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It’s Time To Stop Thinking of a CRM as a Selling Tool

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One of the benefits of working in operations before Salesforce took off was that I got to see why business leaders wanted these tools.

Was it to make selling easier?

Not really.

The primary purpose of customer relationship management (CRM) tools was to give business leaders a better understanding of what worked and what didn’t. 

They wanted more data on their ideal customer profile and who would likely cancel. They needed to understand who was involved in the purchase process. They also needed to understand which of their sellers were productive and how quickly to hire and expand the rest of the business. 

The only way to accomplish this type of analysis at scale was to create a way to collect essential data, like sales forecast information.

A Quick History Lesson on Forecasting

Salespeople were forced to call in with their sales estimates long before software was a thing. 

Think of car tire sales. 

Regional salespeople were driving around the country talking to resellers. The resellers would estimate the units they could move in a given timeframe and place an order. After getting familiar with their route, a salesperson could begin predicting how many units each reseller would need, which gave the factory the headstart necessary to produce enough units to ship orders as soon as they received them. 

In other words, the tire factories relied on the forecasts of their regional sellers to know how many units to produce, and it was in the company’s best interest to store as little surplus as possible and still meet their customers’ demand. They wanted to make just enough units to keep everyone happy.

The sales managers kept logs of the salespeople’s forecasts and updated the corporate office as time went on to ensure they were producing the right amount of goods.

CRMs as a “Selling Tool”

The early CRMs allowed salespeople to enter forecasts from their home office. These CRMs were awful and offered little functionality beyond spreadsheets. It was hard to lock down access and accidentally delete critical information. The more significant issue was that the sales manager still needed to speak with each representative to understand better which deals were real and which weren’t to provide an accurate cumulative forecast.

Many people returned to structured dial-in meetings and ran through the sales roster to get their forecast. 

Eventually, business leaders realized that as important data was to understand how to scale the business, having data wasn’t enough of a reason for people to do data entry. They needed to make data entry as painless as possible and promote new ways salespeople could use a system to do their jobs better. Since entering opportunity details isn’t obviously beneficial to the seller, the manager had to reinforce the necessity of using the CRM.

Even when the CRM is streamlined for a positive end-user experience, salespeople will find ways around using it because they don’t see how it helps them do their job. They would rather enter orders as they received them and use their inbox, Sales Navigator, and other tools as needed. Your sales manager is the only thing standing between you and decentralized data.

Why Do We Care If a CRM Is Used?

Businesses rely on many data points to understand how to scale their business. 

Marketers integrate third-party data enrichment tools because it allows them to analyze and segment customer accounts and look for the same patterns in prospect accounts to attract more customers.

The customer success team needs sales to transfer information about why the customer is purchasing the product and what they purchased to offer the right kind of support.

Forecasts are necessary for companies planning to raise funds and for any business to understand the health of their business.

We care about CRM usage because we care about data. We can’t rely on our reports if people refuse to use the CRM.

Why Should an Administrator Brush Up on Analytics Skills?

I think I’ve made the point that we need data to run a business. An administrator must understand which data points are needed AND how we need to visualize them because it impacts how and when those data points should be collected.

I’ve worked with system administrators unfamiliar with reports, and it shows. Processes and data structures quickly become over-complicated. For example, custom objects are used, and complex automation is created when a simple custom field on a standard object would do. People who have managed databases and created reports tend to understand that a simple, flat structure is almost always better than nested parent-child relationships and additional objects.

For example, I had a new admin field a request to stamp opportunity stage dates on the opportunity object. They didn’t understand why anyone would need to do this since the opportunity history object already stamps stages.

So I asked them to run a report.

After getting frustrated with that report, they attempted to build a history of stages in an object that mirrors the opportunity history object.

So I asked them to run a report. 

They ran into the same problems they had with Salesforce’s original object. 

After that last try, they implemented a flow that updated fields on the opportunity object and created a report that met everyone’s needs.

Understanding database structure and how reports are built allows administrators to create streamlined processes for the end user and will enable the business to mine the needed data. It also allows administrators to push back on leadership when they ask for too much data collection from their end users or request changes that will degrade the data they rely on.

If you want to invest in your career, please take a T-SQL class.

The New CRM Isn’t a CRM

When you understand what’s most important about a CRM, it’s easier to prioritize. Because I know that reliable data is what my C-Suite is after, I care less about how many people are logging into Salesforce and entering data. If they want to log into a different tool that integrates with Salesforce, the data ends up where it needs to be, and the sales team is happy about using a tool they find more useful.

Trust me. I understand it’s frustrating to watch a department “waste” money on a tool when Salesforce offers feature parity. There are a lot of tools out there that look slicker but ultimately allow the same kind of in-line editing Salesforce does. But if the sales manager thinks it’s a huge win to buy the new tool and agrees to stop using their Google Sheets for forecasting if it’s purchased, everyone wins.

It’s why I coach any Salesforce administrators who have worked with me to talk to sales managers often and ask if there are any tools their team has been asking for. 

They’ll go rogue and buy tools even if everything is locked down from an administrator standpoint. Many of the newest vendors have figured out how to make everything available in a browser window or mobile app. They’ll find a way to work with your sales team.

We need to stop expecting the sales team to use a system they hate and instead focus on how to get the most out of the systems they will use.

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