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CRM, The Biggest Sales Productivity Drain In 10 Years!

by David Brock on August 17th, 2011

Hold on, before you react to this title, take a moment to understand!  Talking about CRM and its impact on productivity is a lightning rod for commenters.  The comments will be split—those in wild agreement with the title, and those in disagreement–thinking I’m irresponsible.

But this blog post actually has nothing to do with CRM.  It’s actually an experiment, I think I know the result, but I’ll report back to you in a couple of weeks.  See, my blog is posted in many locations–on a number of social media sites, in a variety of LinkedIn groups, the title will inevitably be tweeted dozens of times.

What I’ll get is lots of comments and tweets, either pro or con.    The commenters will read the title and immediately react.  The comments will be profuse and detailed.  The post will be exalted as the most insightful ever or lambasted.  I may be declared “persona non grata” at Dreamforce in a few weeks.   The comments will all be about the title, because many of the commenters will not take the time to read this post.

And all the comments will be wrong!  They will be terribly inappropriate and misdirected.  These respondents will be foolish.  If you’ve gotten to this point in the article, you know it has nothing to with CRM.  It’s about listening.  It’s about understanding.  It’s really about engaging our customers, people, and audiences.

See, what I’m trying to understand, and also trying to illustrate through this post, is that we have a problem with listening and understanding.  We listen for “trigger words” or “trigger phrases” (apologies to Tibor Shanto and Craig Elias).  We hear those trigger phrases, and immediately launch into our pitch or presenting our point of view.

For too many sales people, listening is not to understand, to drill down, to learn what the customer means.  Instead, it’s selective, waiting for those phrases that enable us to switch from listening to presenting mode—afterall, isn’t that what we are supposed to do?  Aren’t we supposed to be pitching and selling?

Too often, our questioning strategies are often structured to elicit certain responses, so that we can launch into our pitch.

We tend to look at information selectively–seeking not to understand, but as a platform to express our opinions.  A few weeks ago, I got into an offline conversation with someone in the same LinkedIn group as me.  He sent me a note, “Dave, your post has stimulated a huge discussion, but based on the comments, it would appear that 70% of the people haven’t read your article.  What’s up?” 

It’s true–many of the comments or tweets I see in various venues have nothing to do with the content of what I’ve written, but are only reactions to the title.  Even when I politely respond, “You may have misunderstood, I was trying to say……,”  people stay on their agenda.  They don’t hear, but continue down the same path.

This is a huge problem.  Not just in how we work with customers, but in how we listen to each other and our people.  It’s a problem with how we consume news and react to the headlines.

If we really want to connect with our customers, our people, our communities, we need to understand.  We need to stifle our knee jerk urges to respond.  Instead, we need to probe, ask more questions, understand what is really being said.  We need to challenge the person we are listening to.  We need to push back to make sure we know what’s being said, what’s behind what’s being said, and why the person holds this particular position.

If we don’t, then our responses will be misguided.  In the best case, we turn off the person we are “conversing with.”  In the worst we look like fools.

Regardless of what you feel about CRM, the proper response to this title — if you are interested in this topic, is to probe, to drill down.  Why am I taking this posistion?  What are my arguments?  How am I supporting this position?  Is it well informed? Only when you understand my position and what’s driven it; can you respond in a meaningful and appropriate way.

In our companies and societies we have a tremendous problem with listenting, understanding, engaging.  The sound bite is praised, speeches by our leaders (business or political) are nothing but linked sound bites.  We don’t probe or dig deeper to understand.  Our business and political leaders get this and exploit it.  It’s used to manipulate opiniion,  Media people, even bloggers like me, understand the power of the headliine.  I hope it provokes someone to read, but unfortunately, too often it doesn’t.

I’ll report the results of my little experiment in a couple of weeks.  I really hope I’m wrong about my prediction, but am certain that I am spot on.


Oh, I almost forgot.  I can’t imagine a high performing sales professionl not leveraging tools like CRM and Sales 2.0 to the limit.  But that’s another post.

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  1. With admiration, Dave….

    What you write is absolutely true. Pity that many of the tweetes and retweeters won’t learn from it. Because they haven’t listened.

    Would you mind if I use parts of your post in my (dutch) blog? I will, of course, mention that you are the source, and link to your blog.


    • Erik, thanks 😉 I’m anxious to follow the results from this experiment.

