The Results Are In
On the plus side, companies that successfully implemented CRM initiatives reported excellent results.
Clairol increased their revenues per sales representative by 50%. Pitney Bowes reduced their sales order processing errors by 41%. Great-West increased their new customer acquisition rate by nearly 35%. Compaq's call center project yielded a 20% increase in customer satisfaction ratings. McGraw Hill's Construction Information Group reduced their new rep ramp-up time by 80%. Cisco is doing $8 billion of their $11 billion in annual sales via the Internet. Based on these successes, the interest and sense of urgency surrounding CRM projects is greater than ever.
But while the rush towards CRM continues to gain momentum, all that glitters is not gold. Consider the following. Of the fully implemented projects recently reviewed, only 30.7% reported achieving significant improvements. Of the remaining initiatives, 37.6% reported achieving only minor improvements in performance and 31.7% stated that there was no noticeable improvement at all (see Figure 1.0).
Granted, this is a significant improvement from the 60% to 80% failure rates reported by organizations undertaking CRM initiatives a few years ago. But what accounts for this disparity in results? In reviewing the projects that achieved significant results, one of the common factors was that these companies universally could articulate the specific problem they were attempting to solve.
This was typically not the case with the other initiatives. In many of the projects that failed to achieve their potential, when reviewing how they approached the initiative in retrospect, the project teams reported that they put the cart before the horse. Instead of determining what their sales, marketing and support problems were and then looking for solutions, all too often these organizations jumped on the solutions bandwagon first. They selected a solution and then went in search of any problems it might solve for their company.
For example, some companies equate Customer Relationship Management systems with Opportunity Management systems and therefore acquire one of these systems without first understanding their business problems. An Opportunity Management System tracks all sales and support opportunities within an organization, including who is involved on customer and vendor sides and everything that has transpired. While an Opportunity Management System is a very useful system, it is only part of a Customer Relationship Management application suite and is not the answer to every problem. In considering the above successes, only Great-West's project was based on an Opportunity Management System. Clairol utilized an Interactive Selling System, Compaq was a broader call-center initiative, Pitney Bowes started with a configurator, Cisco had internally developed an e-commerce system, and McGraw Hill's project was primarily based on process innovations, not technology.
What are the Customer Relationship problems we are facing today? In order to answer this question Insight Technology Group has begun a new multi-phase research effort. We elected to take each of the three components - sales, marketing, and support - and attempt to delve more deeply into surfacing the specific challenges companies are dealing with, and then with the problems clearly defined, benchmark how companies are successfully dealing with these issues.
The results of this research will be presented in a series of reports. The CSO Challenge Series will focus on the insights we gained into the problems firms are facing in each of these three areas and the factors that are contributing to these issues.The Sales Effectiveness Challenge
As part of our annual State of the Customer Relationship Management Marketplace surveys we always ask companies to identify the key business drivers behind their CRM efforts. In our 1999 study, the need to increase sales effectiveness was again the top priority for these projects, mentioned by 62% of the firms surveyed. This answer suggests the follow-on question, "In what areas do you feel you are ineffective?"
That became the primary focus for this phase of the research, to more clearly define the specific parts of our sales operations that need to be improved. We solicited the support of 150 firms to help answer this question. From this group we were able to get complete data from 122 organizations.
The following is a summary of the sales effectiveness challenges these firms reported facing. We believe the issues that are about to be raised have broad applicability. We encourage you to use this information as the basis for a brainstorming session into identifying and prioritizing the specific problems that your sales force faces.How Do We Spend Our Time?
The first issue we explored was where sales people spend their time. The perfect answer for many CSOs would be that our people spend 100% of their time selling. That, however, is not the case - as can be seen in Figure 2.0. The firms we surveyed reported that on average their sales people spend less than half of their time selling.
Further questioning on this topic surfaced three interesting trends. The first was that while many organizations tightened their belts in the mid-1990s, causing them to decrease their sales support staffs, the administrative requirements placed on sales did not decrease accordingly. If anything, many sales executives reported a higher reporting burden than ever before being placed on their sales teams by other parts of the company. That responsibility is now often falling on the sales representatives themselves, keeping them from selling.
The second trend was an increase in time sales people have to invest servicing accounts. As collapsing product life cycles allow competitors to more easily achieve parity in their product offerings, sales representatives are finding that they have to turn to service as a competitive edge. This is requiring them to spend an increasing portion of their time tracking down customer questions on any number of issues. This also is reducing selling time.
Finally, a third item worth noting is that these firms reported that their sales people spent 1.3% of their time in training. Many firms stated that they would like to do more, but the cost of doing training has become cost prohibitive when you added up travel time, instructor time and time out of the field.
