CRM Software

The Future of CRM Is Not CRM - It's A Mashup


Depending on which statistics you choose to believe, up to 70% of CRM implementations fail. I wrote a post titled 'Simplify sales before we reimagine it' and in it I discusses the need to simplify all we do including CRM. The days of monolithic legacy architectures for most software systems are coming to an end.

Yes, we need a single source of the truth about customers and a large enterprise has no chance of being trusted and customer centric without a well conceived CRM strategy underpinned with the right technology. But the term ‘Customer Relationship Management’ has been hijacked by software companies.

Without doubt we are entering the era of mash-ups as savvy leaders obsessively focus on creating compelling customer experience, both on-line, mobile and in the physical world with real human selling and service. I asked some people I respect about what’s wrong with CRM today and where the future is going. I received some interesting opinions. Buckle-up and then let me know what you think.

Grace Schroeder is CEO of idea2 and she’s an expert in working with Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to bring systems together for awesome user experience. Here are her thoughts on what’s broken with the way people decide and buy, as well with the current approach of CRM solutions.

Technology decision-making is broken. All over the world, IT executives are making poor decisions wrapped in comfortable RFP processes, consensus, and default thinking. Unknown to themselves and their CEO’s, they are signing away their companies' souls by locking them into legacy technologies that will not support the changing business dynamics already underway and locking them OUT of technology innovations that could accelerate and transform them.

Kill the Traditional Software Deployment Model. Technology innovation is creating a wake of capital destruction with the power to capsize entire markets. Established software companies, sense that something strange is happening, and too many of them are reacting instead of acting. They are playing it safe. They are forgetting how to take the risks that brought them their power in the first place, and their best hope is that they regain some courage before their revenues run straight over a cliff.

Naturally aggregating the cloud. Cloud services are like potato chips. No one eats just one. Since it became possible to log into a software solution, decision making has gradually transitioned from IT to (mostly departmental) users. A group of people decide amongst themselves that certain online subscription services make work lives easier and deliver better results to the company. This is great. However, in order to see the results of these efforts, people need a login. No login - no access to the brilliance that is enjoyed by the users. Someone is making reports, someone is asking for reports, things stop being real time. If people could only KNOW the glory of what is happening in these silos, sales would happen faster, better customer profiles would exist, decisions would be made around real time facts and customer interactions.

A sane approach to software decision making. There’s a better way, an adaptive team-based model that brings stakeholders together as partners. Together, we will study the problems you need to solve and work with you to form a technology vision to support the knowns, unknowns, and even the unknown unknowns of your business. The sane approach solves problems quickly, iteratively, with minimal disruption. It doesn’t just “control risks” - it turns problems into possibilities, in real time. Your product will be better. Your costs will be lower. Your grandchildren will admire you.

The sane approach involves deep, clear discussions about trade-offs to make sure that short term and long term objectives are prioritized against business impact. You’ll understand when and why requirements change. You’ll disentangle yourself. Decisions should be ongoing and ever-evolving discussions – not a list of assumptions made by someone who doesn’t know your users, long-term business goals, competitors, or technical competency.

Consider these executive personas and how they drive the dysfunction.

Chief Suspicion Officer. Despite respectable financial results, they feel the gap between their leadership using the right words and the existence of a rational technology strategy. They see the same processes, the same vendors, and the same contracts sprinkled with cloud words. They don’t have the words to challenge it. They keep hearing that their company needs an integration strategy, but they don’t know what that means.

Canary in the Coal Mine. You’re working in a company of great people. The business is growing. You have not been getting support from internal IT, because your projects aren’t deemed core to the business, and IT is too busy for you. Luckily, being a cloud guru, you have organized your department with some great technologies that your people have found. You are making it all work together. Problem is, you can’t get the data to others in the organization without adding a new role: Captain of the Swivel Chair Department. Now, you’re right popular – everyone wants to know what you know. So the company decides that it needs a comprehensive cloud strategy. They gave a guy in another department the title, and he’s going to figure it out for the entire company. He’s been going to conferences for a year, and submitting white papers till hell won’t have it any more. Meanwhile, you’re getting more and more steeped in the tools that you are using, and you’re afraid that you will be forced to rip them out and start over.

