Sooner or later, any group selling a product is going to need to adopt tools to consolidate the data and track/manage the sales process. This usually means a CRM system. When to implement a CRM system really depends on a number of factors, like the number of prospects and customers, the number of sales people, and the complexity of the sale. When the time comes, how you go about adoption will enormously affect the value you get from the tool.
We are not going to review tools and provide recommendations here, because other than obvious differences like cloud vs. local/server based tools, most CRM systems have similar feature sets. But before you chose the tool, it is vital that you understand how the tool will be used, and what each of the stakeholders in the organization is going to require from the tool.
The process MUST start with the sales team; each salesperson can (and will) use a rich feature set differently, so it is critically important to plan how the tool will be used before adoption. Without planning, you may end up with as many use models as you have salespeople.
Just like a finance department would not fire up a new set of accounting tools without carefully mapping the tool into existing accounting operations, a sales team should do the same before adopting a CRM system.
A structured approach to implementation is critical to success, and, in our view, more important than the choice of tool. Many sales managers, CEOs, and IT departments focus on the what, not the why and how of implementation, and then are less than happy with the results.
So what is the problem?
Small ventures may have only a few customers, their sales processes may not be complex and involve just a few touch points within the customer organization. For these ventures, managing the sales process amongst a few individuals using spreadsheets may be more than sufficient.
As the number of customers grows, and the number of sales people increases within a new venture, management is confronted with the problem of how to consolidate and interpret all the information that is being tracked by individuals on the team—to derive forecasts, metrics, and opportunity tracking to run the business.
For this to work, the implementation has to drive consistency in data capture and individual behavior – it has to provide an objective lens to monitor the business. This implies consistent and continuous use by the sales team. Adoption by all team members is essential to success. In turn, this means that each person on the sales team has to feel the tool is valuable to them.
Uses of CRM by constituent.
From the individual salesperson perspective, a new CRM system can be a painful requirement that management imposes on their daily activity. After all, for the individual contributor (and smaller ventures) a spreadsheet with good notes is often sufficient. If the CRM tool has too many options, is complex, slow, and difficult to use, isn’t this eating into valuable selling time? Management is going to ask a bunch of questions anyway about the forecast, so why spend time on a cumbersome tool?
CRM implementations driven by IT or by senior management naturally focuses on the summary data as the prime objective, so their needs are often what drive implementation. This top down approach can ignore the criticality of adoption by the sales team.
So how do you in implement a system that gives sales and corporate management the summary data they need to manage the team and the business, and the individuals something that helps them organize and sell?
Understanding the uses and needs of the constituents in the diagram, and the quality of the data entered by the salespeople is the key to CRM success.
Here is a suggestion based on our experience from numerous Altus client engagements:
- Understand and document your typical or idealized sales process. Draw it in a diagram, and review with the key sales people. Will the process as drawn and all the deals in process mapped to this diagram facilitate them getting the job done with low overhead for the tool? Will it help the individual salesperson to organize and follow the process? Use the KISS principle here.
- What are the important stages in transition from a contact above the funnel, through qualification, development, and closure? Keep the number of stages to a minimum; 5-7 stages should be your target.
- Keep the terminology simple.
- Think about process and gates. What has to happen (process) to move an opportunity to the next milestone (gate)? You should be able to answer simple yes/no questions for the gates. Is this lead qualified? Have we delivered a proposal? Do we have the PO?
- Then, and only then, pick the tool you are going to use. Choose one with room to grow, but also make sure that features can be turned off or hidden by the administrator. The first implementation should be simple, so make sure you can scale the product back. When making your selection, think about the process from the perspective of the individual sales user:
- What is the information needed for them to track and close each opportunity?
- What is the information needed to track contacts and accounts?
- What correspondence and history is needed to record progress?
- Are there critical pieces of information missing? If so, go back and add them to what the sales team needs to input and work with. Will it then provide the metrics management needs to run the business? If the answer is no, then what additions do you have to make to Step 1 to get the data needed? Remember the balance between sales adoption and desire for greater management visibility. If you add too much, you actually may end up with less meaningful data.
- Consider operations. Usually it is best to use manual interfaces to start with; figure out where the interfaces between sales and operations are needed (for example, scheduling and provisioning a live demo). Work these systems and workflows manually until you really understand how they operate and what expectations, checks, balances, and approvals are needed. Then automate the process within CRM and other software components used by operations.
- Finally, look at executive management. Can they get the data they need from dashboards and summary reports? If they are really missing critical information, then consider going back to Step 1, but always look at alternatives for getting the same information first. The more you make compulsory to the sales team, the harder it becomes to achieve 100% adoption.
- Take the sales process and map it to the tool. This may mean working on drop-downs and disabling features. Salespeople can and will design their own way of doing things if you don’t establish standards. Similarly, leaving many features open will confuse the users and make it difficult to drive consistency. You need to make sure the tool is being used consistently, so take away the options—otherwise, summary data will be impossible to extract and interpret.
- Decide what fields are compulsory vs. optional for an opportunity to move through the stages. Remember, focus on the minimum data set you need for the salesperson to do an effective job. Email address for a qualified contact might be a good example.
- If you have decided that you only want to see percentages like 10, 25, 50, 75, 90, and 100, because they mean something in the process you documented, you have to prevent values like 49% from being used. Set the field up to only accept the entries you have decided are valid options.
- For important summary data like lead source and lost business reason it is imperative to keep the number of choices restricted so the system does not accumulate data that is less than valuable. Discourage free text input for fields you may want to search on or gather data. “Trade Show,” ” tradeshow,” and “Trad show” will summarize into different data columns. Decide on the categories for these fields and use drop downs, where the user can only pick from a set of fixed values. Free text is appropriate for descriptions and notes.
- Run a pilot in parallel with your existing system (spreadsheet). For the individuals in the pilot, is it simple and easy to use for them? Is the consolidated data meaningful for management? Are there areas that you have not thought of that are being questioned by the pilot team? Take their feedback seriously and be prepared to act on it. Are there additional controls you need to construct or process steps that you need to clarify?
- Train and go live with the rest of the team. This needs to be a smooth process, and you may want to think about incentives during the start-up phase to get everyone onboard quickly.
- Monitor results and be prepared to modify the process and the tool as the organization grows.
Careful planning and implementation is critical to the early stages of CRM in a new venture. Focus on the primary user, the salesperson. The process they have to go through is key to CRM success. As the organization grows and scales, you can add features and have the tool grow with you.