The Cost Marketing Pays When Sales Misuses the CRM

Bad things happen when sales reps ignore all of the insights their organization’s marketers place in the CRM system. From management not being able to discern how pipeline strength correlates to sales activity to them simply focusing on closed deals, erasing CRM’s impact on the sales cycle has consequences.

Bad things happen when sales reps ignore all of the insights their organization’s marketers place in the CRM system. From management not being able to discern how pipeline strength correlates to sales activity to them simply focusing on closed deals, erasing CRM’s impact on the sales cycle has consequences. In this post, we will explore why CRM misuse occurs, what the consequences are and what marketers can do about this issue.

First, a CRM Tale of Woe

Many years ago, I worked for a firm with more than $100 million in annual revenue. There, the worldwide sales VP refused to review the pipeline and sales forecast from the CRM system in the weekly sales call with his regional management. Instead, he had Excel spreadsheets his staff maintained for him. I urged him to use the beautiful reports and graphs in the CRM system, to no avail.

He didn’t believe the data. It’s a catch-22.

The problem with leaders not using the system and positioning the data as the single source of truth is that it forgives the teams from having to enter data into the system, and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The result is sales reps don’t add opportunities until the leads were much more advanced, at Stage 5 or 6, and thus avoided any management scrutiny over their nascent deals. Sales management gave them kudos for bringing in bluebirds (unanticipated deals), and the reps got the data in the system just in time to ensure they get their commissions.

Consequences of Underutilizing the CRM

The outcomes for marketers and organizations of management allowing sales reps to largely operate outside the CRM are:

  1. No visibility into the early sales pipeline.
  2. Management focuses entirely on the incipient closed deals.
  3. Marketing cannot differentiate between contacts who are in a purchase cycle from those who are window-shopping.
  4. Sales management cannot connect sales activity to pipeline strength.
  5. Marketing operations does not get feedback on successful campaigns until late in the buyer journey.
  6. Sales reps use the system largely to ensure they get commissions
  7. Sales reps might put activity (calls, meetings, tasks) in the CRM to ensure they drive a perception that they are busy, but might still not add opportunities until the last moment, and otherwise don’t use the system.
  8. Sales reps fail to take advantage of all of the recorded digital interactions prospects have had and are dutifully reporting the lead/contact record.

Running a business effectively requires the earliest visibility possible into the sales pipeline. It enables sales management to quickly see if new reps are working out, marketing analytics can pinpoint which programs are sourcing the best leads, what campaigns are moving leads along the funnel, which products are hot, which regions are soft, which reps need more training, etc. So, allowing the reps to not use the CRM until opportunities are well-advanced has many downsides.

The CRM system is the basis for tracking and enabling sales workflows in the same way a marketing automation platform enables marketing workflows. Prospects have workflows, too, as part of their buyer journey.

These three workflows are interconnected. Prospects interact with marketing content and online properties. Sales interacts with prospects via email and telephone calls. And marketing can interact with the sales workflow by providing visibility to the prospects’ digital interactions and helping move prospects along their buyer journey. Marketing does this by varying how they market to prospects based on their opportunity stage, for instance.

If CRM is lightly used by sales reps, they break the connection of these three workflows, and run the risk of marketing and sales looking uncoordinated in their communications to prospects and lowering productivity of both organizations, resulting in poor customer experiences.

Steps to get Sales Reps Fully Utilizing CRM

  1. Ensure they understand the value to them (WIIFM)
  2. Add more value to the CRM system. For example:
    • Enrich the contact/account data
    • Add plugins, like LinkedIn
    • Route new leads only through CRM
    • Enable sales reps to opt “not-ready” prospects into specific nurturing campaigns
    • Enable salespeople to send trackable emails through the CRM
    • Provide beautiful HTML trackable email templates for specific content
  3. Get sales management to agree that ALL pipeline reviews at all levels of sales management will be conducted using CRM reports, not Excel or another tool.
  4. Create reports that highlight the biggest users and the biggest non-users of the system
  5. Create reports on most recent and least recent contact/account updates by owner

Conclusion

When marketing and sales coordinate on communications with prospects and customers, magic can happen. When sales breaks that chain of communication by failing to fully utilize the CRM system, they isolate marketing from pipeline generation success metrics and ignore the digital body language of the people they are most hoping to impress — prospective customers.

How Well Do You Know Your Customer Data?

Some marketers seem to keep their distance from customer data. When I ask what kind of customer information they are working with, I hear things like, “Oh, Mary is in charge of our data. I leave it to her.” This is unfortunate.

Some marketers seem to keep their distance from customer data. When I ask what kind of customer information they are working with, I hear things like, “Oh, Mary is in charge of our data. I leave it to her.” This is unfortunate. I realize that the marketing profession may attract people who prefer to focus on “softer” functions like research, competitive strategy, and value propositions. But these days, it’s a real disadvantage, professionally and personally, to shun data. So, let me offer some painless steps to up your comfort level.

In this context, I am thinking about customer data at its most basic level: the customer or prospect record, which is usually found in a marketing database or a CRM system. This record contains the contact information, and descriptive and behavioral data elements we know about the customer. For B2B marketers, it will describe the account as well as the individual contacts. This subject arose in my mind recently as I read Steven Hayes’s interesting article called “Do Marketers Really Want to be Data Scientists?” in Oracle’s Modern Marketing blog. Hayes correctly concluded that marketers don’t need to do the science — build the models, run the experiments — but they do need to be familiar with the variables that drive customer behavior, in order to apply the science to marketing decision-making.

So, it behooves marketers to be deeply familiar with the customer record, which is where these variables are housed. This information serves as what I like to call “the recorded memory of the customer relationship,” and it reveals all sorts of insights into the nature of the customers and competitors, what they value, and how to communicate with them effectively.

So, how do you get familiar with your customer records, and make them your friends? Here are three steps to consider.

1. Take Mary — or whoever manages your customer data — out to lunch. Demonstrate your interest in understanding her world, her challenges and her interests. This puts a personal face to the data, and also makes Mary an ally and mentor in your quest.

2. Examine a handful of customer records. You’ll find all kinds of interesting things: What do we know about this person? Any ideas on how better to communicate and sell to him/her? How complete and accurate is the record? What additional data would help you develop even better ideas on how to treat the customer? Set an hour on your calendar every quarter or so, to repeat the process, becoming familiar with records from various types of customers and prospects.

3. Launch an initiative to develop a data strategy for your department or your company as a whole. This means a written policy that identifies the data elements you should collect on each customer, where each element will come from, and how you will use it to drive business value.

I guarantee, if you dive into the data records, your comfort level will rise dramatically. And so will your insight, and your skill as a marketer.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.