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A Rant About Sales Reporting, Bureaucracy, and Paperwork!

by David Brock on August 1st, 2009

By now, you probably know that I have a fairly short fuse and tend to get impatient fairly quickly–and sometimes unfairly.  However, I couldn’t restrain myself.  I’ve been tracking some conversations about sales reporting, CRM systems, and “useless paperwork.”

None of us like paperwork and bureaucracy.  Yet management has a justified need to be informed about critical things that impact the business.  A part of a salesperson’s job is to provide that information–on a timely basis and efficiently.  Many sales people rant “Do you want me calling on a customer or doing paperwork?”  Frankly, I believe that’s BS–an excuse.  I’ve never seen a salesperson or a manager prioritize paperwork over customer related activity.  When a sales person makes that complaint, I am often tempted to stop all their paperwork and see what changes–do the number of customer calls increase?  Do sales volumes increase?  In some cases that may be true, but I view that as more the exception than the rule.  Let’s be honest about it, paperwork (whether physical or electronic) is something we hate doing.  It has nothing to do with keeping us from calling on customers.

At the same time, I think many management teams require too much reporting  — on things they really don’t monitor or read.  If management is asking for reporting, then they should be using it to take action–and they should explain how they are using it to their people so they understand the importance.

Let me tell two stories:

Do you really need the report?  In a previous life with a very large technology company, I was part of a “sales simplification task force.”  I had the task of looking at some key management reports, trying to reduce the number of reports.  These reports took quite a bit of time to generate, they took sales people time, administrative time in consolidating and reporting, and distribution time — yes, this was in the days of paper — some of you may be too young to remember that.  Some of the reports had quite wide distribution–over 1000 people in many cases.  I did a rigorous job of analysis and went to people to ask them to prioritize reports and identify reports that could be eliminated.

Rather than eliminating reports, we got requests for even more reports.  All the current reports were “critical to running the business,” and “we need more information in these areas…”  Somehow things were going the wrong direction and I wasn’t simplifying things. 

I then took another approach.  I identified several of the most complex reports with the widest distribution.  In the next publication cycle, I omitted major sections of the reports.  Then I waited.  Across 5 reports, with total distribution of several 1000, I received 3 complaints and requests for the omitted sections.  Except for those 3 people, no one was reading the reports, but somehow having it was a “security blanket.”  We quickly eliminated those reports and started a process of eliminating many other reports.  The moral of this story:  Try arbitrarily stopping some reports and wait for the complaints.  If you get none, people aren’t using them–eliminate the report.

Never ask for anything unless you are going to use it:  In another previous life, I took over as EVP of Sales for another large company.  I wanted to understand the what the sales people were facing and get their views on how we could improve their effectiveness.  I asked all the sales people to send me a report answering about 5 questions.  I further told them to spend no more than 30 minutes on it and to keep it to about a single page.  I gave them 2 weeks to do it.  My assistant collected the reports, put them in a binder, and on the weekend I sat down to read them.  There were over 1000 responses, so it was a time consuming, but very important for me to get a feel of what was going on.  I came upon one report from a sales person.  For all intents and purposes, he wrote, “Mary had a little lamb….”  The report was meaningless, did not answer my questions, but he had provided a “piece of paper.”

On Monday morning, I called the sales person, introducing myself, “Hi, I’m Dave Brock, the new EVP of Sales.  I was reading your report this weekend…..”  You could hear the blood draining from the sales person’s face.  I went on, “I wanted to talk to you about a couple of things.  First, I want to thank you for your report.  You taught me something important.  It appears that previous management has asked you for a lot of reports, but hasn’t used them—that they wasted your time.  That’s important for me to know.  Second, I wanted to let you know that I will never ask for reports unless it is important for me in managing the organization and helping improve what we do.  I don’t want to waste your time.  By the way, would you mind rewriting your report and getting it to me tomorrow, I’m interested in your answers to my questions…..” 