The Ostrich. ‘It will all go away – security is a problem and we have spreadsheets’. They ask lots of red herring questions to fend-off discussions about cloud:

  • ‘My mentor told me to always buy out of the box and that’s the rule I follow’.

  • ‘My guys tell me we have all that covered’.

  • ‘Do you know where we can get a Microsoft Access developer do you?’

  • ‘Have you heard of FoxPro?’

  • ‘Do you have something I can read?’

The Hero: He wants to save the day but he doesn’t know how. Who will listen anyway? Who should be the cloud decider? This is a major dilemma in many companies. There are people with titles to suggest that they are the deciders. However, the very nature of the word decision is challenged when it comes to working with differing technology solutions. Almost every business process in the company (including the RFP process) leads to poor decision-making.

The truth of the matter is the perfect human(s) to make these decisions do not exist in every company. The proliferation of solutions has done a great thing – there are point solutions for many more business functions, and they’re easier to use than ever. The nature of the solutions add transparency, visibility and accountability into results, and should guide people toward more effective work products.

That said, how do you take an organization that isn’t technologically savvy, and begin to introduce solutions in a way that can be easily consumed? If not easily, at least in a way that does not cause people to stick a fork in their leg when they log into their new platform.

Customers have needed trusted advisors more; to help them navigate the conflicting messages and complexity of technology. But customers must themselves also appoint leaders who can bring it all together internally when designing the customer experience they’re seeking to create. These people must care the most about success and possess technical curiosity and skills and to enable them to understand the world of the possible. Finally, they must help the best people in their teams be part of the decision process and implementation.

Certainly Grace sees CRM is part of the answer but not the panacea. She is very much all about integration and knows that the best customer experience is created by bringing data and systems together. This approach uses the right tool for the right job and is agile in its approach. Technology today offers low cost web services and modern Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to bring mash-ups to life in an affordable way.

Michael Bonner from Pipeline Manager is someone I respect enormously. He is one of the smartest people I’ve met and has many years of CRM experience in making systems both usable and valuable in enabling process efficiently and effectively.

First I asked Michael: “What’s wrong with CRM?” CRM was designed by IT people. Sales never took a leadership role in designing CRM. Then Marketing and Inside Selling got thrown into the mix – again by a department that was never trained in those professions and with no accountability for outcomes. We see years of research pointing to customers engaging with sales later and later in the cycle. And yet we see no improvements from CRM offering ways to understand that big-picture cycle, let alone view it or proactively control it or the customer’s journey. Instead, department silos are reinforced.

Next I asked: “Where do you see the future for CRM?” “First we have to ask: Why would this situation change any time soon? Improved sales has no effect on IT compensation or reviews. Whether a rep takes a minute or quarter of an hour filling out a CRM form, IT has no real reason to care. This problem plays out in countless minor inconveniences, overloaded forms and counterintuitive workflows. The problem compounds itself across inefficiencies throughout the lead-to-repeat-business sales cycle.”

The easy way to fix this: put IT/CRM admins as well as everyone involved in generating business on a strict, generous commission. That will keep all the silos laser-focused on coordinated activities that speed up a sale. The entire organization will get very smart about how a rep uses his/her 2000 hours per year. Long IT projects will become a lot shorter. Admins will be anxious to know every best practice out there and will then align CRM to support those practices. Marketing will add to the CRM only those things that are truly critical to driving revenue.

CRM of the future could look like a single source of information that tracks the entire lifecycle of the customer, with emphasis on the processes that make a sale, rather than petabytes of low-value forensic data. The hard truth is that technology can support almost anything that sales can imagine.

Looking at the future of CRM I see a big disconnect between all that CRM could be and the more likely outcome of people protecting turf, undermining change and training, passive resistance to anything that says that people could be doing better.

Despite the phenomenal payoff that any organization would have with a CRM that actually helped them make more money, there may be too many entrenched shibboleths to allow that change to happen. The bigger the organization the more entrenched the old silos and blame games seem to be.

So - CRM as an industry can keep growing at double-digit rates without having to fix any of its systemic nightmares. IT can stay in control of tools that they never have to use while ensuring that user confusion translates to greater job security. Until top management starts feeling some pain, there’s no reason to expect a shift that results in a change in the culture, the silos or the software that supports them.

