Customer relationship management (CRM) is key to a business's success. The industry, however, is on the cusp of innovation and change, making a company's ability to keep up equally important.
CRM solutions are in transition. Whereas businesses once adopted CRMs based on industry trends, newer solutions aim to better speak to a company's customer base and give salespeople the exact tools they need to succeed. [Read related article: How to Choose the Right CRM Software]
Nikolaus Kimla, CEO and founder of Pipeliner – a CRM used by more than 600 companies worldwide and named one of the top CRMs by Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business – explained how CRM solutions have changed over the past few years.
"To utilize a somewhat tired analogy, there once was a wizard who ran the land of Oz," he said. "The wizard had the whole place convinced that he was all-knowing and all-powerful – and until a teenage girl from Kansas happened along to reveal the truth about the wizard, everyone in the land took everything he said at face value."
For decades, a similar scenario has been carrying on in the CRM industry, Kimla said. "Powerful software giants – that elsewhere had revolutionized corporate computing – developed CRM solutions that were so dazzling in their complexity and features that information technology (IT) executives came to believe they had to be the ideal solutions."
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Taking the advice of IT executives, decision-makers approved purchases of sophisticated CRM solutions and wrote them off as a cost of doing business. On the front lines, however, were salespeople who actually used the CRM software in the real world, yet had never been asked what they actually needed in such software to effectively and efficiently do their jobs, Kimla said.
"After being heavily burdened with data entry duties and creating cumbersome reports, [salespeople], of course, gave little positive feedback for these CRM applications," he said. "To them, the term 'CRM' became synonymous with drudgery – a situation that continues to this day."
It became evident that the widely accepted CRM solutions had shortcomings, leading to a new paradigm for CRM systems, one which is rapidly being adopted by forward-looking companies today, Kimla said.
"Instead of being the 'top-down' enforcement onto sales that it always has been, CRM becomes an empowerment to sales, allowing them to fully control their sales pipelines and thereby meet and exceed their quotas," he said.
This new approach to CRM doesn't just benefit salespeople, but businesses as well.
"Interestingly, when a CRM solution actually empowers sales, so does it empower the remainder of the company," he said.
In keeping up with changes in CRM and adopting new CRM solutions, Kimla said businesses should keep the following things in mind.
1. Your sales team's job is closing sales, not data entry.
Executives should empower their salespeople with a CRM solution that truly benefits sales. Traditional CRM applications make salespeople into data entry clerks, which they are clearly not. A solution such as Pipeliner CRM makes it possible for salespeople to easily and accurate manage their sales pipelines instead of simply entering data into the CRM with no return to them. Your sales team should be focused on bringing in new customers, not just logging their information. Prioritize sales results over logging customers' information.
Sales is about establishing a good customer relationship, prioritizing customer service and building a connection to provide a service where everyone wins. By giving your sales team the tools it needs to build customer service and prioritize relationship management, you're empowering them to do their jobs more effectively.
2. Find a solution that optimizes your salespeople's potential.
People who work in sales have the same qualities as entrepreneurs. They are creating their own lives and taking charge of their own income potential, and they are capable of seeing opportunity where others would not. These are the traits of entrepreneurs – the kind of people with the fortitude to strike out and make a brand-new start, those who routinely make something out of nothing.
Decision-makers should bring out their salespeople's entrepreneurial skills and motivations. If they don't view them in this light, they are not utilizing salespeople to their full potential and are effectively crippling the company. It also means that salespeople need the right CRM tools to better their situation. The relationship management and customer service tools should fit seamlessly into their routines. Don't sign up for customer relationship tools that get in the way of a salesperson's potential.
3. Value your salespeople's opinions.
Companies should welcome salespeople's input on matters that clearly affect them and their ability to make sales, including issues such as marketing campaigns and even product development. Salespeople know the company's prospects and customers better than anyone else. They possess a wealth of information usually left untapped – to the company's considerable detriment. By checking in with your team, discussing relationship management and other aspects of the customer relationship, you'll keep an avenue of communication open to glean important insights on not only your sales process, but your business.
Your sales team is on the front lines of finding the right customers for your business. By constantly asking for their feedback on technology solutions, the sales pipeline and customer relationship management, you can find out the best way to improve your business.
Additional reporting by Sara Angeles. Interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.