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Is Sales Process & CRM Stopping Sales?

Standard metrics and KPI's (Key Performance Indicators) are created usually between The Sales Director, The Financial Director and The Managing Director. These KPI's tell the sales teams what they should be doing. For example, 'Your pipeline should be at least three times of your annual sales target'; 'Your conversion ratio of opportunities to closed orders should be 60%', and so on. Nothing like a bit of statistical analysis from the bean counters to motivate the sales team is there? Remember that old saying?'You can prove anything with statistics'. Here, we see it applied for real, albeit on an unconscious level.

In some extreme cases these so called sales processes and form filling exercises have to be followed, otherwise the sales teams' commissions will be withheld! This is usually dressed as a 'best practice', whereas the reality is that the sales team is being treated like a spoilt child. No explanation is given as to how the information will be used and of what value this will be to the sales team or, indeed, how it is supposed to help the sales team close more sales which after all is their ultimate function. This is a simple threat that is applied to the sales team in an effort to force them to follow internal processes. This type of behaviour is not only destructive, unprofessional but it is also extremely de-motivating and more often results in reduced sales productivity rather than more productivity. However without lambasting Finance and Administration too much do have a role to play here, but should they be defining the sales processes? So long as their requirements are realistic and without the analysis/paralysis syndrome, they will actually complement the sales process and the result will be positive.

More to the point were sales teams ever consulted when the company decided to invest in the implementation of the CRM or asked about their requirements? For the vast majority they were never consulted or, if they were, only in a superficial way. Salespeople are viewed as disposable commodities in the race to increase the companies share price. So this cycle of procedural development continues and not surprisingly becomes regarded as 'the way things are done here'.

Then some very strange things happen. New forms and documentation are circulated to the sales team and they are forced to complete them. The sales team become ever more suspicious of why all of this 'inappropriate' information is needed and begin to lose trust in the company. Now the fun starts - marketing discovers that they can't use any of the information because it is incomplete and start issuing their own set of requirements - yet more forms and documentation for the sales teams to complete. And so the cycle continues to a point where the CRM application becomes viewed as a hindrance and not a valuable sales tool. Sales management will also find it increasingly difficult to get the sales team to provide the information about the status of their opportunities. Typically, sales people will come up with a standard reply angrily such as 'I'm supposed to be out there selling, not doing admin!'

Unfortunately this is an all too common incident in corporate sales these days and one that you might recognise. On one hand you have the senior executives who made the CRM buying decision and are determined to see some tangible return from their considerable investment. On the other hand, you have the sales and marketing teams believing that 'big brother' is now watching their every move so that the information can be used to criticise them and possibly even get them fired - a recipe for reducing productivity rather than adding value. Furthermore, only very rarely does any review process exist. As the requirements of the company evolve, there is no means of accommodating these changes in the CRM application and even when sales suggest a better way of doing things they are told that the you can't do it with the CRM system. What you end up with is a company that runs for the benefit of the internal sales processes as opposed to addressing the needs of the customers and the employees. In addition, the company and its employees forget why certain sales processes even exist and, worse still, nobody questions why.

Trusting Your Sales Team

Processes are important, but they must add value to both the sales teams and the company. If we get down to basics, why do we need all of these sales processes anyway? Quite simply, to generate a sales forecast and hence, to accurately predict the revenues in any given period. In reality this is actually not that hard to achieve.

The key to it is TRUST YOUR SALES TEAM.

Now consider the Sales and Sales Management team. They have been recruited, trained and developed at enormous expense to the company (check it out and add up all the money that has been spent to develop these people) - perhaps they even represent the single largest overhead for your company. Your have hired these people because they know how to do the job. Shouldn't they be allowed to do it and remove all of the obstacles to productivity? They are the vehicle for the company's products and services and the means of communicating the 'go to market' strategy. These are skilled executives whose income potential is in the top 5% of the company and they are surely by definition, trustworthy!

