A multi-tool for coaching to and managing the sales process
Today’s CRM is like a Swiss Army knife. The multi-tool is useful for just about any task, trade, or adventure. In the sales environment, CRMs can extract data from every kind of interaction with customers and prospects, providing sellers and their managers with useful and actionable data.
As a multi-tool, the CRM provides greater visibility into customer relationships and real-time data to support strategic decision-making. Managers can gain insights into how sellers are performing and identify areas where they stumble. They can then target their coaching efforts where and when they’re needed. This ability to provide just-in-time sales coaching derives from having a sales process that has been integrated into the CRM.
This is not a novel idea. What organizations tend to overlook, however, is the need to be strategic in the type of information collected in the CRM. If you’re not capturing data that is relevant to your sales organization, you won’t be able to extract information that’s of value in selling. The way you know data is relevant is if it follows the process used by the organization to sell.
Making Your CRM Work for Sellers
This is not a complicated idea. Yet, a surprising number of companies set up their CRM and then find it hard to use because it doesn’t reflect the sequence of activities in the sales process.
Think of the CRM from the seller’s point of view. Sellers like to sell, not do data entry. They’re not detail-oriented by nature, so paperwork isn’t their thing. In order for them adopt the CRM into their daily workflow, it has to align with the way they work, which is by following the sales process.
The best sales process is one that reflects the way sellers sell and, even more importantly, the way buyers buy. The activities sellers need to do in each step of the sales process should make it easier for buyers to buy from them in a way that’s mutually beneficial for both parties.
What we at Richardson advocate in a sales process is a formal, dynamic architecture that includes a series of steps, stages, activities, verifiable outcomes, high-impact questions, and key metrics. Everything comes together in a customized process that reflects the sales organization’s strategic direction and a clear path for getting there.
When such a sales process is in place and integrated into the CRM, the organization can capture relevant information as the seller moves through each stage. With verifiable outcomes as part of the process, the CRM can capture the extent to which each activity has been achieved. Entering the information should be as easy for the seller as ticking off a check box and making a few simple notes; if it’s not, it won’t get done — at least not consistently. Similarly, it should be just as easy to retrieve the information whenever needed, by seller or sales managers.
Sales Coaching Insights from CRM Data
With the CRM and sales process linked, sales managers gain real-time visibility into opportunities in the pipeline and the performance of their people. The point isn’t for them to sit in some ivory tower and analyze data in a philosophical way, it’s to help sales managers become better at achieving results through their people, with data used to inform a regular coaching cadence with their team. In the CRM, managers and sellers can be on the same page in terms of reviewing opportunities at various stages in the pipeline. Managers can ask high-impact coaching questions that refer to each verifiable outcome:
- “Who confirmed this need exists, and where does it fall within the customer’s priorities?”
- “What is our unique value proposition?”
- “What did the decision-maker say about your recommendation?”
Being able to ask the right high-impact questions, based on information in the CRM, helps sales managers and sellers strategize on next steps. This is how the CRM also becomes a tool on a micro level, enabling manager-to-seller coaching conversations.
On a macro level, CRMs provide sales leadership with overall visibility into the pipeline. Leaders can see how opportunities are progressing, where they’re getting stuck, and the average time an opportunity spends in each stage of the sales process. They can see where they are gaining or losing value and how many opportunities fade away over time. The result is a clearer picture of the sales pipeline, which allows for more accurate forecasting.
When sales organizations first put in a CRM, they often see an initial dip in pipeline value. This is usually caused by sellers being more circumspect about the opportunities they enter into a CRM, because they know they will be asked about each one. If the opportunity is iffy, they’ll leave it out. However, the quality of the opportunities in the pipeline should improve, as well as the conversion rate, because the “garbage” is getting cleared out. Similarly, some sellers like to hold opportunities close to the vest, not entering them into the CRM until later stages of the process. This holding back tends to be short-lived because it raises more questions when opportunities just materialize in the middle of the sales process. In coaching sessions, managers will want to know:
- “Where did that come from?”
- “What were you doing at what would have been stage 1?”
Using Your CRM Correctly
The greatest value in a CRM comes from its multi-tool Swiss Army knife characteristics. Like any tool, however, problems can occur when used incorrectly, such as using a hammer when a wrench is required, or a screwdriver instead of a crowbar. The CRM works best when aligned with the way the sales organization does business — the way its sellers sell and buyers buy — and can support the coaching conversations sales managers have with members of their teams in relevant and meaningful ways.