The focus for 2010: A better return on CRM

7th Dec 2009

Brian Plowman outlines the three conundrums perplexing CRM - and how to solve them so that your CRM investment can deliver.’s latest survey shows that over 60% of the focus in 2010 will be on customer data, marketing and customer service, which supports the view that emerging from the years of hype surrounding the plethora of CRM choices is a body of evidence proving that firms looking for the software itself to be the primary driver of behavioural change and improved productivity are mistaken.

Furthermore with companies like SAP forecasting still more hard times ahead then it’s a clear indication that funds for big IT spends are being severely capped. So how will firms get a return on the investments they have already made in CRM?

We contend that if you can get your salesforce focus and mindsets right you can expect to enjoy a real shift in performance. There is little doubt that CRM investment can deliver significant sales improvement, so long as some strong caveats are observed.

  • Beware! CRM can provide the means for ready, quick access to information on your customers and prospects communication preferences. But if your salesforce is bogged down by 20-30% 'noise' levels (i.e. at least the equivalent of a day a week spent on all forms of value destroying activity such as chasing up missed deliveries, running errands for the head office, fixing customer problems on-site, etc) then the sales people will simply say..."I don't have time to do these new types of communication and e-business you want me to do!"
  • Beware! CRM can provide snappy access to up-to-date individual customer sales trends. But if there is lack of clarity and understanding throughout the salesforce and sales management about the exact nature of the few critical 'core' value adding activities that will make the difference in individual sales strategy development then what is the likelihood that the types of activities being done will optimally address the sales trends?
  • Beware! CRM can make targeting of promotional campaigns easier and potentially more cost-effective. But if your sales force is characterised by subjectivity and inconsistency in the way that they classify their customers and prospects, and a lack of discipline in targeting in-field visits then how will you know if the campaigns are being directed to the right customers and prospects?
The CRM goose do you get the sequence of addressing these conundrums right so that the CRM goose lays a golden egg?

The first step is to get the sales people to show what they really do in terms of key, quantified outputs and associated service levels. It is critical to elicit this type of documentation from them directly. Get them to write it, in their own words. Observing from a distance will not engender the buy-in you need from them at the outset and merely give them an excuse to reject anything new - including whatever you need them to do with any CRM software. Documenting how they carry out their main tasks in step-by-step process detail, can identify opportunities for improvement and the causes of ‘noise’ – non-productive process steps and activities. Get them to be comprehensive. You want to build up a blueprint of the current reality and it is critical to get them to correctly apportion their time against the process steps they have just documented.

This type of data is very powerful for scoping the size of the opportunity (ie how much time can be refocussed from noise to core) and identifying what needs to change, why and how. The first use of the data should be to debate internally which process step activities are noise, which are discretionary, which are support, and which are core. Identifying the noise will be easy; it will confirm just how much time is being wasted on frustrating tasks. The debate will be enriched if you have some good customer data telling you what is really important in service delivery and how you are faring against the competition on the most important service delivery factors. This debate, which must involve the sales people and managers, is always a healthy and lively affair! And so it should be because what you are trying to do is get people to challenge what they think is important in their roles, and to accept that there could be a significantly different vision coming through.

You may well find, as a number of leading salesforces have, that your core activity level will be quite low and that your noise level is very high. The salesforce needs to find a way to move the balance so the proportions tend towards being the other way round.

The key is using the staff data to capture the hearts and minds of your sales people (who by now are quite excited about the potential of what the exercise can do for them), engaging the right players from other departments with whom the sales people interface, and developing the right behavioural measures to drive the changes through. The immediate priority is to liberate time from the noise activity to increase face-to-face selling time. This will involve using the staff collected activity data, now represented in true sales process map format so that you can redesign the sales process accordingly.

The next priority is to refocus this time to the critical core activities. This will involve using the sales process data again to debate, agree and then direct the increasing selling time to existing, but underdone, core activities and to implementing new core activities.

Then you want to ensure that this increased, refocussed core selling activity is directed to the right customers and prospects at the right visit frequency. This will involve collecting profiling data in the right format for your industry and company to indicate both the current and potential value of each customer. Processing of this data can classify customers in an objective and consistent way and provide the basis for setting benchmark visit levels according to classification.

It is imperative to bed the changes into the sales process in a sustainable way... and in a way that will show correlations between certain levels of activity, behaviour and sales results... and in a way that is transparent and shows which sales people are doing it, and which ones aren't. You are actually, through this process, defining and articulating your own best practice in a way that it can be practically used.

Having invested something like 5-6 elapsed weeks so far, the software element of your CRM tool now becomes very useful to help drive your salesforce effectiveness, which will in turn, allow the sales people to go on and maximise the full CRM functionality. The CRM software will be defined to capture data for those activities/behaviours you want to change. For example, if you have decided that new core activity for the sales people is to proactively seek opportunities to quote on the spot during their sales visits, then you may set the behavioural change indicator as the number of quotes sought... by sales person, and by customer classification. The KPI, ‘quote conversion’, should also be represented accordingly using the CRM software as well.

As a final note, set the expected lift to your sales performance to at least 20% by travelling this path. The degree to which you exceed this benchmark will obviously be affected by factors like market growth rate, new competition levels and other factors beyond the scope of the issues described here. However, it is also very true to say that the degree to which you can exceed 20% improvement will be very much dependent on getting the balance right between activity and refocusing mindsets together with the degree to which you can make your CRM tools better support the whole process.

Brian Plowman is a senior partner and managing director of Develin & Partners a UK based Cost Management Consultancy. For many years, Develin & Partners has been helping companies get a better return on their CRM initiatives. Visit Develin & Partners at or telephone +44 (0)1784 224207 or email the author on [email protected]

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