So why do companies insist on imposing such pointless processes on their sales teams? If anyone knows about sales processes surely it must be the sales teams themselves. Companies also need accurate sales forecasts. This is a sales management task. Focus on these processes to establish the probability of the revenue opportunity rather than just getting sales teams to input information that, in some cases, may never even be used. By ensuring that the sales team has the responsibility and accountability for sales forecasting and setting their own objectives, you may be surprised by the results - These people will often set goals for themselves that are far greater than those you would set for them.

Sure, other departmental functions have their specific requirements, but this must be put in context. The most important characteristic is to ensure that everyone is clear on exactly why the process is there and feedback must be provided to the sales teams on a regular basis.

What you should be looking for?

Creating an environment addicted to imposing sales processes for sales process's sake is particularly destructive. If sales teams believe that their ability to do the job is restricted with administrative tasks, their morale will be impacted. Sales people do require motivating on almost continual basis and they also need lots of feedback. If companies insist on demanding information and adherence to processes without offering feedback, they should not be surprised at the outcome, which will include reduced productivity, low morale, cynicism and high staff turnover throughout the sales and marketing function.

A view I recently heard from one employer was that, with the current unfavourable economic conditions, they can do more or less what they like with the sales team. Some companies believe there are currently more sales people available than there are jobs to go round. This is very arrogant and this particular type of narrow-mindedness will only promote further staff turnover and a higher cost of sales. Remember that the economic conditions will change and that sales people who have been subjected to this negative culture will resign at the first opportunity in other words as soon as the economy picks up and the offers start to come some of your most valuable assets will disappear. This will cause the company to endure more unnecessary costs and will further limit success.

Another company I know has a culture of compliance requiring that the sales teams follow processes with blind obedience. Failure of a single sales person to do so will result in them receiving warnings and eventually dismissal. This is the most unfortunate culture I have ever encountered. The sales teams have all of their natural creativity and individuality suppressed and their opinions are ignored, which merely serves to create a sales team filled with mediocrity, where below average performance is the norm and so often seems to be accepted.

What companies should do is to cultivate creativity and encourage individuality - rather than just talk about it. A process of constant improvement may not be the most fashionable management theory these days, but it does work. Rewarding team successes serves to increase morale and promotes high levels of staff retention. This open culture will come across to customers and strong, enduring business relationships will follow - yielding solid and conventional business performance.

What should you take into consideration?

The main things to consider when you have complex sales processes are:

1. Does the process genuinely add value to the sales team? Only if it does will you get what you want from the sales teams.

2. Will you stifle creativity with your CRM product?

3. Has the value of the process been communicated to the sales teams?

Do they know why other departments may need the information and how will it help them to increase sales? If the process has no context it also has no meaning.

4. Is the process necessary? Why is that particular process in place and who benefits from it? If the answers to these questions are in the negative, eliminate the process now.

5. Provide regular feedback to the sales team. This feedback loop will ensure that everyone is involved in the sales process and that you will gain commitment to move forward. You may also generate a cycle of continuous process improvement.

6. Cultivate an environment of openness and trust. Welcome new thoughts and ideas and manage this effectively with full disclosure and feedback.

7. Get the sales teams to own their sales forecast. By making the sales teams part of the process you will increase your chances of success. Remember to demonstrate your respect for their professional skills.

8. Does your CRM product allow you to create winning strategies?

Taking a closer look at your internal processes and ask yourself 'Does this make sense?' if you cannot answer yes get rid of it and start again. If you are able to answer yes then congratulate yourself ? you already are winning more business than your competition and you have probably a better sales team that enjoy working for you!

I fundamentally believe in the value of CRM systems and there are many choices available but be cautious when implementing such a system, keep asking yourself 'does this make sense for us' ? you know the answer, you know the people and you know the success achieved to date by your company. Don't throw everything away and remember 'we all have choices' make sure the choices you choose add value.

© The Sales Academy 2005. You may include this article in your ezine or on your website or distribute it to others, provided you include the copyright statement and the bio information tag line found at the end of this article.

Bio Info:
Michael Palman, a global Master Sales Coach and author. Mike helps people and businesses do more, do it better and get the results that they want. Mike has had a successful career in sales for over 25 years and now helps salespeople, sales management & business owners get the sales edge. Mike lives in both the UK and South Africa. For more articles by Mike Palman, visit

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