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January 26, 2007

Yet Another List of 7

One of the common questions I hear from my clients and prospective clients goes something like this, “what the heck do we have to do to get the dang salesforce to use that frigging expensive Salesforce Automation system we gave them?” Some of the words change a bit from that version, but the question is popular, and I seem to be hearing it a lot lately, so it is time to put something down in writing.

There are a lot of lists out there and they seem to be multiplying like rabbits on Viagra, but I feel compelled to create a list of factors that contribute to sales people becoming more likely to adopt the software they have been given to perform their jobs better. And, honestly, I did not set out to come up with seven items on the list, but it seems that these kinds of lists have 7 or 10 items, which probably is influenced by whether you watch Letterman or Leno.

But seriously folks, the content within the list below can make the difference between a CRM program that thrives or fails. One further observation about the items on the list is that they range from organizational, through individual, and onto highly technical factors, which is somewhat of an indication of the broad spectrum of effort required to get this stuff right.

Pipes Quad 1

So, here goes – The 7 Key SFA Adoption Factors:

1. Management Sponsorship – We start right off with a tough one. Many will argue with this, but a significant amount of research has demonstrated that the biggest influence over an employee’s attitude is his or her boss. If your direct supervisor does not care whether you use a system at work, and you don’t have a good reason to use it, you won’t. If you are a Regional Sales Manager and your SVP of sales does not push you to have your team utilize a system they complain about, you won’t push. That is how this works. Unless all of sales management is visibly supportive of the system, utilization will be in the toilet. Game over.

2. Business Requirement – Very much related to the item above is the need for business requirements to be met by the SFA system. Do you have to create a pipeline report every Friday afternoon so the sales function can submit a weekly forecast to finance in order to satisfy Wall Street requirements? That is a great example of how the use of an SFA system meets a business requirement and drives individuals to high adoption. When you have to use a piece of software in order to perform your job, you tend to use it more often than not. And if your boss checks to see if you have performed the task, such as consolidating weekly pipeline reports into a forecast, your compliance tends to be high. When there are no compelling business requirements, adoption is optional.

3. Individual Benefit – One of the top mistakes made by organizations when deploying SFA systems to their sales teams is to only satisfy business requirements with the software with no concern to the individual using the software. This issue is in somewhat of a conflict with the factor above. You can read about this issue in multiple entries on this site, but suffice it to state here that if the individual sales rep does not perceive a benefit from the SFA system, they will find ways to avoid using it. At a minimum they will find ways to put in the least amount of effort possible, thereby meeting the business requirements, but not gaining full advantage of the benefits of the software for themselves or the company.

4. User Maturity – This factor is a bit complicated because it involves both the individual and the work culture that influences his or her behavior. Maturity does not refer to whether the sales person still has acne or has moved into the white hair stage. Rather this factor involves the ability for the user to utilize technology either from the perspective of actual competence or attitude toward using technology to perform a work task. Some sales people have deep experience using computers and sales systems from previous jobs. Some sales people have been selling for 20 years and have never opened a laptop. The former are going to have a greater likelihood of adoption versus the later. Another way of thinking about this factor is “inclination toward technology”.

5. Data Reliability – One way to really kill an SFA program is to load the system full of bad data, or allow data entry practices that cause customer information to be incorrect, incomplete, redundant, or in general untrustworthy. If sales people don’t trust what is in the system, they won’t put much effort into either entering more information or using the information that is there. The interesting phenomenon with this topic is that the software meant to make collecting customer data better is the cause for the bad data proliferation – primarily because the software does not know the difference between good and bad. This is becoming so big of an issue that an entire industry is forming to resolve it.

6. Functional Usability – Back in the late 90’s when we were all talking about the Y2K bug one of the bigger problems with SFA was clunky software. User interfaces were not great, functionality was still limited, and navigation required a sextant and bright stars. Today the software is light years better, but this problem still persists. One thing that can go wrong is giving too much functionality or trying to satisfy too many stakeholders with one package. Complexity has become the issue rather than clunkiness. When sales people have to perform a task with a computer that takes longer than doing it manually, they will find ways to work around the system. They are devious, and they are creative, but they are not stupid – software that makes the job harder or take longer to perform will be avoided as much as possible.

7. System Performance – Thin pipes, clogged servers, inappropriate queries, poor data architecture – you name it, there are a fairly sizable number of reasons that drive system performance to be unacceptable. When people see hourglasses on their screens they quickly look for ways to do their job without the computer. If you want adoption to be high, you cannot allow for delays between clicks. This issue is especially critical for the sales team, either road warriors who suffer due to poor connections at hotels or for the telesales team who cannot tolerate delays with a prospect on the phone. These folks have to have top system performance or they will find a way to work around the system.

January 19, 2007

Silver Bullets

So, let me state from the start that this is not going to have any reference to Coors Light, Super Bowl advertising, or the Swedish Bikini team. So, if you ended up here after conducting a search for those topics I am sorry to disappoint you.

Over the summer the Harvard Business Review published some research conducted by the Forum Corporation that I found pretty interesting. Both of these organizations are highly trustworthy, which makes the findings all that much more impactful. This is not always the case with research published by some companies that conveniently includes some angle that supports the marketing and sales of their products.

One of the studies polled business representatives on their opinions regarding the sales professionals from their vendors. The results are not all that flattering and include a list of the biggest complaints regarding these sales professionals. The top issues are listed below:
- 26% don’t follow my company’s buying process
- 18% don’t listen to my needs
- 17% Don’t follow up
- 12% Are pushy, aggressive, disrespectful

Well, these are not results to be proud of, and this is not to say that there are not really good sales folks out there. But, when we choose to ask, what the factors are that cause dissatisfaction or for deals to fail, we now have a better understanding of what goes wrong.

