Is SFA/CRM Every Rep’s Best Friend?


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As Dave Brock had aptly pointed out earlier this year, controversial titles are bound to get lots of attention. In writing the seemingly controversial blog post ‘CRM, The Biggest Productivity Drain in 10 Years!’, Dave set out to illustrate a subtler point. His aim was to highlight the importance of listening to and really understanding our customers. The point was that we are tuned to pick up on trigger words and phrases. Once we hear them, we too often “immediately launch into our pitch or presenting our point of view.”

Taking Dave’s wise words to heart, I was bound not fall into this trap when I came across Lauren Carlson‘s post, SFA 15 Years Later: Now Every Rep’s Best Friend. Lauren makes the case that SFA/CRM has come such a long way from its difficult beginning 15 years ago:

“Despite its increasing ubiquity, however, SFA quickly developed a bad reputation among sales reps, many of whom suspiciously viewed SFA tools as a way for management to track their every move. They were also frustrated by the kludgy user interfaces, slow data entry processes, and long ramp-up times.”

Lauren cites four innovations that transformed CRM/SFA into a tool “that most sales organizations are singing the praises of”:

1. SaaS made implementation cheaper and faster

2. The Cloud made SFA more accessible

3. Analytics and marketing automation turned SFA data into gold

4. Process improvement compressed sales cycles (i.e., newer SFA/CRM applications make process mapping and process improvement a lot easier)

To be clear, there is no doubt that CRM/SFA applications have improved over the past 15 years. The question is whether these improvements have yielded more benefit for the managers or more benefit for reps. Remember that the primary beneficiary of CRM/SFA from its origins has been the manager, not the rep. CRM/SFA was and continues to be a managerial tool to maintain and store contact data (i.e., to ensure that valuable contact data would not leave the company when the rep left), enable forecasting, and track rep activity. So, CRM/SFA certainly has provided benefit, but the benefit has accrued largely to managers, not the reps themselves.

Our sales intelligence software, salesPRISM, is often embedded in a CRM system precisely to provide a benefit to the rep (vs. the manager).  We have tens of thousands of reps using our app, and we interview hundreds of reps a year as part of our product development activities. The vast majority are not fond of CRM because they don’t see tangible benefits coming their way, and often see it as just another administrative hassle. The question they ask is: “How does CRM help me close more business?”

I discussed the four innovations above with Lauren and shared the following perspective.

1. SaaS certainly has made implementation cheaper and faster, enabling SFA/CRM to reach a much broader target market of sales organizations. Yet, this fact alone has not made the systems any more useful to reps.

2. The Cloud has made SFA more accessible. This is also true, and it could be viewed as a benefit in terms of reducing the existing hassle of entering activity information. Still, this point does not add net new value to a rep in terms of identifying and targeting companies that are more likely to purchase or helping the rep figure out how to contact and communicate with the decision-makers.

3. Analytics and Marketing Automation turned SFA data into gold. It is certainly true that companies like Lattice Engines provide analytic applications that enable sales organizations to ‘go beyond CRM.” As an example, our salesPRISM sales intelligence software is often embedded into a CRM platform and delivers account-specific recommendations on which accounts to target, when to target, and how to target. However, 90% of the source data that’s used in these analytics is not in CRM. The trick is to be as comprehensive as possible in sourcing data from internal, external and social media sources. SFA/CRM data is a small portion of the overall data pie.

4. Process improvement compressed sales cycles. Indeed, SFA/CRM applications have become more flexible and make it easier to integrate the workflow related to other downstream systems (e.g., order management, billing). This benefits the organization in terms of creating a standardized and disciplined process, and can benefit the rep in terms of time savings. To realize this benefit in practice, however, often implies a significant investment in technology and change management.

I thank Lauren Carlson for writing on this topic, and hope she will continue to explore it further. If you have a point of view on the benefits of SFA/CRM for reps, we’d love to hear from you.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Andrew Somosi
Andrew Somosi is the SVP of Marketing and Business Development at Lattice Engines. Prior to Lattice Engines, Andrew was an Associate Principal at McKinsey & Company. Andrew has a BA in Economics and Political Science from Columbia University and an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


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