Where's the ROI in your CRM? It's in the process

CRM, if implemented properly, can be a company's competitive edge.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

I'm down to the last chapter of The Commonwealth of Self Interest: Customer Engagement, Business Benefit and then have some editing to do. But I want to make sure that you keep getting some good reading in while I finish this. A couple of months ago at CRM Magazine's CRM Evolution Conference, I ran across a guy named Brian Gardner who was speaking on sales process at the event. I loved what he was saying about it and I thought, "hmmm, it would be smart to get this guy in front of the people who read my stuff so they can either learn something about how to think about contemporary sales process OR if they are among my super rock star type readers, get a refresher course from a guy who just knows. Brian not only can write but he's got some cred: He's the founder and lead evangelist of SalesProcess360, which helps companies get ROI from CRM. He is also the author of ROI from CRM: It's About Sales Process, Not Just Technology, available from MDM.com and Amazon. Brian's got more than 25 years in sales management and CRM.

One thing, though: What he calls CRM is what I call Sales Process Automation (SFA). My CRM has three pillars -- sales, marketing, customer service. Since most of you know that about me, know that what he is referring to in my vernacular is SFA.

Take it away, my good man!

CRM is Not a Four-Letter Word

Why after the past 18 years of working with companies on CRM does it still feel like CRM is considered a four-letter word? It is often viewed as a curse throughout a company...

  • Outside sales ("Big Brother is going to micro-manage me.")
  • Inside sales ("I don't have time to log information into this other system.")
  • Management ("I know I need this but I am tired of fighting the team to get them to use it.")
  • Marketing ("If only I could be tied to the sales team with the system...")
  • IT ("It's just another system to manage.")

When I give talks on CRM and sales process, I usually start off with two simple questions.

The first: "Who is using a CRM system?" On average 70 to 80 percent of the hands go up. I then say: "Now leave your hand up if you feel like you or your company is getting ROI from CRM." Every time just 10 to 15 percent of the hands stay raised.

So the big question is: Why do so few companies feel like they are getting so little ROI from CRM?

In my humble opinion, there are three primary reasons that ROI from CRM number is so low.

1. IT is driving the bus.

As mentioned earlier, I have been around CRM for more than 18 years. My story: I was managing a sales team back in the 90's and wanted to use technology to help manage the sales process within our company. I looked for solutions; every company that came into my office didn't have a clue about my company's processes and only wanted to sell me technology. I said no thank you and wound up developing a CRM system with a partner. I was the sales side of the CRM equation and he was the technical side. It was a match made in heaven. I took all of my sales needs that were being done manually via Excel, Access and contact management, and we built a sales-focused CRM (SFA at that time) system.

I am a believer that CRM should start with process, not technology. One of the main reasons only 10 percent of the hands stay up when I ask who feels they are getting ROI from CRM is because process isn't a priority. Because of this, I feel the CRM bus should not be driven by the technical team. Sure, they need to be on the bus. But they shouldn't be driving it. Sales -- and in particular sales management -- should be at the wheel. This is where a lot of companies fall short.

Step back and evaluate your company's situation. If sales management is not driving the bus, this may be a reason the company is not getting the full ROI from CRM.

2. The focus is on the technology, and not the underlying sales process.

I believe CRM can be a company's competitive edge if implemented properly. What is your competitive edge? Did you answer your people, products/services, experience, support or dedication? Your competition probably did, as well.

So what truly gives your company a competitive edge? I believe it is how you execute on the processes. I use the analogy of three-legged stool, which needs all three legs to stand. Your company needs three things to compete effectively:

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Technology

CRM is obviously one of the components that make up the technology leg, but the missing link that I see is the process leg. Many companies have not reviewed their sales processes, identifying the gaps and inefficiencies and leveraging CRM to fill these gaps.