I got the report the next day and somehow the word filtered through the sales force about my views of reporting and paperwork  (thank goodness for the grapevine).  The moral of this story is if you are going to ask your people to invest the time in reporting, make sure you are using the information, let them know how you are using it  (sounds a little like the previous moral).


What about CRM?

I’m tackling a small part of this—with trepidation, whatever your position on CRM it seems to generate controversy.

CRM is appropriately maligned by too many people.  It is a sales person’s favorite topic to complain about bureaucracy, it’s one of management’s favorite performance issues.

My thoughts:

I cannot imagine running my own territory and sales responsibilities (yes, a major part of my job is selling) without a CRM system.  It is a tremendous productivity tool, enabling me to accomplish more than I could without it.  I cannot imagine any sales professional who values their time, effectiveness, and relationships with customers not using some sort of CRM tool.  In my company, all our people use a CRM system.  I don’t require them to use it, each uses it because of the productivity it provides them as individuals.  If I took it away from them, they would not be able to accomplish their personal goals.

I think we miss this when we implement CRM systems.  The primary objective of a CRM system should be about improving personal productivity!  Oh and by the way, if people are using it for personal productivity, management can get some tremendously powerful reporting information—all passively.

Too often, CRM is implemented as a management reporting system, not a personal productivity system.  I think we miss the real value of CRM systems in doing this.  Also the justification for the system changes, it becomes an expense item rather than an item that can drive revenue growth.

I’m not naive, however.  Management has a need for information to manage the business.  The degree to which they can extract that passively from a good CRM implementation, the better.  However, there are times that management, rightfully, will require sales people to use the CRM system for reporting so management has the information they need to lead the business.  My advice to sales people, get over it, it’s part of the job.  Do it quickly and efficiently.  Leverage the tools to minimize the impact (Oh and don’t complain, at least to me, about how it is keeping you from calling on customers.)

Sales professionals and sales managers are on the same side.  We want to spend our time in front of customers, growing the business.  At the same time, we need reporting and information.  It’s part of the job, let’s just make sure what we ask for and what we provide is used.

I’m finished, I’m off my soap box, I prepared for the deluge of comments, including those that say “Dave, you just don’t understand!”  I may not and look forward to learning.Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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  1. Dave,

    LOVE the story about the sales guy submitting a sheet pf paper with the poem. I almost choked on the mouthful of water I had just drank! I also applaud the approach you took with him; too many VPs would have dragged him over the coals for that behavior.


    • I’m wondering if I need to put a warning, “Reading This Blog Could Be Hazardous…..” Thanks, as always for the comment.

  2. John Stott permalink

    An even better f(worse ?) story…..monthly reports being submitted by sales managers simply stating major objectives accomplished for the month, revenue milestones, and specifically physicians (surgeons) contacted. First one I read, as marketing manager, lists Doogie Howser, MD as the physician. It seems that the sales manager had been submitting the reports for over a year to his boss, with TV doctor’s names on the sheets, and had never been called on it. That was the last of that monthly report !

    Also, on CRM systems – I wholeheartedly agree, and in particular with one key point. Unless the system is designed to benefit the “major inputter” to the system (usually the sales rep), the quality and quantity of information available will always be less than highly useful and there will always be some fights about getting the input in a timely fashion. Hence the absolute need to design them to be personal productivity enhancers first, and management tools second.

    • John, thanks fro joining the discussion! Great one about “Dr. Howser.” I’d be on the lookout for “House”

      Great comments, thanks for joining the discussion. Hope to see you here frequently. Regards, Dave

  3. Bill O'Neill permalink

    Hi Dave,

    Years ago, I worked with a very good rep, and we were both due to submit some report. I noticed he wasn’t doing it very quickly, and asked if was going to get it in by 5:30PM. He told me no, he’d get it done tomorrow, some time, and anyway, he wasn’t going to send it in. I asked him why, and he told me he thought some reports assumed a life of their own, and nobody read them. So, periodically, he’d hold the report, and see if anybody missed it. If nobody missed it, he didn’t do them, if somebody did, he said “Sorry” and faxed it in. It was just his little sanity check.

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