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I Don’t Want Your Stinkin’ CRM System

by David Brock on September 19th, 2013

I’m so stupid.  I allow myself to get sucked into discussions about CRM systems.  This one has conspiracy theories worth of a Dan Brown novel.

Basically the arguments are sales people versus management.  The sales people are using all the classic arguments—“it wastes my time and diverts me from selling activities,”  “it doesn’t help me sell more,” “it’s management’s way of micromanaging me,”  “all I do is spend endless hours doing reports, I’m supposed to sell!”

Managers are saying, “people have to use the system and keep everything updated,”  “we need to know what’s going on,”  “the sales people have information that’s vital to our organization, we need to capture it,”  “they need to just do it—or else!”

All of this is terribly misguided and frankly a boring waste of time, but I get sucked into these mindless debates.  CRM has been around for decades, one would think these discussions are a thing of the past.

So in this post, I’ll really focus on the sales people, so managers can stop reading here–in fact you probably should.

So sales people—–Get over it!  Stop your whining, stop complaining, stop being stupid!  We know managers often do terribly dumb and mindless things.  But don’t let their misinformed approaches to CRM limit your ability to maximize your own personal productivity and effectiveness.

I can’t imagine any high performing sales person not using tools like CRM and exploiting them to the fullest–regardless of what management says.

Arguing against using these types of tools is like arguing against the use of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook(or the Google Docs/Gmail equivalent).  It’s like stomping your feet, crossing your arms and saying, “You can’t make me use a mobile phone!”

None of us would think of not using these tools, yet our corporations also mandate us using them.  First thing we look for when we start a job is a fully loaded PC, email access, and so forth.  It would be a cold day in hell when management pry’s  our mobile phones from our hands, we can’t live without them!  If management didn’t give us those tools, we would find someplace else to work!

Everyone uses these tools to improve their personal productivity.  We use them to get things done better, faster, easier.

CRM is just the same—even though management may be clueless about it.  CRM helps us get things done better, faster, easier!  Where else do you have the collected information about everything your customers have done with your company, the relationships of people in your customers to each other, all the data about what you can do to sell them more?

Where else can you easily track everything that’s happened with all your deals, prospecting, email and other campaigns?  Where else can you easily remember all your “to-do’s,”  the next steps on each of your deals, reminders to call people and follow up on things?  Where else can you track what’s happening in your territory, progress in your deals, and your pipeline?

You know management is going to ask for endless, mind numbing reports.  Stop spending hours working on those reports.  Don’t let that stop you from selling!  With the CRM system, all you have to do is push are button, call up a standard report, send it to your manager–that is if you are using the system.

You know management has bought the CRM system because of the fantastic capabilities it provides them.

But don’t let any of that stand in the way of your own personal effectiveness and performance!  Regardless of what management says, makes the system a tool for you!  Leverage it for your own personal productivity.  Leverage it because it helps put some order and structure to your territory, pipeline, and life.  Leverage it to help you sell more!

Fighting management, pushing back on their CRM mandates really is meaningless, it hurts you!

For the managers that have made it this far, realize CRM and the related tools are not about you.  They are about helping your sales people be more productive, impactful, and effective.  As you implement and manage these tools, focus on what it does for your people.  Revel in their selfishness asking “What’s in it for me?”  Show them what’s in it for them.

Do this well, you get all those great things you were hoping for yourself.  You will know what’s going on, you will be able to identify performance gaps and help your people.  You’ll be able to free yourself from the tedium of reporting to actually working with your people, helping them close more deals!

Please sales people, act in your own self interests!  Use these tools to help you be better.  Stop arguing, pouting, or being passive aggressive.—just do it for yourselves.  Please sales managers—to get what you want, focus on your sales people, let them see what’s in it for them.

Maybe then, we can stop all these silly discussions and I can avoid getting sucked into yet one more of them.

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  1. Dave,

    agree with your points.

    But there is a third path, which is to make CRM more productive for its users. We see customers increase their CRM adoption by 20-50% by integrating real-time prospect, lead and customer intelligence into the CRM workflow. These gains are across the board, from SFDC to Microsoft to SAP or Oracle installations.