      I’m flattered that you ask to use parts. Feel free, let me know so I can tweet. Regards, Dave

      • Hi, David
        a couple of months agom I responded to your ‘CRM = Productivity drain’- blog. I have used your idea in a blog of my own. As agreed, I’ve put in a link to your site.
        I’ve taken liberty to adjust the title to: “Social Media: the biggest waste of time in recent years.”
        You can find it here :

        And unless your Dutch is up to standards, I doubt you will understand…..

        Anyway: thank you for the idea, and your permission to use it.

        Best regards,
        Erik Wolterink

        • Thanks Erik, Google trenslate works really well, so I was able to read your post. Let me know the results!

  2. David,

    This a fantastic post. I will admit that all too often I get sucked into scanning headlines to stay up-to-date. Thankfully this time around I read the entire article and was very pleased with the thought provoking points you brought up.

    You have definitely left me with something to think about.


  3. Well… Heh. You got me. 🙂

    I definitely hear what you’re saying, but I wanted to drop a line to say: I’m curious to see your actual take on CRM and productivity, and CRM as a tool for sales people.

    So, here’s to hoping you’ll put one together, I’d love to read it!

    • Henrik: I will definitely be writing about that topic. However, as a very quick response, I think too many of the failures of CRM and related systems have nothing to do with the tools, but how they are implemented. Too often, they are implemented as “big brother is watching” or a management tool. The true power is in focusing on the sales person and how it makes the sales person more effective. One you do this, acceptance, compliance, value sky rockets–and by the way you get terrific management reporting.

      More in a future post—you’ll have to keep coming back to see when I write it 😉

      • Gary Martin permalink

        David, I simply cannot wait to see the details of what you have to say about making a salesperson more effective via CRM. I agree with your comment that the issue is not the tools but the implementation; and add that management support needs to be for more than just getting their own needs met. Systems are often implemented as a substitute for missing, effective sales management. Adoption rates are often low because the configurations are poorly designed from the salespersons’ perspective. The truth is, undisciplined salespersons will never gain much from CRM. It is the disciplined sales professional who desires access to data and intelligence that stands to gain most from CRM.

        • Gary, thanks for the insightful comment! I couldn’t agree with you more—in fact you are giving me ideas to include in the article. Will try to get that out next week. Will be looking forward to your comments on that one. Usually, I fnd the comments more insightful than my writing.

  4. Imagine if in the USA for the next 14 months we actually listened for understanding, asked probing questions, then asked some more for clarification and received the same in return. And imagine if the candidates actually spoke as though they were getting full coverage and not just 5-second sound bites. Wow. What a country we’d be.

    • John, actually part of the inspiration for this article came from listening to the news, being upset that candidates manipulate us with sound bites and headlines, news agencies cater to it, and we don’t get to understand the real issues. If we started demaning more–first from ourselve, then from the news agencies, then from our leaders; things would change quickly.

      Thanks for joining the discussion.

  5. David,

    Firstly, this was a brilliant post.

    Here i am sitting by the pool in Thailand sipping a cocktail and browsing content on my iPad using Zite when up pop’s your posts heading and I think “what the heck is this joker on about” – my Brian juices are immediately fired up (although not as quickly as normal due to the couple of cocktails already downed) and I am salivating at the thought of responding even when i am only a paragraph in.

    I believe you have beautifully summed up a problem that we all experience living in the digital age which seems a flood of information flooding us every day.

    Thanks for the post and I look forward to reading more of your brain food.



    • Nicholas, thanks for joining the discussion and forgiving my manipulation. I hope the post serves to help people understand how easily we can get off track, how easily we can be manipulated. Hopefully, people will start thinking twice–both about what they read, but more about what is missed when we don’t listen, probe, and challenge our customers. Thanks for joining the discussion. I’m a little envious–but I’m sitting on a beach in southern California 😉

  6. David,

    What a great topic, listening, one of the most underated skills in sales.


  7. Dave,

    Excellent article, and I look forward to hearing the results of your experiment. This ties in to the topic I’ve been covering this week on my blog–attention, or the lack thereof. With so much competing for our attention today, it’s difficult (and therefore rare) for us to take the time and effort to linger on a topic and probe it deeply. I wonder how many opportunities we’re leaving on the table as a result: opportunities to learn, to understand, to really connect with others, and maybe even–God forbid–to have our minds changed as a result!

    • Thanks Jack. We, as societies, seem to be suffering from attention–and being present—deficit disorder. We miss so many opportunities because we aren’t present and attentive in our discussions–whether with our customers, our peers, our communities, our families.

