on the subject.  If you’ll give me merciless feedback on it, I’ll send you a .pdf copy to review.  The book will guide you toward developing a better pricing/discounting system.

2. Let’s talk. Reach out at mark@boundyconsulting.com.  If you want to work toward a system together, prepare for our call by looking through the “take stock” questions above, and  prepare any questions for me.

Whatever you do, and however you choose to get help, please do it. The road to failure is paved with poorly justified discounting decisions.  I want you on a better path.

To your success!

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Personal Development Sales

CRM:  Compliance Hammer or Performance Instrument?

“Thanks to my CRM for helping me win that deal” said no salesperson ever.  In fact, CRM is almost universally looked on as serving management, not sales.  Salespeople view CRM as a hammer to measure compliance, not a tool.  CRM utilization is a constant battle, where management doesn’t trust reports compiled from inadequate usage.

Why the shortcoming?

Today’s CRMs, in even the most sophisticated implementations, track seller activities, not deal-moving sales behaviors.

I just finished reading a new client’s sales process document, which defines sales stages, tells the company’s sales professionals what tasks should be completed in which sales stage, and what resources are there to help them. It was a very thorough document, obviously well thought out and logically presented in considerable detail. It was tightly integrated with the company’s CRM system, and sellers can easily track the activities outlined in the playbook.  Of “selling process/CRM integration” efforts I’ve seen, this one is above average.

Here’s the thing:  in 35 pages, the customer’s buying process was almost invisible:  There was almost no insight into the customer’s journey, what it might look like, or who might be involved.

  • While several common roles were mentioned, zero coverage was given to what each role commonly looks for, or how they interact.
  • There was no mention of common value drivers at all – unless you count “provide test reports on features where we outperform competitors”. That is, there was not attempt to ascertain which product advantages might actually result in customer value.  And, actionable information like which value drivers might apply to which common buying personas was completely off of the radar screen.
  • While the sellers were doing all of their well-regulated selling activity, there was no mention of what complementary buying actions they should expect the customer to be doing.
  • There was strong emphasis on investing time and resources on the best customers, but no real definition what “best customer” looks like, other than “spends the most”.No particular mention of whether they are a fit for this company’s premium products, and certainly no attempt at a scoring system for “best customer”.

The difference between “above average” and “world class” is powerful.  World class selling organizations implement sales methodologies which address these (and other) gaps.  Miller Heiman Group clients have had the ability to overlay such methodologies on their CRMs.

What does the difference get you?

When you have a methodology that aligns selling and buying processes, then helps sales people diagnose the actions that will keep customers moving along their buyer’s journey, several things happen:

  1. You can identify deal-moving sales behaviors
  2. You can diagnose at-risk deals in time to rescue them…and know how.
  3. You can replicate high-performance behaviors across your entire sales team.

This sounds pretty powerful, right?  When sales leaders, particularly front-line sales managers, are able to diagnose and coach within a dynamic coaching culture, sales performance outcomes improve dramatically.

A new generation of CRM is the next innovation in sales performance:  What if your CRM was able to do some of the diagnosis automatically, so that front-line sales manager diagnosis time wasn’t the bottleneck? You’d really have something, wouldn’t you?

The new generation of CRM is here.  It’s an instrument for sales performance improvement, not the same old compliance hammer.  It’s combined with the world’s most highly respected methodology for complex selling…a methodology updated for even greater results for today’s generation of sellers. Where traditional CRMs measure seller activities, this new CRM is centered on selling behaviors that move deals, identify at-risk deals, and coach performance electronically.

Is the view worth the climb?

Adopting any new system is a substantial investment of resources.  While having a more manageable sales system is valuable to managers; real ROI comes from having a dynamic coaching culture.  Close rates climb by an average of 18%.  The view – the return – is high.  The results have been proven over decades.

Our new system is the easiest to implement way to achieve that dynamic coaching culture in existence. The climb – the cost — has never been easier.

This set of instruments are easy to customize to many businesses.  I’m happy to spend some time with you learning about your unique situation to see if we can apply this powerful solution to your needs, the way you need.  Contact me if you want to talk more.

To your success!

Categories
Marketing Personal Development Sales

Sales Culture, Elevated.

This article is part three of a three-part series on the future of sales performance.

In parts 1 and 2, I wrote that:

  • CRM alone not enough; in fact, many companies have found it’s the tail that wags the dog.
  • Process, and even more importantly, methodology are real difference-makers. Coaching process and methodology makes performance improvement sustainable.

In this article, we’re going to dig a little deeper into the coaching that drives long term sales success. Sustaining world-class performance is about sales culture; culture that ingrains process into the operating rhythm of the organization. Process and methodology do no good unless they are internalized by a sales organization, and the process of internalizing establishes a strong sales culture. When a methodology becomes the default go-to-customer approach for your organization, it enables the three goals of a sales system:

  1. Drive deal-winning behaviors, not simple activity-based measures.
  2. Re-vector at-risk deals, identifying and mitigating risks with opportunities.
  3. Replicate winning across, raising the performance of all sellers in the team.

