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May 25, 2007

Uncovering Coverage Collaboration

Getting through security at the airport these days has become seriously complex - too complex. Everything has to be uncovered. First it was the metal objects, then the laptop, then came the shoes, next came the coats, and now we have the liquids in the Ziplock. Getting this all onto the tables and into the bins while walking closer to the entrance of the x-ray machine has turned into quite a dance. I don’t have enough hands to manage it all, but as a regular traveler I feel pressure to keep the line moving. It makes me long for a simpler time.

Topless

I am also seeing a similar trend with a lot of my clients who are also becoming more complex. But for them, everything has to be covered. When a new sophisticated product gets launched, a special sales force gets introduced. When a complicated service is added, a new layer of service specialist is layered onto the team. When a new customer segment is identified it leads to the development of a new layer of account management. It seems like every time there is a new wrinkle there is a new group added to the org chart. When will this coverage complexity stop?

It may just likely continue. It appears to be a necessity.

However, I also see some risks. When the number of groups and the number of customer touchpoints reaches a certain complexity, the likelihood of problems grows exponentially. Opportunities get missed in handoffs, cannibalism between groups increases, the cost of sale inches up, and the chance of a customer becoming irritated from having to talk to too many people, or not knowing the right person to talk to skyrockets.

There are choices when the coverage model gets out of control. Certainly one option is to scale back, but this is not popular I have found. A second approach is to create a single point of contact. This alternative seems appealing, but I find it is intensely hard to operationalize. The third approach is collaboration – linking all the groups together in a way that attempts to present the right resource to the customer based on the need at the time.

To accomplish a collaborative model for handling complex coverage, there a few variables that become essential. First, it is critical that each individual become crystal clear with their role. Overlap of tasks or responsibilities to permit flexibility is one thing. Ambiguity is another, and needs to be driven out.

Second, it is positively necessary that the CRM system be set up to enable push and pull communication that is both robust but not burdensome. The sharing of information both instantly and historically is a threshold requirement. Without it, the approach won’t work. This means that everybody has to hold up their end of the bargain, as well. Nobody is too important to share their interactions with others. That is why it is called collaboration.

May 19, 2007

Voice of the Buyer

The Voice of the Customer concept is becoming a popular approach for marketing functions to develop a better understanding of customer interests, and, therefore, behavior. Back in March, CRM Magazine ran a short piece on this method for getting into the customer’s proverbial head. The article provides some insight for infusing this customer-orientation mind set into the organization at a number of levels. Good stuff. Here is an idea for how you might be able to leverage this approach for very effective outcomes.

You may have read a posting on this blog site, Balancing Act, which looks at the need for striking a balance along a number of different dimensions to run an effective CRM program. I think the concept of the Voice of the Customer is a beautiful way to accomplish a balancing act of one type, and enable the Marketing function to provide some critical value to the sales function.

In this case the balance dimension is a selling versus buying orientation. When we focus on sales effectiveness we tend to focus on what things to do to sell more things. In this case the perspective is from that of the seller. But there can be some value in understanding the sales process from the perspective of the buyer. Could we do better if we were more understanding of the buying cycle, buying criteria, the needs of the buyer? There is no question.

Blowin' His Horn

The voice of the customer can serve as a mechanism to help better understand the needs and requirements of the buying process. Should the marketing function become effective at gathering this kind of valuable insight, it could then share this knowledge with the sales force to better tailor their process to be best aligned with their customers and prospects.

And what good would this do? Well, there was that research study reported last summer in the Harvard Business Review, which indicated that customers prefer to work with sales professionals who understand, are sensitive to, and follow the customer buying process, not just push the deal through their own selling processes.

Listening to your customer is not good enough. How you act on the information you hear is the real opportunity for success. Gathering buying information is a great value from the Voice of the Customer tool. Helping sales utilize this data to sell more effectively is priceless.

May 11, 2007

Sales Ops 2.0

How would you classify your Sales Operations group?
- Accountants
- Police
- Personal Trainers

Bermuda Traffic Light

I tend to see the sales ops group as a bellwether for how a prospective client wants to build their CRM or SFA program. Some prefer to use their investment to have better reporting on how the sales reps are doing against targets. Some others prefer to use their investment to monitor activity to ensure the right sales activities are taking place with accounts. And yet some others use their investment to find ways to improve sales rep performance. Is one better than another?

That is a loaded question.

It would be easy to propose that the personal trainer role is the better of the three, if for no other reason because it sounds more politically correct. But, I am not going to succumb to that trap. Sales performance is really important, but the other two have merit as well.

What I do think is the more critical consideration is whether you are limited to one of these roles in your sales ops group or whether it includes all three. I do strongly believe that all three are better than only one. Yes, but, what is the relationship between sales ops and SFA?

I recently heard Joe Galvin from SIRIUSDecisions use the term, “Salesforce Accounting”. In this case he was referring to the co-opting of the SFA system purely for the purpose of forecasting and measuring sales results. My experience is that when a sales ops group focuses on the accounting role, then SFA is designed as a tool to achieve their purpose. Taking this one step further, I think there are companies who also build “Salesforce Altercation” systems. This type of SFA serves as a tool to allow the sales ops group to play the police role to ensure that reps are conducting sales calls according to plan.

When the SFA or CRM system are designed for only these purposes, I believe it leads to “Salesforce Alienation”, causing the all too popular adoption problems that is far more common in the marketplace than we should tolerate. Then of course there are those companies who build “Salesforce Alignment” systems, which fit with the personal trainer role of sales ops groups.

So why don’t we all aspire to the salesforce alignment version of SFA? It sure appears by its name to be the right approach? It is a good approach. Helping drive sales rep performance is essential, but we also want to use SFA for purposes of financial management and to drive best practices. We should not be satisfied with only one. We should expect all three. We should expect all three from our SFA systems and our sales operations teams. We have room for accountants, police and personal trainers on the team, even if they all wrap up into that single person you have serving as your sales ops function.

May 04, 2007

Making The Grade

Over the last few weeks there has been an amazing amount of stuff written about a recently released study about sales teams making their numbers. According to the statistics a huge percentage of folks did not make it to the annual award meeting The fact that the majority of reps did not make their numbers is not what I find surprising. After all, we do set the targets as a stretch

What I do find more revealing is that there are some pretty significant differences in perception about what is working and what is not working in the field. For example, there was a pretty big disparity regarding the perception of the efficacy of sales processes between reps and managers.

49 cpg

So, the majority of our sales professionals do not achieve their sales targets and they feel that there are problems with the sales process. Meanwhile the majority of managers are unhappy with the achievement of sales targets, but they think that sales processes are fine. Which is the correlation that we should be attending to?

Generally speaking, I feel that many of my sales management clients are not aware of some of the sales process issues that get in the way of prductive selling. I'll often enquire about the existance of sales stages or a pipeline methodology and will often be told that a standard process exists and is embedded within the SFA tool. However, when I as this question out in the field I will be told that there are some partially defined steps that don't necessarily fit all groups and are not always followed and why am I asking?

My guess is more sales folks would make their numbers if more effort were placed on getting the sales processes addressed. This implies both the processes that are specific to the individual sales rep and those processes the integrate that rep to marketing, telesales, order management, and services.

When the pocesses are messy, it is harder to be successful.