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CRM: Great Sales Management, Bad Sales Enablement

By John Burns | January 8, 2016

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This is part 3 of our series on various sales solutions and what those solutions mean to the sales reps who use them. Part 1 defined all of the different solutions that salespeople may encounter as a part of their technology resources. Part 2 looked at how salespeople can (and can’t) use content management systems (CMS).

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems like Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics are engrained in the sales process. CRM systems offer much in the way of features: maintaining all your customers and prospects information in one place, tracking sales cycle interactions, and managing the forecasts for executives’ needs. Yet, you don’t see a lot of sales users singing CRM’s praises.

It’s no secret that many salespeople hate CRM. That’s because even though it’s a part of the process, the administrative burden of tasks related to CRM are disruptive to the sales process. There are benefits, which I’ll get to in a moment, but few of them trickle down to directly impact the sales reps. Although the reps end up with the brunt of the work, especially when it comes to activities that need to be completed when connectivity could be an issue, they often feel these are tasks don’t help them sell more. Let’s examine how CRM fits into the tech stack (and the daily routine) of the people on the front line: sales reps.

The Promise of Great Sales Management

I’ll start with the good: when you’re dealing with a large base of customers and prospects, and when your sales cycle is spread over a long time, CRM is spectacular. As B2B sales cycles stretch out, having a database with all of those relationships and interactions laid in front of you is immeasurably valuable.

Need to quickly reach out to a prospect? It’s in the contact record.

Want to flag a task for a colleague or a personal reminder for follow-up? You can set up an alert.

Interested in seeing past activities related to certain accounts? Check out those details directly in the CRM.

That last one is why sales managers and executives love CRM. You can run a report on pretty much any metric and get a big picture view of all the sales activities at your company. Without hard data, knowing the correct action to take is guesswork and CRM has no shortage of hard data—as long as someone’s entering it.

Recording some of that activity can be a breeze and done without any effort. You can integrate your CRM with your marketing automation software, for example, and log when someone fills out a form on your website or reads an email blast. CRM systems allow sales reps to log emails automatically either with plugins or by BCC’ing to the CRM’s email service.

Those details help contextualize a lead before I’ve had a conversation; I can see the sequence of events that led them to becoming a sales-qualified lead and no matter how long the sales cycle goes on, I know the conversations we’ve had and, finally, I know, and executives know, the types of activities that lead to closing a deal—as long as someone’s entering it.

The Reality of Bad Sales Enablement

And there’s the rub. CRM is a database, and a database is only as good as the data that’s entered. I think I speak for most salespeople when I say that data entry isn’t my favorite activity in the world. No matter what CRM you’re using, you’re going to have to do a lot of data entry.

Most CRMs don’t make that data entry easy. I have yet to find an “intuitive” system that seems built with the sales rep in mind. Their primary audience are the sales managers, which makes sense: sales reps aren’t the ones who make the initial purchasing decision of the CRM. We are the ones, however, who have to go through six different screens to add a lead to an account. Or struggle through combing the database so that every lead we’ve talked to gets attached to a new account record. Those administrative burdens add up over time, and are the reason why sales users hate the ongoing burden of a CRM.

There are various features in a CRM that clearly help a salesperson do their job better. But when it comes to conducting a sales meeting, these features fall flat or detract from the effectiveness of the meeting. Are you going to ask your prospect, “excuse me, can you hold on one second while I log this activity?” Your CRM also isn’t going to hand you the right piece of collateral to present on a silver platter. Marketers can use the metrics of what content is presented over time to better distribute better content, but salespeople don’t see an impact of that in the moment. We will have to log whatever we’ve shared with the prospect in the lead-up to a meeting, an overview of the conversation we had in-person along with the collateral we showed them, and then everything we’ve shared to follow up.

That’s par for the course for CRM: sales reps give and give and give to CRM, but don’t get a tangible return. Even if you’re diligent in recording every activity, 30% of contact data can degrade over a year, so we’re left with a deluge of administrative tasks without a direct impact.

The addition of work without a measurable return for sales is why CRM is not sales enablement. It’s sales tracking enablement and sales management enablement, but it doesn’t enable our sales activities. In that sense, CRM is not all that different from CMS; another management database that’s a helpful back-end for the overall goals of the company, but isn’t enough for the sales users who have to use (and populate) it.

In my next post, I’ll be sharing how companies can push beyond merely including CRM in their sales cycle, and can start truly integrating it.

John Burns is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Mediafly, Inc and the author of Mediafly’s Sales Insight blog.

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