Dynamic coaching culture

CSO Insights has conducted extensive research supporting the value of a dynamic coaching culture.  The research shows that companies whose coaching culture captures analytics from successful sales, refines sales data into define winning sales behaviors – then supports sales leaders as they coach those behaviors across the sales force outperform their peers.  Dynamic coaching culture is different than simple coaching:  there is a closed loop between results and how process and methodology is emphasized by the organization.  This loop drives self-sustainment and continuous improvement.

Dynamic coaching cultures experience far superior outcomes than average sales organizations:

  • A higher percentage of these companies meet revenue plan.
  • More reps make quota. The gains come from across the sales force, not just a few high performers
  • Win rates are higher. This means forecasts are more accurate
  • Late loss rates are lower. Fewer of those resource-sucking late losses that ruin sales productivity
  • Staff turnover is lower. Lose fewer of the people you want to keep, rehab more of the marginal performers, converting them to keepers.

A robust self-sustaining coaching culture builds the foundation for two things:

  1. Sales performance. The outcomes above are worthwhile goals in themselves, but…
  2. Self-sustaining culture (manager bench strength, coaching acumen, leadership succession/career path). Building a sales culture to last means building sales careers worth having.

The Past, Present and Future of Dynamic Coaching

Let’s look at where we’ve been, and where we’ve led our industry: coaching on CRM-resident tools.

I’ve worked with Miller Heiman Group (and its predecessor, Miller Heiman) tools for almost 30 years. Success in my business is all about delivering outcomes for clients. The reason Miller Heiman Group is the largest in the B2B space is that we’re the partner sales organizations keep engaged with longer…we have the least leaky bucket…growing our clients is how we grow.

Based upon thousands of client engagements, I can tell you with absolute conviction that the key to long-term success is in not conducting training events, but executing long term change in selling behavior organization-wide.  A successful engagement is almost universally the one with a robust component of sales manager coaching, where front line managers become the primary change agents.

The gold standard of coaching is personally diagnosed and delivered by the front-line sales manager (FSM).  This kind of coaching is high-touch, requiring not only discipline by the FSM, but a corporate capability in developing coaches and prioritizing coaching activity over the many other demands on an FSMs time.

While manager-delivered coaching is preferable, it is not always available at the right time for every deal.  We have also noticed that a large proportion of coaching is on a core set of selling behaviors.  That is, managers tend to diagnose and coach the same behaviors over and over.  With the right methodology and the right CRM system (one that helps track deal-moving behaviors, not meaningless activities), an intelligent coaching platform is possible.

Where you can go:

  • Instead of manager-initiated intervention, how about system-led?
    • Not today’s activity-based prompts. Selling behavior-based prompts…seller actions that moves deals, not activity that occupies selling time
  • A rules engine, based upon 40 years of Miller Heiman Group expertise, which can diagnose those repetitive selling
  • AI/big data capabilities which can take it even further.

Where are You?  Where Do You Want to Go?

When you’re tracking and managing to activities, today’s CRM can work just fine.  On the other hand, when you’re trying to establish a rigorous selling culture with a consistent management cadence, you can more efficiently accomplish the three goals of a world-class sales system::

  1. Drive winning selling actions. This means actions, not activities.
  2. Change deal outcomes more rapidly identify at-risk opportunities and figure out how to re-vector them toward success.
  3. Replicate success. Learn what behaviors predict success in your business, and turn them into a rules engine for your sales tool to automatically recommend.

We Can Take You There

Miller Heiman Group has leveraged over 40 years of sales performance expertise into a powerful set of tools.  They have bundled methodology with a dynamic coaching application, which can be freestanding or integrated with a CRM system. It helps front line sales leaders by lightening the routinized part of their coaching load, allowing them to concentrate their time on higher level opportunity strategy.  Sellers become more effective by building sound selling behavior habits.  Finally, senior sales leaders see improved results, and have insight-producing analytics into how to improve sales even more.

I’m excited about this new capability, and am thrilled to offer it to clients. Contact me to discuss whether we might drive winning actions, change deal outcomes, and replicate success in your organization.

Categories
Best Practices Personal Development Sales

CRM: Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

Note:  This is the first of a three part series on how sales performance management is evolving

According to their marketing materials, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications solve just about every sales problem your company has ever experienced. Are the promises true?  Or…does CRM just help make your existing processes (good or bad) more efficient –at best? Do your sales people feel like you own your CRM or that your CRM owns them? Is CRM the tail wagging the dog?

