Sales Effectiveness Technology: Underground Railroad or Value-Based Superhighway?


Share on LinkedIn

It’s a regular Monday morning in mid-April when you arrive at the office full of great ideas for the upcoming week. As the CIO, it’s your job to develop and manage the company’s technology strategy. You have a seat at the business planning table and work in partnership with your business counterparts to run a profitable organization. You feel really good about the relationships you’ve forged and the credibility you’ve engendered.

So imagine your surprise when your VP of operations reports that the help desk has been receiving calls about a sales application that you know nothing about. You discover that your sales organization has gone underground to purchase and implement (via a shadow IT organization) a sales force automation application.

You want to go ballistic after all the work you’ve put into the relationship with the senior VP of sales, but you know that would set you back five years. You need to turn this potential disaster into a win-win situation. After all, you all have the same goal: making, selling and servicing the best darned product in the category.

So imagine your surprise when your VP of operations reports that the help desk has been receiving calls about a sales application that you know nothing about.

That scenario is a composite of several clients with whom I’ve worked. It’s actually a pervasive problem. Indeed, results from the sales-effectiveness survey my company, Customers Incorporated, conducted with CRMGuru in 2006 show that there is a meaningful correlation between underperforming sales organizations and a lack of properly implemented sales-effectiveness technologies.

Survey respondents indicated that they equate sales automation technology with performance improvements, but very few have useful implementations. Seventy-four percent of respondents said that the lack of, or a poorly implemented, sales automation system was affecting sales performance to some extent or more. And when we looked more closely, we saw that the problem gets worse as the company gets larger. So we were heartened to see that 77 percent of respondents said that it would be very or extremely important to implement or improve their sales automation system in the next year.

The problem

But the obvious question is: If poor sales automation affects this many people; and this many people want to fix it; and fixing it has been doable for years—why isn’t it being fixed? Because fixing sales automation is hard. When it’s implemented by sales, it ends up as a sales management tool and no one wants to use it. When it’s implemented by IT, it ends up as a cool system. And no one wants to use it. When we looked specifically at high performers (who grew their businesses year over year by 20 percent or more) versus low performers (the business was flat or down year over year), we saw a huge disparity in terms of breadth, depth and consistency of customer data available in sales systems with 10 times as many high performers having more flexible systems with more workflow incorporated into them and reps having to use fewer systems to do their jobs.

So what’s the answer? I feel like a broken record, but here goes: The system must model, and be integrated with, the sales process (which means you have to have a sales process); it must be built to make sales reps more efficient and to provide them with some level of value (based on their perception of value); and training must be process training, not systems training.

So how should CIOs handle situation like this? Consider how the CIO of one of the firms we dealt with turned things around at his company. First, he understood that timing is key: Learning of the implementation in mid-April meant that the SFA effort probably got under way in the sales organization sometime in late February or early March. The CIO realized that it must have been a knee-jerk reaction to a less-than-stellar sales year.

Armed with this insight, the CIO had a heart-to-heart with the senior VP of sales and demonstrated that, while an SFA system may seem like a panacea, poor integration and a lack of workflow will make a system more of a burden than a help. After discussing issues such as timing and real business need, the CIO agreed to provide the senior VP of sales with an SFA “SWAT team” to help get things on track toward the people, process and technology mix that will be sure to make the implementation a success.

Oh, and he extracted a promise from the senior VP of sales never to do that again.

Liz Roche
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Liz Roche is a senior leader with HP's Consulting and Integration practice and cofounder of Stamford, Connecticut-based Customers Incorporated. An industry-recognized CRM expert, she has 2 years of IT and business experience. Roche received a bachelor of arts from the George Washington University and an MBA from the University of Missouri.


  1. Value is as value does — especially when it comes to sales software. Unfortunately, the REAL problem is more complex than it would seem. In most cases, the “sales guys” don’t really understand what the company’s sales software is designed to do. Secondly, they have no idea of what “integrating processes on a reasonable-time basis” means.

    The problem is compounded by the lack of PLANNING in the sales department. The days of “seat of your pants”/”shoot from the hip” stuff are WAY gone. Between “right-sizing” and “outsourcing” it is not practical — let alone humane! — to think that somebody can turn the IT process on a dime.

    The problem is systemic because senior management has never quite figured out the IT process either!! If they have, they wouldn’t let things get as far as your example.

    The answer is really simple – value-based planning. This simply means that the “sales guys” need to use a one-page synopsis of what’s going on in their world, what they think needs to be done, and — in broad terms — what they believe the response needs to be. Oh, and a time frame would be good too.

    Too much work, you say? Hogwash says I. If the sales “team” can’t figure out what they’re doing and why and get it on one sheet of paper, maybe it’s time to find folks who can actually think out beyond a time horizon based on a stopwatch.

    What a waste of time and money such fiascoes are — AND, what about the customers? Do you REALLY think they will forgive and forget and keep buying from the firm that pulls this stuff? I think not.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here