    • Umberto, it’s fantastic to see you here commenting. From a managerial point of view — providing tools that help increase adoption is fantastic! I think, however, we need to cast this in the context of a sales person–after all sales people don’t care about adoption, for them it is 0 or 100%. The statement I would make is any sales person is foolish if they aren’t leveraging tools to provide real time intelligence in engaging their customers. Not doing so is equivalent to walking in totally blind and unprepared. If the sales person wants to be successful, they have to be informed and relevant, period! Sales people struggle with getting deals into their funnels. They struggle with moving deals through the funnel. A large part of the reason is they don’t “know” the customer. We’ve seen too much data showing sales failure because of this.

      I know you are too humble to say this, but I can’t imagine any high performing sales person not using a tool like Insideview! If you aren’t, you are irrelevant! If you are irrelevant, you are out of a job. If you try to cobble it together with search, you aren’t being as productive as possible. So that’s the WIIFM for the sales person. Tying this to your CRM system, just leverages your knowledge and productivity even further.

      Then the WIIFM for the manager is the 20-50% uplift in adoption–but the real WIIFM is the improvement in pipeline vitality, competitiveness and revenue.

      I’m flattered you took the time to join this discussion. Thank you, Umberto!

  2. Mike Uxa permalink

    You’re right Dave, the tools are there to help the sales guy. The obstacle I see often is the lack of, or poor, training of the nuances of the system. Education and implementation are key for effective use of the CRM system.

    • Mike, great to see you here! I couldn’t agree with you more. The biggest fault I see in CRM implementations is the failure to integrate it into the workflow (as opposed to disrupting the workflow), and constant training. The other area that I see as a big failure is management not using the system themselves. They demand utilization, ask someone to provide them reports, but never use it themselves (or know the one or two commands to get the report they want. Management must set the example. They must use it as a tool for their own personal productivity.

  3. David,

    Spot on – I honestly cant believe a 21st-century sales person would push back on CRM.


    Nicholas Kontopoulos

  4. I completely agree that sales teams should stop whining, but I would tend to add a counterpoint to @Nicholas: I understand completely why they would rebel against the CRM.

    Why? Because I’ve seen the vast majority of CRM software out there and, however useful and powerful they are, they’re also extremely complicated, laborious, and a drag to use.

    Until we can build simple, out-of-your-face CRM software en masse, we’ll never achieve any meaningful level of satisfaction from sales people who are forced to use cumbersome software that received their last meaningful redesign in the early 90s.

    • Brad, I do tend to agree with you about the GUI’s for many CRM systems. It seems Marquis de Sade was the UX designer for many of them. Personally, when we migrated our CRM system a number of years ago, I stumbled, fought, and raged against the mind numbing interface. However, when I stopped fighting and said “it is what it is,” then I started getting real value from the tool. So to a degree, I think “users” use the interface as an excuse.

      At the same time, I don’t want to let the vendors off the hook. There can and must be a much better experience–if only to drive the next wave of functionality and productivity. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Well said David. If the CRM system is used well, then it should also be offering insights to the sales people. Not just about their contacts, but also how they work.

    They can be fantastic educational tools to help the salesperson realise where they need to improve and highlight what deals are really worth chasing.

    Who wouldn’t want a CRM system that tells you which deals are worth chasing and which have stagnated?

  6. John Sterrett permalink

    I have worked for companies with and without a CRM.

    Since most of us are tasked with doing the same work that 5 people did 10 years ago, using a CRM is essential. Pulling data out of a standard data base is not only draconian, but a complete productivity killer. Try doing reports when you can see the data on a screen, but cannot export, copy or paste that data.

    Might as well be writing on a scroll with a quill.

    Any high performing sales person will take whatever automated tools are available, get trained, and use them to the fullest extent possible.

    But here are a couple of reasons a salesperson WILL NOT use the tools:
    1) They are a moderate to poor performer, and are always looking over their shoulder for the pink slip. They think that they need to keep all the data in a log book or on their personal PC to either avoid being let go because they own all the tribal knowledge, or, in case they do get let go, they can take all that data with them to the competition (illegally, of course).
    2) They do not trust their company to use the data judiciously, and think the motivation is nefarious.
    3) They are morons, and don’t understand that any automation makes all your reporting easier.