Michael Bonner has delivered many CRM implementations in the real world to transform sales execution but now it's your turn: What’s the future of CRM in your eyes. Are mash-ups the future for user experience with CRM the underlying database?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Photo by Hosein Emrani on Unsplash.

Sales Mastery or Sales Enablement?

I've worked with thousands of sales people in many different industries. Professional selling is changing rapidly with technology-driven automation and commoditization resulting in more than one-third of sellers losing their jobs in the coming years.

Sales people need to fund themselves from the value they create rather than from the margins that the product or service delivers.

For any sales person to prosper in their career they need to move beyond being good at building relationships to also embrace the holy trinity of sales mastery:

  • Lead with insight as a domain expert
  • Create tangible business value for clients
  • Leverage technology to be effective and efficient

Make no mistake, relationships alone are not enough. Buyers today are busy and stressed. They are not looking for new friends. They instead want greater value from fewer relationships. They care about how you can help them achieve their goals and manage their risks.

Lead with insight: Don't wait for your employer to hand you mythical silver bullets... you instead need to self-educate by researching and writing about the disruptive and transformative trends in your customer's world.

If you can't write then you can't sell.

There are four reasons to create and publish content:

  1. Educate yourself and develop domain knowledge and expertise
  2. Connect with industry leaders to build your sphere of influence
  3. Attract clients and an audience to support your business goals
  4. Build your personal brand evidencing credibility, value and insight

In an online world we are known by who we associate with (connections) and what we publish (insights). According to IDC research, 75% of buyers research the seller before engaging. What do they see when they view your profile? Do they see a credible domain expert worthy of trust and an investment of their time or do they see a mere salesperson? We must create own own narrative that sets us apart and earns engagement at the most senior levels. It is vitally important to publish thoughtful posts in your LinkedIn profile.

Creating business value: Move away from talking about who you are, what you do and how you do it to instead lead with why a conversation matters. What business outcomes can you deliver for them and what risks can you manage?

The language of business is numbers not words

Lead with why it is important and what it can do for them at a business level. Have evidence to support your claims. Know your best customers and why they decided to implement change within their organization. Understand their business case and the challenges they faced in change management. Bring this wisdom to new prospective clients and set an agenda that sets you apart from the competition.

Leverage technology: The best sales people combine proven old world practices with modern ways of executing. Building relationships and evidencing credentials and value can be done online. Buyers expect the sellers to arrive having done their research. Don't waste the customer's time asking them to educate you about publicly available information. Embrace a social selling framework to modernize the way you sell.

Social Selling Definition: The strategy and process of building quality networks online that attract clients and accelerates the speed of business and efficiency of selling, as achieved with a strong personal brand and human engagement through social listening, social publishing, social research, social engagement, and social collaboration.

Also use your company's CRM system better than anyone else. Work with marketing for lead nurturing with automation tools that keep prospects in your orbit without you annoying them or them wasting your time.

While sales individuals need to focus on 'sales mastery', the sales organization needs to focus on 'sales enablement'.

Sales Enablement

Most businesses do a good job in segmenting their markets, customers and products but what is often missed is the insidious impact of commoditization. Every product or service becomes a commodity over time as features that once differentiated drift back to parity as competitors catch up. According to Corporate Executive Board research, 86% of the time that sellers pitch their ‘compelling value,’ buyers perceive it as neither unique or compelling but merely features also offered by other suppliers. Every business needs to look at itself from the outside – how do customers really view us comparatively? If you sell a commodity, then face the awful truth rather than cling to expensive sales models where customers are unwilling to pay for the low value and high costs associated with a field sales force.

There is no such thing as a high margin commodity and the value they offer must stem from insight and wisdom rather than mere information and service. The first law of selling is that people buy from those they like and trust. They then seek best value and lowest risk. The key for every seller is to understand that ‘value’ and ‘risk’ are all defined by the customer. In selling, we are delegated down to people we sound like and this means that salespeople need to learn the language of leadership if they want to engage at senior levels. They need to be equipped to discuss the business case, delivering outcomes and managing risk.

If a product or service is a commodity then the sales model should be engineered accordingly; make it easy for the customer to obtain information, become convinced and then transact in a way that’s easiest for them including web, phone or channels. For products and services that actually are high value solutions then force the field sales team toward value through insight. Support them in developing domain expertise, genuine insights and business acumen to enable them to operate at a higher level. Product marketing needs to focus on differentiating what is being sold; and sales people need to differentiate by how they sell.