      Frankly, I don’t think it’s information overload, I think it’s a frame of mind. Thanks for taking the time to comment Jack.

  8. Martin Lampard permalink

    Strongly agree that there are pros and cons to this topic – and a very clever “now I’ve got your attention” posting title.

    I look forward to the followup postings during which I will share my own experiences of drinking games at sales conferences (purely in an educational context, of course).

    • Martin, thanks for commenting, though I’m not really clear about your point. Perhaps you can clarify it?

  9. andrei berar permalink

    very interesting and definitively achieved the goal of thought proving . you are absolutely correct that majority of people do not have the patience to listen, and jump to conclusions and try to push their point of view. this also may be because at least in the last 10+ years, there is too much unstructured information available, that people feel the need to absorb in short time, and also in my opinion most people are becoming lazy, and society and schools are encouraging it, to think independently and the thought are based on what they know, without making any effort to dig into what they do not know and challenge the information. Accepting or not that this is the environment we live in, we must also look at the other side, are YOU communicating properly and make sure that your listeners are engaged, or as you suggested most writers / speakers are using big pompous titles, slogans of the day to stir the pot of superficial thinking, knowing that the message has relative short impact, and will be replaced tomorrow by an other stimulus. may be the material may be presented in a different way to “help” the listener, but this may require extra effort from the author

    • Andrei, thanks for the comment. As listeners and talkers, each of us bears a tremendous responsibility to make sure we are engaging each other. We need to be attentive to how we are communicating and whether we are communicating in a manner that helps each other understand.

      A lot of it has to do with payin Attention. My friend, Jack Malcolm, coincidentally is writing some great posts on this.

      Being attentive, being present in the discussion, probing, critical thinking are all important. It’s amazing, when we start paying attention, things start falling into place. We are able to understand different points of view, we are better able to engage and align, we are more capable of achieving our shared goals.

      • andrei berar permalink

        Dave, cannot agree more that there are responsibilities on both sides of the conversation. In my opinion,part of the problem is created by our environment: TV is on most of the time and we sort of paying attention, since we are doing other activities in the same time on our electronics toys. For some “strange reason” time is moving faster, and our brain are picking up only pieces that are used to create a distorted picture in our memory, not exactly what the conversation partner communicated or so he / her thought. There was a lot of merits to the old fashion coffee houses discussions and debates that do not fit in today’s shrinking 24 hours.
        If I am not wrong, I believe that at least 30% of the people who commented, completely missed the essence of your article, or maybe I am the one who miss-understood.

        • Thanks for the comment Andrei. There are more things competing for our attention than ever before. There’s more information–not necessarily good or relevant, just more. We can’t let these diversions be excuses for not paying attention, not being present in whatever communication channel we are engaged in, whether in social media, email, reading, or conversations. In fact, we have to be more attentive, more focused, more present.

          I tend to disagree on your assessment of the comments. Everyone understands the article. Also there are many people that want my views on CRM and related tools, which I will provide in an upcoming article.

  10. Bravo Dave! I was completely tricked, but very glad that this article was not about CRM. The thing that disturbs me is that if it had been actually about CRM, I doubt the initial comment in my head when I saw the header would have changed even after skimming the article. Thanks for taking the time to make us sit down and listen.

    • Thanks for the comment. Hold your thought/reaction on CRM. I’m getting a lot of interest in my views on that topic. i’ll be writing about it next week. Maybe then you will be provoked to making your comment. 😉

  11. Stuart Brunger permalink

    One for April 1st. The inability to listen (or read beyond a headline) however is a symptom of the ‘Ready, Fire, Aim characteristic which is seen by many as a ‘must have’ in the genetic make up of the stereotypical salesperson when recruiting and is encouraged by many sales leaders. The same sales leaders who then bemoan the lack of successful sales people, inaccurate market feedback, missed opportunities etc etc

    • Stuart, thanks for the comment. You’re exactly right, we do it to ourselves, we hire, train, coach the wrong things. We are actually making people less effective. If w just started simpliyfing and communicating, we could engage so mucn ore easily and effectively. Regards, Dave

  12. Dave,

    Great use of the provocative to make your point. I was just mentoring a young sales person today and discussing the fear of digging deeper. I’ve seen many sales people just breeze over topics in order to avoid the sticky issues. The result is 6-9 months of delusion until they realize the deal is gone. Listen, dig, dig some more, ask questions, fully understand and then take action. Thank you for your post.


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