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February 23, 2007


When I was in college my program was pre-med studies and as a result I constantly compare things to the field of medicine. It got so bad that I even wrote my master’s thesis using the metaphor of the organization as an organism. I can get out of control easily. It should not come as too big of a surprise that I often consider my business clients as ailing and in need of some type of organizational medicine.

Everyone has watched enough episodes of MASH or ER to have a firm grasp of the concept of the triage unit. These are the folks that determine which direction the injured go – quickly into emergency treatment, wait in line for the more critical to be attended, or passed along to clergy of one denomination or another for some version of the last rites. Seldom, but once in a while, a patient argues with the medical staff over the decision to be moved in one direction or another. I recently encountered one of those clients.

WTC Nightmare 1

In this particular case the recently implemented hosted CRM just wasn’t working. Nobody was using it the way that sales management had expected. It did not perform well. Accounts were often assigned to the wrong sales rep. And, nobody really acted like they cared if the system was utilized or not utilized. One sales agent stated during an interview that he stopped using it and nothing ever happened.

The client wanted emergency treatment - get this thing working better as quickly as possible to get user adoption up high. But when we asked what benefit high utilization would gain the company, the answer was, “Because we need utilization to be high to justify the investment!” With a bit more digging we discovered that we had a basic disconnect between the use of CRM and a business purpose for CRM to serve. It was a mystery to the users for sure. This lack of alignment between CRM and the business was just a symptom of other areas also lacking alignment.

The prescription for improvement was to get consensus among the management team to determine what purpose CRM was to serve for the business, how it will benefit the company and the user. Once this was clear and agreed the next step would be to set out a plan for accomplishing the goals, which would include some short term initiatives to address the usability problems. The treatment plan was calling for a comprehensive path to recovery – one that would take some effort on behalf of the patient to get better.

Unfortunately the treatment plan was rejected by the patient who only had tolerance for a quick bandage in order to get back out to the action. “We will make people use the system to give us a forecast – they will benefit from not having to do forecasting manually – that will drive utilization up fine without any of this other unnecessary planning. Just fix the usability and we will be fine.” This was the answer we got in return.

I don’t have any more of the case study to report since this all just transpired, but I don’t think the prognosis can be all that good. We have not attended to the factors that are causing the symptoms. I am hoping to get another chance to write out another prescription when the symptoms get worse

February 16, 2007

Early Warning

My clients are good people. As a result, I think I have one of the better jobs on the planet. Even better than the Life Guard and Ski Instructor positions I served in during a previous career. But, recently I ran across a client that I must admit is also quite smart. Pretty much all of my clients use some form of salesforce automation software, and most of them have had their share of difficulty making it work for them. This really smart client of mine was no exception. But they persevered and got it to work the way they expected. And then they went one step further.

I suspect that most companies that utilize an SFA system try to track their deals using some form of pipeline method. If for no other reason this aids the business with producing a forecast. In my opinion there are two primary reasons for building a forecast. A big reason is that it enables you to tell your stakeholders how you are doing and what to expect at the end of the period. But, a second, and more important reason, is that it enables you to take action in the event that you determine your forecast is off from your expectations.

It is the action that matters. Many of the companies I have witnessed have a tendency to run around like a chicken with its head cut off when the forecast is below expectations. This is not necessarily the action I would encourage. Rather, this smart client of mine has built an early warning system, which enables them to take useful action when there is a gap. Pinpointing the action is the key – being concise like a rifle shot, not a big scattered shot gun blast that you hope just hits something, anything.

So, what this smart client of mine has done is to go a step beyond just getting good at predicting how sales are going to end up, but also correlating sales results to activities associated with the pipeline stages. What they have been capturing for a couple of years is information regarding what type of sales call activity is happening at each stage of the pipeline, and correlating that activity to the likelihood of deal advancement through the pipeline. For example, they can see if there are enough second time prospect visits to advance the deal to proposal, and they can see if there are enough proposals delivered to reach the number of closed deals required for quota.

And, most importantly, they can see this all unfolding long before the end of the quarter. It is truly an early warning system. If a territory is behind on the number of second calls, this is going to end up with a lower number of deals later in the pipe. To prevent that from happening, a push for more calls can be made – putting priority there over other meetings that won’t produce the required results. This is a rifle shot – it will lead to the needed results.