What are the critical elements of sales enablement and how do you create a framework for effective sales execution? There are three essential ingredients plus the catalyst of sales management leadership. The three ingredients are sales methodology, sales process and technology platform.

Few people can articulate the difference between methodologies and process yet these elements are distinctly different in complex B2B selling.

Methodology is the framework for formulating strategy and tactics to win; it’s also how you create your competitive deal strategy, identify risks, cover the political power base within the relationship map, and identify the best way to create compelling value for the buyer. But which methodology should you use? There are a number of well-proven methodologies including TAS, Miller Heiman, RSVPselling, and others. Success with methodology does not depend on which one you select but simply on how well you use it for opportunity coaching with the team.

Process is how you build a sales funnel and execute the sale; it’s how you qualify opportunities and progress through the deal stages with discovery, proposal, demonstration, closing, contracting, on-boarding and then doing win/loss reviews and case studies. Process steps need to be supported by the right tools such as a call planner, qualification tool, discovery questionnaire, proposal templates, win/loss review forms, and territory and account plan templates.

Platform is the technology you use to enable and automate your sales methodology and sales process. It is where you have a single source of truth about customers and opportunities. It must also be your coaching platform where there is transparency concerning pipeline depth and opportunity quality. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is the ideal platform but CRM needs to be a strategy, not just a technology and reporting tool. To be implemented successfully, it must go beyond the mere functions of accounts, opportunities, pipeline and forecasting; it must instead enable the mapping of relationships and force discipline in deal stage progression with qualification scoring and action tracking. It must also include close plans with customer validation of critical dates. Finally, CRM needs to incorporate tight integration with both marketing, social (such as LinkedIn) and after sales support to provide a single view of the entire customer lifecycle from targeting, marketing, lead nurturing and selling through to account management, support, service, satisfaction and upselling.

This approach uses CRM to place customers at the heart of everything you do and provides the platform for being truly customer-centric. It also delivers transparency with deal quality and revenue predictability. It’s where sales people manage their opportunities and the tool that sales managers use to coach their people. This approach is designed to serve the sales people in improving their efficiency and effectiveness. Because it provides them with value and enables their manager to coach for improved win rates, they actually populate the systems with accurate and useful information.

When CRM is implemented with customers and sales people as the priority, and when it’s the platform for deal coaching and the enabler for sales process; then system success is assured. The synergistic outcome for management is accurate reporting and revenue predictability. The corollary of this is that CRM failure comes from implementing it as a reporting tool with poor alignment to sales methodology and sales processes. Many CRM implementation fail and it has nothing to do with the technology provider; here are the critical success factors for successful CRM:

  • Obsessively focus on the system serving sales and customer support staff
  • Integrate with social platforms such as LinkedIn and InsideView (for easy sales research and insight into Trigger Events)
  • Integrate with marketing for lead nurturing (to build sales pipeline)
  • Create a single view of customers and prospects (to be informed)
  • Embed methodology and process coaching (qualify, call plan, close plan, etc.)
  • Simplify reports and KPIs which can actually be managed (activities)
  • Support customer lifecycle post sale (cases, complaints, renewals, etc.)

With accurate data in a CRM the next issue to decide is what metrics provide meaningful reporting. A common mistake made by management at all levels is to seek to manage by results. Jason Jordan writes insightfully on this topic in his book, Cracking The Sales Management Code, highlighting that only 17% of the 300+ possible sales metrics measured are actually manageable. As an example, you cannot manage revenue, but you can manage the activities that create it. Rather than command sales people to bring in more revenue, they need to be guided in which activities are most likely to create the type of revenue you are seeking. Managing activities is the key to delivering the right results and this leads us to the catalyst that brings methodology, process and platform technology together for successful sales enablement – the sales manager.

Sales management is without doubt the most important link in the revenue chain for any organization. The right sales manager creates emotional commitment and belief within their team, they coach and mentor for sales success, they develop the right strategies to focus effort where the team can competitively win and they drive the right conversations with the right roles within the right targeted prospects. They also create organizational alignment with upstream marketing and downstream delivery, support and service to build a business with quality customers.