CRM systems have powerful functionality, and are able to analyze more data all the time.  And yet, an alarming percentage of CRM implementations don’t meet expectations – see the chart below (CIO magazine recently found 33%, a more current figure, but not out of line with history).  Those numbers look worse when you examine how “expectations” were defined.

What’s going on? CRM Alone is Not Enough

 There are a couple of reasons why CRM implementations miss expectations:

They typically focus on selling process alone.  I’ll discuss this in greater depth next week, but selling process is the easy part: aligning with the customer’s buying process is where big gains in effectiveness happen.

CRM can only analyze the data it has access to. Order history reports tend to be pretty accurate, but opportunity pursuit data is almost always sketchy at best…especially for lower-performing sales people.

For sales people, CRM is often simply a compliance tool; that is, it’s an administrative system to track actions. If it doesn’t help sales people win opportunities, it doesn’t get used.

Even worse, the actions tracked aren’t quality actions that lead to success, and everyone knows it.  If CRM’s intent is to streamline customer interactions, most implementations don’t measure up. Why? Many companies fall into the trap of tracking what is easy to capture, not what’s important.  Analyzing non-predictive data gets you lots of numbers, charts and graphs, but no real insights.

The tail wagging the dog:

If all CRM is in your organization is a tool to track (the wrong) activities… and you’ve become a slave to tracking those activities, you exist to serve your CRM, not the other way around.

There is a huge difference between a tool that makes sellers more effective and one used by managers to gather semi-meaningful data.  While I don’t want to ignore the importance of lightening a front-line sales manager’s reporting burden, that benefit may not be worth the cost s of implementation.

While they’re billed as sales performance tools, most companies’ CRM implementations fall short. When CRM becomes merely a compliance and reporting tool, you’re in trouble.

Worse, if you fall into the trap of measuring only the wrong activities (unfortunately, that means measuring activities that CRM finds easiest to measure and track), you’re in the worst kind of trouble.  You’re not leading with measuring the right things.  Opportunity counts mean nothing.  Winnable opportunity tracking means something. Understanding how to turn an at-risk opportunity into a winnable one is everything.

What should CRM be and do?

While CRM should also be able to analyze post-sale information, it should be a tool for sales professionals. Companies should set a high bar for their expectations. To be a genuine tool for sellers and their leaders, the next generation of CRM needs to:

1. Drive effective selling behaviors(not mere activity tracking). My expertise is selling behaviors that drive sales – as opposed to activities that sales people could perform.  For example: I want to drive great conversations with the right people, not number of calls completed.  Today’s CRM implementations typically help leaders track the latter, when they know they should be driving the former.  The ideal CRM should help alert sales people to the right behaviors at the right times.

2. Change deal outcomes: using expertise, a CRM system should proactively identify which opportunities in your funnel are at risk…and more importantly, why.  That same CRM system should automatically tell individual sellers what to do about it. Early risk identification and management (mitigation or de-resourcing) would be gold in the hands of a selling organization.

3. Replicate Winning Behaviors. The sales behaviors that predict selling success are observable, trainable, trackable and coachable. Uncovering those behaviors, then replicating them sales force-wide by training, coaching, and tracking those behaviors, allows you to bring all of the sellers on a team to a higher level. A CRM that does this would be a huge advantage for a selling organization.

Where CRM has been.  Where It’s Going

CRM has evolved through three major generations:

  1. Contact manager.An automated Rolodex and tickler file.
  2. Massive powerful DB that does everything – some are capable of managing the ordering and assembly logistics of a space shuttle…although integrating proposals and contracts with enterprise resource planning, etc. were common uses.
  3. Today, State of the art CRMs “’Manage’ the selling process”; that is, ather seller data on their activities.
  • Activity-based selling fits today’s CRM tools best.
  • Activities and behaviors that align selling activities with customer buying processes (customer-centric sales methodologies) are firmly out-of-scope.

My company has had, for years, a skinny software stack for CRMs that allows sellers to practice methodology within CRM.  It allowed sellers to benefit from CRM as a performance-enhancement tool.  Because of that, many clients find that CRM utilization by sellers dramatically increases, yielding data accuracy benefits to the organization. (Ironically, some companies have bought sales training –at least initially–to finally achieve acceptable compliance with CRM).

Today, even the best coaching is done in-person, by managers examining meeting plans, account plans and opportunity pursuits, diagnosing selling behavior gaps, and conducting coaching conversations.  The skinny stack is great for this. Tools that score opportunities and selling methodology behaviors (methodology is what connects sales process to customer buying process) have enhanced the skinny stack tool even further.

The three requirements of a great CRM implementation above are met with this skinny stack.  The challenge:  coaching is almost 100% in-person, a large demand on front-line-manager time resources.

What if there was a true sellers-first tool, that helped sales professionals be great?  What would that look like?

Watch this space…or contact me right away to learn more.

To your success!

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