Combine this with the results of a second study published in the same issue that examines salesforce performance from the perspective of internal executives’ point of view, and things get more interesting. When senior executives were asked what factors out of a list of 16 were most influential in contributing to sales effectiveness, no factor or even category of factors were prominent. The conclusion from the study’s authors was simply that many things go into making a salesforce successful.

Out to Pasture

My conclusion is the following – there is no silver bullet, and it is definitely not technology. Many factors must be in place for a sales team to perform well. These include a wide variety of dimensions including sales management competence, adequate processes, sufficient remuneration, positive organizational climate, and the right sales tools (which includes salesforce automation software). While it can help with better follow up, no software is going to help a sales rep follow the customer’s buying process better (most likely it will do the opposite) and it certainly won’t make the sales rep less pushy or a better listener.

January 12, 2007

Year of the Intelligent Organization

Way back in the last century, circa 1990, a student of management science published a book, The Fifth Discipline, which introduced the concept of Organizational Learning to the business world. Peter Senge, the author of this best seller, took the business world by storm. I personally found the premise of this book very compelling – the enterprise can develop knowledge, much as a human does, and this organizational learning process can be managed intentionally for success.

15 years ago this was a big deal. Everybody seemed to have the book on a shelf at the office and there was huge follow up buzz including seminars and copycat publications. However, I am willing to bet that only a handful of professionals have put significant thought into the concept of organizational learning since that time. It is time to change that and 2007 could be the year.

Technology has caught up with the concept of organizational learning. CRM came first and provided the tool for capturing customer interactions – the basic building blocks of knowledge. Next, Web 2.0 provided a revolution in thinking about the notion of collaboration. All of a sudden, knowledge management became possible and the software vendors have been developing ever more usable solutions for harvesting knowledge. Place on top of this SOA technology and the integration of different sources of knowledge has become both more manageable and affordable. Finally, mix in a healthy dose of BI software and business processes and all of a sudden we move from organizational learning theory to organizational intelligence in action.

Old Cracks
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007 should emerge as the year of the Intelligent Organization. Businesses now have the ability to put organizational learning into practice, building on their CRM systems, leveraging the new propensity for collaboration, and gaining the benefits of BI capabilities. If you have not finished your business plans for the New Year, think seriously about putting actions in place to raise your organizational IQ.

January 05, 2007

What You Worried About?

I find the following fact really thought provoking – the chances of you dying from mad cow disease are staggeringly smaller than from dying of heart disease caused by ingesting the cholesterol lurking in the meat of healthy cows. But think about it, how many people worried about the recent mad cow outbreak versus how many worry about consuming the regular intake of burgers and ribs? As a culture we have a propensity to worry about the wrong things.

Check out the December 4 issue of Time Magazine, which offers a great exploration of this phenomenon of misguided concern that pushes us down the wrong avenues of worry. After that, consider all the wrong things you worry about at work. There are a few of other interesting observations in this issue of this news magazine that I think are very relevant to those who worry about sales.

For example, consider the following: the average person is over ten times more likely to die from falling out of bed than to die from a lightening strike. But what does the average person believe is more dangerous? We will take all kinds of precautions and experience all kinds of fears regarding lightening, but never give a thought to the vertical dangers between the bedspread and the floor tiles.

You might find that people who manage sales organizations fall into this worry trap, spending too much time focused on the lightening, but killed by that drop out of bed. Most of the time the lightening is something like sales tools or sales technology and that last slip off the covers onto the hard floor is something like ignoring the mundane changes required to improve sales process and policy. Technology gets all the attention while bad process quietly kills you.
WTC Nightmare 1
Another observation from these authors at Time is the illusion of control, a similar dynamic as the wrong worry. The common example is the belief that driving an automobile is safer than flying in a commercial airplane because you are in control of the wheel rather than a pilot who may have been out to late at the hotel bar the night before. We all know the statistics do not support this misguided perception, but the illusion of control remains prevalent. Driving deaths escalated dramatically after 9/11 as plane seats went empty. This phenomenon is also something that manifests itself in the world of sales management.

Many of my clients measure sales resuults to know how they are doing against goals. Once a week everyone scrambles to provide figures on what has been booked in an effort to know if the monthly and quarterly targets will be achieved. But, I think that it is very much worth asking the question if this is one of those situations of illusion of control. Please don’t get me wrong on this. You have to do forecasting.

But, are we measuring the right things? It is useful to know if we are going to make our numbers, and necessary for public companies to disclose progress against forecast. However, it is more effective with regard to actual control if we measure what is being done to achieve the forecast. I am a proponent of measuring sales activity. Now, I know what you are thinking – you have tried this before and it was a miserable failure. It takes the right tools, processes, and incentives to do this well, but in the end it will help provide more honest to goodness control. More will be offered up in future entries on activity based sales management. For now, let’s end with a very old joke related to the topic of proper measurement – searching for the keys to success.

A bar patron is searching along the curb when a second bar patron comes outside and asks what the first is looking for. The slurred reply indicates that a set of car keys have been lost. Trying to be encouraging and helpful the second bar patron asks if the victim is certain that this is where the keys were lost. The reply goes something like this, “No, I am pretty sure I lost them on the other side of the street by my car, but the light is better over here.”