Sales management leadership is the catalyst that brings it all together: people, process and technology within the right strategy and a culture of excellence in execution. The type of person capable of delivering all this is an engineer rather than a warrior, they have empathy yet hold people to account. But the best sales manager in the world cannot be successful if their boss has them endlessly in internal meetings and reporting up. The sales manager needs to be a coach rather than an administrator. She needs to spend more time in the field than in the office, and more time strategizing and reviewing opportunities with sales people than managing reports. A great coach does not jump in and take over, nor do they do the sales person’s job for them. They don’t feel the need to rescue people and instead understand that people are best motivated by reasons they themselves discover. They focus on planning and debriefing to create constant improvement.

The Holy Grail of sales enablement is the seamless integration of the right methodology, efficient sales process, all enabled by Social Selling and CRM technology used to coach sales people by an effective sales leader focused on strategy, execution and building a positive team culture.

The very best sales operations bring people, process and technology together to be obsessively customer-centric.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Kreg Steppe Winner

CRM Must Evolve To 'Customer Experience' Or Become Mere Back-end Database

Last year I was engaged to lead some round table forums with over 100 organizations across multiple cities in Australia. In the sessions we actively discussed the role of CRM in creating Customer eXperience (CX) and the half-day workshops were created by The Eventful Group who hold an annual major CRM conference where I have been a keynote speaker each year.

One common theme in the workshops I led was that CRM is a dirty word. CRM failure rates are claimed to be anywhere from 33% to 70%. This infographic from Dun and Bradstreet says it all.

Almost unanimously, people said that they positioned a CRM initiative internally as a system for creating a 'single source of the truth' or a '360 degree view of the customer'. That's smart because CEOs don't want yet another software system in their business but they do want the outcome it can deliver.

Some people say that people don't want to buy a drill, they want a hole. I disagree; people actually want their picture hanging on the wall. CRM is no different. CXOs want what the system can do for them and that must be the focus. But the single biggest mistake that enterprises make in implementing CRM systems is that they neglect their internal and external customers.

Every CRM should be implemented to serve sales people and customers, whether they be channel partners or end-users and consumers. The big questions must be: How will the system serve the sales person – how will it help them sell more effectively? Strategy is important but designing Customer eXperience (CX) is where you create clarity in use-cases and functional requirements. The devil is very much in the detail. The goal of any CRM implementation must be to serve internal and external users, rather than be a uber big brother reporting tool.

The delegates at the round table forums provided lots of interesting feedback and here are the things they believe need to be addressed to ensure success and long-term ROI for CX initiatives:

  • Design and deliver a customer centric culture right across your business – produce a team culture that focuses on continuous learning and training, looking to continually evolve and improve
  • Provide a clear and articulated vision with attainable values for the future – “live by them and not just preach them”
  • Methods to change the engrained behaviors and habits of staff with years of experience who are “set in their ways” or who’ve said “we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work”
  • Making the appropriate decisions without adverse impact on the end customer experience
  • Remove the silos within your organization - organizations with siloed functions and departments work independently but have a significant impact on the overall customer experience
  • Overcoming fear and intimidation – what if my team don’t follow the process – it could be catastrophic!!
  • Committing everyone to customer centricity – how you get everyone moving in the same direction
  • Engaging different generations to embrace new processes and technology available to them
  • How providing clear up-stream - and down-stream communication of “why” the new processes are in place can influence usage and accuracy of data quality
  • Coping with evolving systems’ training needs – upgrades, new developments and design changes
  • Ensuring the customer focus from training and methodologies remain “top of mind” when staff are in their roles
  • “Everyone is a customer” – using personal experiences, positive or negative, to apply within your own work
  • Finding, attracting and retaining the right individuals for your business, when the skills aren’t always available

I certainly agree and here are my top 5 recommendations:

  1. CRM must be strategy, not a technology
  2. Design end-to-end customer [and channel partner] experience
  3. Embrace the concept of mash-ups for best of breed capabilities
  4. Design for sales process enablement and sales person efficiency
  5. Ensure you're measuring the right things (inputs)

CRM failure rates are high so don't allow technology to hijack your customer relationship management strategy! Technology is merely an enabler of processes and service levels.

Real leadership is needed and executive commitment to CX (Customer eXperience) is essential... message to CEO: You need to change your job descprition; obsessively focus on CX rather than CRM.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main image photo by Flickr: Dallas Krentzel