    While no CRM is perfect, I am grateful my company has invested in one at all, because it enables me to MAKE MORE MONEY, which of course is the sales bottom line.

    • Thanks John. Clearly, those who aren’t using the CRM system just don’t care about their own productivity and results. It’s silliness to fight management on this. Regards, Dave

  7. Mark McNamee permalink

    But no one has answered the big question, which CRM is ‘the’ one

    • Mark, great to hear from you. The only answer to this is, “It Depends.” There is no right CRM system, even though the capabilities overlap significantly. The “right” CRM system for a company depends on a whole bunch of things. Regards, Dave

  8. David,

    I follow your comments because you have some great insights, and your comments on sales reps’ whining about CRM are no exception.

    You emphasize the importance of a sales reps’ personal productivity — the CRM system should help them get more done — which should mean, more sales! Fantastic encouragement, and true too.

    There’s a fly in the ointment here however, which is that CRM technology doesn’t really — in almost all cases, especially and notoriously in some of the most popular SaaS-based CRM platforms — actually help me “work faster and more effectively”.

    There is very little really good research on what CRM software should do. And that capability I believe is really two things: (1) “keeping track of stories or narrartive” and (2) “helping me decide, as fast as possible, what to do next and how to do it well”.

    I have maybe 40 prospects more or less active at any time. I relate to these developing prospect relationships as “stories”. When I switch to a new prospect, I need to “boot my brain” for that story — which means reviewing emails and notes. Does this take 2 minutes or 10 minutes? If I switch 10 or 20 times per day, you are looking at hours of time differences between very good software and the most commonly used software.

    As sales people we use software as a force multiplier to talk effectively with more prospects, in order to help move them “up or out”. I’m not sure all the whining (and there’s a lot of it) is without substance. You correctly call out the poor design of multiple systems — and my suggestion is that this poor design has a real cost. It’s almost “magical thinking” to imagine that one can be personally productive with poor software, when one spends hours per day actually using the software.

    As I have written about elsewhere, there is little good deep research or theory on CRM software and its use by sales reps. I think a decade from now we’ll see a whole new generation of software that is very different from what we have now. And then maybe we’ll see McKinsey report something different from what they’ve reported this past year, which is that sales reps spend 75% of their day “not selling”.

    So, there’s my criticism of CRM software, but hopefully its more about how to do something better and therefore not whining. I always look forward to reading your insights!

    Back to selling!

    • John: Thanks for the great comment. I agree with much of what you’ve said. It seems as though the major CRM suppliers each subcontracted user interface design to Marquis DeSade. Non of the major suppliers has paid adequate attention to the GUI, which is why so many small companies have very interesting alternatives. It also impacts sales person acceptance.

      In our company, we use one of the “major” CRM system. For the first few months, I “fought” the interface. Everytime I used the system I resented it, complaining and whining. I finally decided to stop fighting. I decided to accept the GUI, in spite of how bad it was. I still think it sucks, but I can’t imagine not having it as a tool. It’s where I “live my life.” All my relationships are there, my calendar is managed out of it, all my to do’s. I look at the complete history of interactions I’ve had with prospects and customers—so I can remember the story. It helps me remember what’s next and keeps me honest in executing. It actually helps me do much more.

      It actually frees me up to spend more time to think about the strategies and the stories.

      So I don’t disagree. CRM systems have miles to go in terms of usability. The vendor who cares about and breaks the code on this will dominate the business. Then we will stop talking about compliance because it will become so easy and natural that sales people can’t imagine not using it.

      However, until that day happens, if it is happens, my point of view is stop fighting the user interface and design of whatever system you are using. Find a way to extract personal value from it–sure it may be a hassle, but find a way to leverage it to become more productive. It’s actually pretty easy and it does have a huge impact.

  9. Mike permalink

    Wrong wrong wrong….. Sales people need to make sales to make more money. If CRM really helped them make sales (ie: make more money) then sale people would be clamoring for more CRM. Sale people are not stupid nor are they whiners. They are aggressive, intelligent, conniving hunters and hunterettes- you don’t want to be standing in the way of a sales person and a potential sale else you would get run over.

