by David Taber

How to tell if you have a 21st century sales team

Aug 09, 2016
CRM SystemsIT LeadershipMarketing

In many industries, the revenue generation function — sales and marketing — is the single biggest cost of running the business. Yet it’s also the most unreliable. That’s why tightening up the business processes with CRM systems is so important to profitability. Here’s how to tell if your company’s revenue generation process is up to modern standards.

I own two cars, one of them a classic Studebaker that was the best thing Indiana knew how to produce in 1963. There is nothing like the thrill of driving a classic car: the chrome, the fins, the engine throb. You get a feeling of cool that no modern car that sells for under $100K can give you.

Ask anyone who owns one

But the dirty little secret of classic cars is that if they are restored to original factory specs … they’re dirty. They smell of unburned fuel, they leak, and they are wasteful. And the hard reality is that the classics perform poorly against every automotive metric you can objectively calibrate.

My other car is a Korean midsize that is exactly 50 years newer. And along every possible axis it is superior to the classic. Even though it is objectively better, it doesn’t feel that way. It’s boring … there are no thrills here. (Unfortunately, driving the Stude provides the wrong kind of thrills: It feels and is in fact reckless.)

So now let’s look at the parallels between cars and your sales force. The enterprise sales model was developed about the same time as my Studebaker. Sure, enterprise selling has been refined and retrofitted with new sales methodologies, but a carburetor is a carburetor, not a fuel injection system.

Are you running your company with a revenue engine designed and operated as a classic, or as a modern numerically controlled machine?

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

The enterprise sales model was developed to handle the complex sale, typically for high-ticket capital goods that required long sales cycles and significant effort on the part of the purchaser.   Typically, the customer knew more about their company’s problems and objectives, but the salesperson knew a lot more about the product, the competition and the technology. In classic enterprise sales, pure “marketing” was not very effective, and the salesperson was the king-pin of the deal. In the olden days, the salesperson was able to control the flow of information and create a bubble around the customer so that their choices became biased toward purchase.

A distinguishing feature of this model was the central role that the salesperson played in the technical, political and commercial details of the deal. The salesperson was the artist, the hero of the deal … and they were compensated better than the CEO if they exceeded their goals. Expense accounts, fancy dinners, golf games, great parties at tradeshows — they all went with the territory. This was the chrome and the fins of the revenue engine.

The classic enterprise sales reps hated CRM, computers and metrics. Everything they needed to know about their deal was in their heads or their little black book. The only metric they cared about was their closed deals. Who needs a tachometer or a vacuum gauge? They weren’t able to do much with telesales or web marketing — collaboration wasn’t really something they excelled at. They were the heroes of the deal. So why bother with a bunch of bean-counter measurements of the sales cycle when idiot lights work fine?

And the classic enterprise sales team uses their gut when forecasting — a simple Excel rollup was all they wanted, with a few threatening phone calls when someone isn’t forecasting the target for the quarter.

Unsafe at any speed

As with many book titles, Nader’s was a bit of an exaggeration. A Corvair was perfectly safe below 30 miles an hour. Problem was that people wanted to go 60.

In 21st century markets, if you’re still using the enterprise sales model it needs some serious modernization to be effective (manageable), efficient (profitable) and reliable (safe for Wall Street). In most markets, the enterprise sales model’s central attribute — salesperson as individual hero — has to be thrown out. To keep costs reasonable, collaboration within your company and through your distribution network has to increase. To be responsive to customers and market input, the sales function needs to leverage social media, web marketing, and crowdsourcing. To make the process more measurable (and therefore more manageable), every person involved with the sales cycle needs to stop putting their action items on paper or email and start recording them in the CRM. And to make the system better over time, serious time-series analytics are required to separate fact from fable.

To determine how modern your sales processes are, look for these things in your CRM and related systems:

  • Can the salesperson see the entire marketing and selling process within one system? For example, all the customer touchpoints from your website, email campaigns, survey responses, email exchanges, phone calls, downloads, webex sessions, product trials, document e-signatures, and service calls/cases? If not, some system integrations (or at least mash-ups) are required.
  • Does the CRM system provide scoring mechanisms and alerts to help salespeople manage their time? Scoring isn’t just for leads — it needs to be applied to deals and quotes to maximize the value of selling efforts. Scoring must include time thresholds to flag deals that are likely to stall or simply die.
  • Is the CRM system linked to real-time systems? Thanks to computer telephony integration (CTI), everyone’s phone calling (inbound and outbound) can be more productive and a lot less stressful. Linking CRM to social media monitoring systems can make your salespeople and customer support team more effective. It’s not just in consumer goods markets where “what’s trending” is “what’s relevant.”
  • Can the salespeople see things from the customer’s perspective? As far as the customer is concerned, they have one relationship with you. So your salespeople need to see customer interactions after the sale: delivery history, customer training requests, customer support activities, on-site service and distribution partner connections (to the degree they’ll share them with you).
  • Does the CRM include feedback loops? Does the system provide accuracy indicators to forecasts, provide alerts on doubtful deals, or provide managers with indicators of bottlenecks? To support a learning organization, the system needs to (1) record audit trails on nearly everything, (2) evaluate and score sequences of activities, (3) provide analytics that support what-if exploration, and (4) support the development and enforcement of models. This will almost certainly involve some extra products, custom code, and a business analyst…but that’s how you gain a technological advantage.
  • Are the dashboards all the instrumentation you’ve got? Some classic cars had more gauges than modern ones, but today’s cars can have a dozen computers monitoring systems to provide real-time alerts and advisories. The same idea applies to CRM systems, which should have workflows and alerts that are triggered autonomously to foster management by exception.

Mr. Robot

While individual communication and selling skills are more important to a sales team than ever, the 21st century sales organization depends on a whole lot of unifying technology. To a degree, the new organizations are less sexy: fewer heroes, more collaborating actors. But do you really want to be a business whose revenue engine is based on a 50-year old design?