Early Warning

I hear a lot of reps complain that they have to capture sales activity. Worse is the laborious weekly activity report. This sacred report is more like an empty shot gun – it gathers a whole bunch of information that nobody has time to review anyway, and the data is not easy to analyze even if there were time. However, capturing activity in the SFA system and connecting that activity with sales results allows for system generated reports to serve as that rifle, fully loaded.

Let the technology work for you, but put the right information in. If you do, you will be able to see in advance when the numbers are not coming in correctly, and know exactly what action to take. No need to run for the shelter

February 09, 2007

From NFL to NBA to SFA

Now that the Super Bowl is behind us (Virginia McCaskey please find your team a real QB) it is time to fill the pigskin void with alternative action such as bobsledding, figure skating, or even basketball. There were some interesting happenings over in the NBA that could be worth a brief conversation. I’ll give credit to Mike Hoban writing for nwi.com for making the connection between the professional hoopsters and common challenges with the sales force.
All American Ball
As you may have heard, at the beginning of the season, the NBA decided to roll out a new basketball. It was a real double dribble, with the players totally rejecting the new synthetic ball. There is much that can be questioned about this particular business fiasco, such as, what business reason made them choose to do this – did a sports manufacturer have a stake in the outcome? Another big question is why did they proceed with this significant change without getting the endorsement of the players?

This should all sound very familiar to my friends in sales operations. They have seen plenty of changes to tools of the trade rejected by the players. Pipeline report forms, expense reimbursement templates, forecasting tools, activity reporting procedures – the list of rejected tools is endless. And they were all good ideas! Certainly the chief of the island of misfit tools is Salesforce Automation. The money that has been invested and lost on this technology is staggering – even more than the combined endorsement deals for the NBA players this year.

You have seen in previous entries my observation that SFA often gets into trouble when management is the beneficiary of the tool at the expense of the sale rep. There is a delicate balance between satisfying the needs of management or the business and satisfying the needs of the folks who actually do the selling. This is a critical balance that often goes wrong and results in poor SFA adoption. This story from the NBA, however, provides an interesting example of a third factor in the need for balance, and that is Information Technology (both the business function as well as the physical technology itself).

Back in the 90’s more than one CIO chose to purchase a big CRM package because it made sense from the perspective of IT. However, the purchase and implementation was not done with the requirements of the business or the needs of the users fully in mind. As a result, big money was wasted and CRM developed a tarnished reputation. The new basketball was introduced in a very similar fashion.

Sometimes IT has to do things that cause abrasion with the business – upgrades, maintaining standards, introducing support procedures, prioritizing enhancements. These are all necessary for running the function, but they don’t always please the business. Yet, just going out and buying new software or switching to a new ball just can’t be done this way. More effort has to go into striking the balance: the balance between Management, the User and IT. This is not an easy love triangle, and it requires much involvement between the parties, but for the introduction of tools like SFA it is the only way to be successful. It will make the difference between fouling out or making a 3-point buzzer shot.

February 02, 2007

What is Your Sales Effectiveness Strategy?

Maybe I’m just irritable because after Sunday there will be no more football for 6 months, but I was really disappointed by some research regarding CRM program activity and investment for 2006. According to a January 18 posting on the CRM Buyer site, much of the CRM activity for Sales Effectiveness (according to a survey of chief sales officers) was focused on sales management. Hasn’t anybody been paying attention? By definition, Sales Effectiveness initiatives are supposed to improve sales effectiveness! That means the effectiveness of the people who sell not the people who manage the people who sell. What’s up with this?

Da Bearsox

Yes, I admit that I am anxious about the Super Bowl and what Rex Grossman is going to do. But, gosh darn it, we have got to start focusing on sales people performance and stop giving so much budget to better sales management reporting.

The research that I have come across on this topic has produced virtually identical findings. SFA and CRM programs that focus on the effectiveness of the individual sales rep provide better results including adoption, improved business capabilities and bottom line ROI. Programs that focus primarily on sales reporting, forecasting, and sales management accoutrements tend to fair worse.

Sales managers, please don’t get upset with me. I don’t mean to make it difficult for you to get these things you want. But, I think the thing that is most important is better sales, and investing correctly in CRM will get that for you.

Go Bears!