By: Miller Heiman

For sales reps and sales leaders alike, technology, like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, will become increasingly important as we move toward the future. Many organizations have already invested in CRM systems and much has been written about how these systems have not delivered on their promised results. Fortunately, the CRM industry is evolving with new innovations that will help drive better returns on sales force automation investments.

The Purpose of CRM

The idea behind CRM implementation is to improve the productivity of the sales organization by leveraging better information. Salespeople can enter the latest plans and actions related to a contact, opportunity or account, and this information can be shared with sales management and other parties involved in the selling process. Because the data is updated in real-time, teams have the most current information. The result is that the right hand knows what the left is doing - and the action plan for that customer becomes a coordinated effort.

In other words, CRM can make the selling process more efficient and collaborative, allowing everyone involved in the sales process to benefit from individual reps' knowledge as soon as it's inputted into the system. With the information gathered together, the output data is more robust for planning purposes. "Collaborative selling proponents claim it helps companies realize higher close rates, shorten the sales cycle and gain higher-value deals," writes Lisa Picarille in "Market Watch: Collaborative Selling" (, Dec. 1, 2003).

The Disconnect

It sounds good-but in the past, the introduction of technology into a sales rep's tried-and-true methodology often met with resistance. The reason? Frequently, implementation of CRM systems didn't result in anything concretely positive for salespeople.

In the past, "CRM was a repository for data, and it still is, to a certain extent," says Chris Hens, COO of the San Mateo, Cal.-based White Springs. The salesperson put data into the system, and that data might be valuable to the organization as a whole, but the salesperson never really got to see the benefits. "That's the way of the past."

"What gets customers excited [about the future of CRM] is the way that a CRM platform or its attendant applications can deliver something back to the salesperson," Hens says. "A computer is supposed to help you, but it can't do that if it doesn't have enough - or correct - information. The goal is creating enough information that the computer can give salespeople suggestions."

Recognizing that greater user adoption is needed for sales leaders to reap the benefits of increased data, both in terms of quantity and quality, technology innovators have worked toward building a better mousetrap: applications that attach to companies' CRM systems that actually help salespeople do their jobs better and faster.

To Drive User Adoption, Deliver Value

White Springs is among those innovators working to improve the individual sales rep's experience with CRM. White Springs helps Miller Heiman integrate its core sales processes with their client's various CRM systems.

For instance, Miller Heiman's Sales Access ManagerSM (SAM) allows salespeople to use Strategic Selling® Blue Sheets and Conceptual Selling® Green Sheets that are hooked into the CRM platform - so salespeople can use the sales process electronically. Information they enter onto sales strategy sheets is automatically input into the CRM database. Salespeople like it because CRM now supports the sales process they've bought into and use.

Applications that work in conjunction with CRM - in addition to sales methodology integration software - include software that provides information on territories, information on key players, decision makers, or competitors, or the right sales collateral for a given selling situation.

To deliver value to the sales force and increase adoption, Hens says, you have to know and include what they need - and each salesperson, each day, needs something different. "In essence, what we're doing is creating a platform where sales ´┐Żbest practices' or methodologies are connected directly into the CRM platform and can be engaged in the context of the everyday sales cycle. This, in turn, makes CRM more useful than just as a home for data," Hens says.

With the advent of these kinds of applications, which can hook into CRM systems to provide immediate value to salespeople, the future is wide open. As Hens says, "the way of the future is that people who have expertise in delivering the components that salespeople or sales managers need, right when they need it, will propel the movement forward."

The Implications For Sales Leaders

"Sales leaders focus on two questions: What's the problem? How do I fix it?" Hens remarks.

If user adoption is poor, there might not be enough data housed in the CRM system to answer those questions, or the data might not be accurate. User adoption can be driven by presenting an interface that helps the salesperson, but sales leadership also plays a significant role: For CRM to be truly effective, and live up to that dream of ultimate functionality, adoption has to be driven by management, Hens says. "It needs to be made part of the business process. If each salesperson is doing his own thing, you'll never reap the benefits."

With increased use of the CRM system by salespeople, more - and more reliable - data will be input into the system, and a more accurate analysis of problems and their solutions will be possible. Sales leaders will be able to take the next step toward innovation: analytics to determine what is and isn't working in the sales process.

That accurate information can be used to perceive customer trends and make more accurate forecasts. And, when sales reps leave the company, their customer data doesn't leave with them; it's still a part of the CRM system, easy to access and reassign.

About Author:

Miller Heiman has been a thought leader and innovator in the sales arena for almost thirty years, helping clients worldwide win high-value complex deals, protect and grow key accounts, manage talent and optimize sales strategies and operations.

With a prestigious client list that includes Fortune 500 clients, Miller Heiman helps companies in virtually every major industry to build high performance sales teams that deliver consistent sustainable results to drive revenue.

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