Let's break it down a little further. What I find (and what I was doing when I started in sales management) is that most companies have processes for the back end of their business -- quotes and orders -- but not the front end. The front end -- leads and opportunities -- is where CRM plays and if done properly can bring ROI and a competitive edge. A picture is worth a thousand words:


If we linearize the sales cycle and graded our company on the processes, visibility and efficiencies at each step, how would we do?


Typically the scores are strongest on the right (orders), weakening as they move to the left (leads). I say this with personal experience; this is how our company looked before we started to leverage CRM.

The goal we had when I started CRM in our company was to earn a high score at each stage of the sales cycle. I believe that if your company can improve the processes, visibility and efficiencies at the front end of the sales cycle and use CRM to manage this, you can get ROI from CRM. This is how CRM can provide a competitive edge. The best part? You can control this.

The economy does not determine how well you do this. Going forward, when I ask "What is your company's competitive edge?" your answer will be:

  • Our People
  • Our Processes
  • Our Technology

3. It's not positioned as a team solution.

I like challenging my audience. If you are on CRM -- per my polling 70 to 80 percent are -- do you believe you are using CRM for team selling? I am a big fan of team selling. I believe that CRM is the hub for team selling; this can be another area for a competitive edge.

I frequently ask my audiences what team selling means to them. I'm sure your answers would be the same as what I typically get:

  • Working together
  • Working as one
  • Being on the same page
  • Sharing information

These aren't wrong, but let's take them a step further.

My definition for team selling is:

Sharing and leveraging information for a competitive edge.

I believe leveraging is the key. This is where CRM comes in. CRM was built for sharing and leveraging information as a team. When I say team, I mean all touchpoints within your company and both external and internal customers.

Let's dive into this. External customers are easy; they are the companies that purchase your products or services. Let's talk about internal customers.

I frequently ask which departments are on CRM. The most obvious answer is the outside sales team. Great, but what about all the other departments? How are you sharing and leveraging the touchpoints that everyone on your team is having with both external and internal customers?

List all the departments that communicate. Here are some examples:

  • Outside Sales to Inside Sales (both ways)
  • Inside Sales to Accounting (both ways)
  • Marketing to Outside Sales (both ways)
  • Inside Sales to Marketing
  • Operations to Everyone
  • Management to Everyone

CRM can be the hub for this sharing and leveraging information.

Think about the value of this.

You have inside sales logging all their key touchpoints with external customers. The outside salesperson walks into the customer's office and has this information at their fingertips in CRM. "Mr. Customer I see you talked to our inside salesperson yesterday about XYZ. I brought a solution that might help."

Marketing is sending out a rifle-focused content email. You have integrated marketing and sales in CRM with closed-loop marketing. The customer's response to the marketing piece is captured in CRM. Before walking into the customer's office, an outside salesperson looks up his marketing score and how he has engaged. He downloaded a whitepaper on one of your products. That salesperson now know exactly what to talk to the customer about.

The Service Department logs their interaction with a customer via field service report or service phone call into CRM. They document a summary of the issue and action items to resolve. The outside salesperson looks up the touchpoints with the customer and sees the service log. As a result, he walks in armed with the right information; he's not blindsided not knowing this service call happened.

All three of these are great examples of sharing and leveraging information to gain a competitive edge?

My Experience

CRM doesn't need to be viewed as a four-letter word. If approached properly, these three areas of focus will allow you to keep your hand raised when I ask: "Who here feels they are getting ROI from CRM?"

I leave you with this quick story. My company focused on these three areas back in the late 90's:

  1. Sales Management Driving the CRM Bus
  2. Putting Processes on the Front End of the Sales Cycle
  3. Sharing and Leveraging Information Across the Team

By focusing on these three areas supported by CRM, we tripled our business in a little over six years with all organic growth. I will go to my grave believing we did that because we focused on mastering and excelling at these three areas. We did not try to do too much with CRM in the beginning. We lived by the saying "Start Slow and Grow."

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope it got you thinking and motivated you to look deeper into how you are using CRM. If you have not embarked on the CRM journey yet, these areas will help you navigate and remove the speed bumps for success and truly get ROI from CRM.

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