Using the Right Tools and Techniques to Succeed in Sales
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology can be a huge benefit to helping you sell. It can also be a huge waste of time, money and resources if not used effectively. When it comes right down to it, most CRM systems are pretty much the same. Sure, some are more robust or flexible or customizable. And some run on-premise (at your location, hosted on your computer) while others are hosted by an outside service. But from a sales person’s point of view, the features they use and need are quite similar. The difference has more to do with how they are used by sales. And that is defined by, a) what process the company uses (if any), and, b) the type of training the sales people get (technology versus sales process versus selling skills versus all the above).
Where CRM implementations fall short is typically when they are used as tactical solutions rather than strategic ones. By tactical, I mean they are used simply as a Rolodex, no training is provided, there is no sales process, no support is provided, data-entry is cumbersome and a burden to the users, and it is presented to sales and users as something for management, thus causing the “big-brother is watching” syndrome. All of these problems can be averted by having a commitment to the CRM project, from top management down through all the ranks, and providing the resources and investment to address each requirement; including training, sales processes, planning, designing, and more. CRM should be a strategic business decision, not a tactical band-aid to make sales people sell more.
So what are some of the best ways to use CRM to help individuals and businesses sell, as opposed to just using it as a tracking and reporting mechanism?
The biggest benefit to this whole issue is the combination of CRM technology with a sales process and selling skills. A sales process is the step-by-step methodology to move a prospect through the sales cycle. Selling skills include everything from cold calling to closing, and each skill must be learned and used effectively. CRM technology helps automate and streamline the process and augments the selling skills. The sum of these individual pieces is much greater than the whole. Many sales people don’t know how to use CRM technology to actually help them sell. In general, that is the best way to use CRM – to help you sell. To be more specific, let me point out three specific methods for doing this.
A) Enforcing a Sales Process. Many sales people do what I call “random selling”. Their actions are not in any particular order. They don’t typically handle any two sales in the same order of steps. They shoot from the hip and react to situations as they see fit at that particular moment. Of course, what this means is that they have no pre-defined process or methodology for delivering a professional sales cycle, which has a negative effect on their success. The result is they try to close too soon, or end up qualifying the prospect when they are trying to negotiate, or even handle objections after the sale is made because they didn’t fully understand the customer’s needs. What’s needed is a clearly defined sales process for ensuring that sales people follow a step-by-step methodology to move a prospect through the sales cycle. Each step has a purpose and helps build the foundation for the next step. However, it can become overwhelming trying to keep track of these steps along with what information is needed, what are the next steps, who’s involved, and other sales-related activities. Hence, CRM technology becomes a key ingredient to helping sales people manage their selling activities and sales process. CRM technology is much more than just a repository for where you store your prospect and customer data. It is also more than just a calendar and email system. A robust CRM product should manage the sales process steps by logging information for each customer, alerting the sales person as to what the next step is (even if it is merely listing the steps and identifying which step he is currently at), and providing knowledge about the sales person’s performance, activities and results.
B) Customer Segmentation & Campaigns. I group these two topics together because they are so closely related. If you segment your customers properly, you’ll do a better job with your marketing and sales campaigns. With all this valuable information stored in your CRM system; including customer data, demographics, buying styles, purchasing habits, personal information, and more, it becomes feasible to start segmenting your customers into categories of similar interests, industries, geographies, and other such groupings. Knowing the buying styles and habits of your clients will give you better insight as to who are your best and worst customer profiles. When marketing and sales need to acquire new leads, it makes sense to find leads that best match the profiles from your segmentation. When a sales person calls a new prospect, it helps to have this knowledge in front of him so he is already familiar with some of the issues the prospect may be having, since they will resemble existing customers with the same profile. In this manner, I call this “warm calling” instead of cold calling. CRM technology should not only store this information, but must also help you organize and manage your customer data by segmenting them into similar profiles for you to more effectively market and sell to, as well as target messages to other similar prospects for lead generating efforts.
C) Business Metrics (Forecasting). In my sales training seminars, I often ask the attendees when the last time they saw an accurate forecast was. Usually after the laughing dies down, I would see one or two hands raised. It is truly a challenge to create an accurate forecast, and in today’s difficult economy and crazy world it’s even harder than usual.
Frequently the sales person lets his emotions get in the way of accurately forecasting the outcome of an opportunity. The meeting went great. Everyone got along. The prospect loved the product. Therefore, it looks like an 80 percent chance of winning this deal. But wait! Is there a budget? Are you talking to the correct person, the one with authority to make a purchasing decision? Have you met all their requirements? Do you know, and can you meet, their timeframe?
Chances are you’ll say no to more than one of these critical qualifying questions. But because the meeting went so well, your emotions take over and instead of making an analytical assessment, you make an emotional one and predict a higher probability of making the sale than is realistically possible. Not only are you alluding yourself, but you are setting false expectations for your own income. Furthermore, you are making your boss look bad by feeding him inaccurate information that he has to present to his boss. By using a sales process that is managed and tracked using a CRM system, this problem is minimized, if not eliminated.
CRM technology is a valuable tool in a sales person’s arsenal, along with their selling skills and sales process. It does, however, require an investment in time and resources. The biggest investment is in taking the time to learn to use it effectively to actually help you in your sales process. The return on that investment will be well worth it in helping you achieve your sales goals, building loyal and satisfied customers, and enhancing your sales career.
About the author:
Russ Lombardo, President & Founder of PEAK Sales Consulting, is a nationally recognized Sales and CRM consultant, speaker, trainer, and author. Russ works with sales organizations and management who want to increase their sales results by acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones. As a speaker, Russ presents sales training seminars and customer retention workshops as well as keynote and conference speeches to dozens of audiences every year. He is the author of five books on Sales and CRM.