    Ok, lets imagine that a new device was created…. call is the Sales Box. If you purchased and use this Sales Box, you would make more sales. I bet the sales people would be going out to stores buying this thing with their own money…. taking courses on their own time and weekends to learn how to use it. Everyone would be screaming for the Sales Box !!

    So, why do sales people hate, loath and detest CRM…. It is simple. CRM DOES NOT INCREASE SALES !!

    “I can’t imagine any high performing sales person not using tools like CRM”, you say. How the heck do you think they became a ‘high performing sales person? Certainly not being a data entry clerk in order to make an Operation’s manager happy that he sees a log entry with names, titles and when/where you had your last sales lunch meeting.

    Imagine it is the year 1900 and you offer your sales force the option of having a telephone. They would be jumping for joy and sending you flowers. Because a telephone is a real sales tool that gives one huge power to make more/bigger sales. Offer a sales team CRM and you will see them start asking their colleagues about it and you got a low morale problem before the junk is even rolled out. Why aren’t sales people jumping up and down with joy for CRM…. because CRM does not deliver anything to the sales force except headaches and wasted time.

    I worked at a company where the sales people were encouraged to use CRM in the following manner: use it or get fired. Well, David, if that is the only real incentive to use CRM…. then CRM is the best thing since the telephone- thank you, may I have another sir?

    • Mike: I think/hope we were reading the same article. I think we agree that too many CRM systems have been implemented only for management–losing the value of CRM to the sales person. This is a pure waste of time for the sales person. Unfortunately, too many CRM systems and too many management dictates focus on the value of CRM to management.

      Having said that, you cannot be a high performing sales person in today’s markets without using some kind of CRM systems. The sheer volume of selling activity, information a sales person needs to sell, and so forth mandates a sales person leverage these tools to the most. Without these, you cannot work at the speed necessary. Too much time is spent researching, organizing, etc.

      It’s interesting top performers are always the early adopters of tools like this. I managed a 1500 sales person organization in the early 90’s, A team of my very top performers came to me then with a proposal to pilot the first versions of CRM systems. Their agenda was less piloting it for the organization, they just wanted to get their hands on tools that could help them perform better, that would enable them to sell more. They were just clever in their approach to selling me.

      I’ve seen the same thing dozens of times. In other cases, I see top performers adapting the tools to suit their needs, in spite of what management asks. So beyond the anecdotal data, there is plenty of quantitative data that supports CRM as a productivity tool, when implemented correctly. Look at reports from CSO Insights, CEB, Forrester, others.

      Arguments focusing on the “data entry” aspect of CRM either point to miserable implementations of CRM — and there are too many of these, or gross misunderstanding of the tools.

      CRM does not increase sales—but it frees up the sales person and enhances that individual’s capabilities to increase sales.

      You conclude your comment with the same point that I made early in the article. Companies needing to mandate CRM or you get fired have missed the point. Management is wrong, they don’t get it. They are implementing the system for their benefit and not for the sales people’s benefit. (And they are probably doing a whole lot more wrong as well). So we are in violent agreement there.

      My only point is sales people must stop “cutting off their noses to spite their faces.” No one can perform at their best without leveraging these tools. No one would resist using the telephone or mobile. No one would resist having a laptop and email. Likewise, no one should resist CRM. They just need to get over the blindness of bad management and figure out how it helps them.

      Thanks for provoking a great discussion.

      • John Sterrett permalink

        I so agree, Dave. Having worked in sales positions where I had to go into an archaic data base to get contact information, and create a calendar entry reminder for all follow-up activity, I cannot imagine going back into the dark ages without a CRM.

        The valid point is, there is much to gain in sales by using a CRM judiciously and effectively.

        However, CRM for CRM’s sake is anathema to increasing sales. Any time you micromanage an experienced sales force, you negatively impact sales.

        A decent, available CRM as an arrow in the quiver will allow a performer to be more efficient and increase sales. Mandating or dictating CRM usage will not.

  10. Andy Treby permalink

    Great piece – As a seasoned sales rep and now long-in-the-tooth sales manager I have no idea how a rep functions without some form of CRM. If you think back to the old days when reps carried index cards in a box and updated the info on the cards with each visit – Wasn’t that a very early CRM?

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