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October 26, 2007

Hi, I'm From HR and I'm Here to....

In previous postings on this site I have suggested that there are three primary areas where the Sales Operations function can provide the most value. First and most common is the financial reporting and analysis role followed by the sales program and policy compliance role. Often, sadly, the third area, the sales effectiveness role, is too far back in priority and can’t be funded or the existing resources filling the other areas do not have the competency.

When this is the situation I have seen some interesting things happen as a result. Naturally, one option is to do nothing and just pay attention to the numbers and make sure that programs are being followed correctly. This is certainly not as entertaining as those sales functions that buy trendy tools for aiding performance. Many of these attempts of achieving sales effectiveness through tools remind me of the role Renee Russo played opposite Kevin Costner in the movie Tin Cup where she desperately attempted to use golf aids to improve her game. Most of the sales performance tools I have run across are similar in value - best not to get caught up with those ads in the back of the airline magazines.

Trying out new sales methodologies is also popular. These 5 or 7 step programs can be useful under some circumstances, but require much follow through and attention from non-existent resources. Passing out a sales methodology book at a sales meeting typically does not go too far.

There is another option. But when I suggest it you are going to laugh. The last time you heard the phrase, “Hi, I’m from HR and I am here to help” you ran the other way as fast as possible. You might want to reconsider, especially if you don’t have the fire power to work sales effectiveness initiatives out of your own Sales Ops group. You may have a hidden gem just down the hallway.

My experience is that there just may be some folks tucked away in HR that can be useful to you. I know what you are thinking - that this is madness – but there are folks with skills that can supplement what you wish you could offer to your folks in the field. From what I have seen achieved, there may be a number of possibilities for you.

First, most HR resources are schooled in performance management methods and techniques. If you need support focusing on sales rep performance, this could be a great fit. Similarly, HR folks can be exceptionally good at helping coach sales managers through difficult performance management situations. This is a great service for you to receive rather than attempting to provide all this coaching yourself.

Swing Mug

October 12, 2007

Strategy? We don't need no stinking strategy!

Back around the turn of the millennium there was quite a bit of press lauding the merits of having a CRM strategy. It happens that there was a lot of evidence piling up in support of the idea that a CRM strategy, or a customer-facing strategy of some sort, was one of the best factors for improving your chances of having a CRM program end up making everybody successful rather than making everybody look for a new job. Yours may have been one of the companies that heeded this advice, actually took action, and went out audaciously building a CRM strategy.

Well, my question to all of you is, when was the last time you took a look at it? While it may be OK for things like disaster recovery planning, once-and-done is not a great approach for this kind of planning. A CRM Strategy does require a bit of looking after. Plus, those original reasons for building your Strategy in the first place are still completely valid.

Hungry Advice

Certainly the chances of stuff changing since the time of putting that strategy together is high. You might even be going after the wrong target now. If for no other reason, it would good just to see if you are shooting for the right moon. On the other hand, maybe you got there, but that is no reason for ignoring your strategy. This just means you now need to set the bar higher – shoot for a higher moon.

When I work with my clients setting strategic targets I often use the metaphor of going from Point A to Point B. The CRM Strategic planning effort is all about choosing a destination and then causing the motion to reach that destination. When you revisit your strategy you need to determine where you are. Did you get to A.5? If so, that means you might be stalled. Did you get to A.95? That means you made it and need to declare victory. Or, maybe you determine that Point B is no longer valid – you need a new letter. However, if you do make it to Point B, once you clean up after your party, look again. Point C is the new B. You need to mobilize again.

So, what do you do? First, dust off the strategy document, and maybe even be so bold as to review it with the others who put it together with you. Next, take account – how far did you get? Finally, take action, for which there are a few choices.

Revise - You may find that your original plan has not taken you completely to your destination. That’s OK, things change. Modify the plan and get things back on track Keep pushing.

Revitalize – Sometimes the original plan was just fine. However, you all got so busy fighting fires that you got lost a bit. In this case I recommend rekindling the fire – get the sizzle back in your CRM program. There is nothing like a re-launch with some balloons and confetti (or at least donuts) to get things mobilized again.

Repeat – Don’t stop now – you have momentum on your side. Success breeds success and there is no better way to create a CRM strategy than on the heels of one that just succeeded. Go through the strategic planning process again, but this time with a few things a bit different. First, you are experts now, so you can do it relatively faster. Also, you probably learned a few things the first time around, so take those into account (like invite marketing to the table from the beginning rather than asking them as an afterthought part of the way through the process).

October 05, 2007

Harvest Time - Is The Fruit Edible?

A number of years back I was lamenting to a friend that the company I work for was not generating enough new business. This fellow, who has been a marketing wiz for his entire career, made somewhat of a flippant reply that our basic problem was that we did not generate enough leads. It was an intensely obvious point, but at the same time, it was a significantly profound revelation for me.

Back then our business model was entirely based on partner referrals – a software partner would sell licenses to a new customer and suggest that we assist with the process of implementing the software. Back in 1999 it was a reasonable way of doing business, as we were riding a strong wave of CRM expansion (and it did not hurt that we aligned ourselves with the market leader).

Harvest Time

When the market started to pull back, so did our alliance referrals, and we became heavily reliant on our installed base for generating revenue. However, this segment can only deliver a finite pipeline that needs replenishment continuously. So, we took control of the helm and went after new business development independently. Since then we have been quite successful in identifying, on our own, companies who are in need of the services we provide. This business development capability is something that most people refer to as lead generation.

This was a fundamental change to our business model that has had very positive results. I can’t imagine how we could be successful today any other way. However, what surprises me is how many of my clients don’t have this fundamental capability in place, or don’t have a fruit-bearing lead generation mechanism cranking out opportunities for the sales organization.

So, I have decided to explore this situation a bit further. Why is such a fundamental business development capability less mature for so many companies?

One of my early conclusions from this ongoing investigation is that the typical sales organization is not confident that lead generation from a marketing function can actually bear edible fruit. The perception that investments in lead generation, beyond the obligatory trade show attendance, will be fruitless serves as a limitation to business development success. Ultimately this causes a self-reinforcing negative loop. Marketing remains under-funded and provides only sour or un-ripened leads, while field sales is rewarded with higher commission rates for bringing in new business. With this the perception that the field must perform its own hunting remains solidly in place.

If you find this to be the case in your organization, I suggest that you look at a way to break that cycle. There are challenges to overcome. First, marketing has to get funding to build a lead generation function correctly. Buying worn out lists and pounding them further with spam is the best way to prove to the field that they should do their own hunting. Building a process to identify interested prospects, then nurturing those leads until maturity, and, finally, qualifying opportunities before handing off the lead to sales is the only way to begin changing perceptions in the field. However, it will take some time.

Don’t give up after the first pilot hands out leads that are ignored. The sales reps will need to see a solid trend of qualified leads hit their inbox or home page before they will be won over.

Feedback on lead relevance is also key to making this all work. Understanding which leads, and which lead sources are generating true opportunities is the best way to optimize the lead generation tactics. But one caution - feedback is not the easiest thing to get back from sales (quality feedback that is).