Let's briefly review what each of these challenges represents.Share Best Practices
The value of sharing of best practices - sales strategies, qualification techniques, objection handling, presentations, letters, proposals, etc., was understood by most firms, but few reported doing this effectively and consistently. In the vast majority of the cases sharing ideas was done very informally if it was done at all, leaving a major corporate asset under-utilized.Support Channel Partners
Many companies reported that they intended to increase their utilization of channel partners to drive business in the future, and were finding that the policies, procedures, and tools they provided their own sales representatives did not always work effectively when used by the channel. They reported the need to greatly simplify their operations if they were going to gain mind share from the channel reps to aggressively sell their products or services.Ramp Up New Reps
As product lines are becoming broader, and individual offerings are often more complex, getting new reps up to speed quickly is becoming a greater challenge. Figure 4.0 outlines the time frames required to get a new sales person up to a base level of performance. It is worth noting that many firms stated that to get to full productivity often took one to two years.
Figure 4Generate Leads
Many sales people, to meet their revenue goals, have to generate leads on their own, independent of corporate marketing programs. Targeting potential prospects and then developing and implementing local direct marketing programs is time consuming and hard to do. Also, marketing additional offerings to existing accounts was also cited as a challenge, as easily getting information on what products or services a client already had was often difficult.Easily Access Information
Few firms reported lack of information as an issue. The issue was getting the right information to the right person at the right time. Two sets of problems emerged here. Either the reps were being bombarded by too much information - a never-ending flow of new product announcements, price changes, competitive bulletins, etc. - making it a monumental task to try to stay current. Or the information they needed to sell to and service customers existed somewhere in the company, and they had to spend a significant amount of time trying to find out who had it. In both cases the need to more effectively manage the flow of information was seen as a major requirement for improving sales effectiveness.Communicate - Enterprise Wide
Sales representatives often need support from other functional areas such as finance, manufacturing, distribution, R&D, etc. in order to close a deal. Communicating effectively with those departments was seen as difficult today, and for many companies was becoming even more so. One of the major trends, reported by 81% of the firms surveyed, was the move towards the virtual sales force - having reps work out of home offices, customer sites, or executive suites to be closer to the client and/or reduce costs. As the percentage of the total sales force working remotely increases, the challenge of working collaboratively can also be expected to increase.Introduce New Products
As product life cycles collapse, the rate of new product introductions is hitting an all time high for many companies. This is placing a huge burden on sales managers and sales reps to find the time to continually get up to speed on these new offerings and take the new messages to the marketplace, while continuing to manage opportunities already in the pipeline.
Forecasting is all too often more magic than science, and for many firms it is black magic at that. Consider the ratings the firms we surveyed reported regarding the accuracy of their forecasts as seen in Figure 5.0. Since many companies make key business decisions based on their forecasts (resource allocations, manufacturing schedules, raw material parts orders, etc.) inaccuracies in forecasting is causing enterprise-wide effectiveness problems.Qualify Prospects
Determining which product or service offering best fits the needs of a prospect, if any do at all, is becoming a serious challenge. Sales representatives are expected to become experts on all aspects of the product line, especially since many firms are reducing their sales support staffs, and many organizations report that this is unrealistic.Communicate - Sales Management
A second communications challenge appears to be allowing sales representatives to easily communicate all the things they are working on with management, and vice versa. One interesting trend we noted was the increase from past years in the ratio of sales reps to sales managers. The average across all companies surveyed was 9.1 reps to 1 manager, with one company on the extreme side reporting that their ratio was 24:1. These high numbers are making it harder for sales representatives to get the coaching and counseling they need.Service Accounts
The value of doing a great job servicing existing clients so you can sell them more in the future is clear to all firms, how to do it consistently is not. Many firms reported lacking the bandwidth and mechanisms to have sales representatives do the necessary account development work to build true customer loyalty.Generate Proposals & Configure/Submit Orders
These are two inter-related problems experienced by many sales forces: the complexity of the orders themselves, and the number of sign-offs required to approve non-standard deals, are making sales representatives ineffective and inefficient at completing these two critical tasks.
What is the net impact of these effectiveness challenges? The CSOs we talked to cited four negative outcomes:
• Margins are eroding as sales representatives have less time and knowledge to do a comprehensive job of consultative selling.
• Sell cycles are lengthening as we introduce unnecessary delays into the sales process resulting in sales people having to spend more time tracking down others to help them complete tasks such as needs analysis, configuration, and proposal sign-off.
• Competitive loss and no-decision rates are increasing due to our ineffectiveness at presenting the full value of our offerings and injecting a sense of urgency into the decision process.
• Customer loyalty is declining as we fail to have the time required to build true business partnerships with our clients.Sales Effectiveness Inhibitors
Our final series of questions revolved around asking for input on what CSOs saw as the major factors inhibiting the effectiveness of their organizations. Again, we asked the survey participants to rate a number of factors using a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being a significant impact on effectiveness, and 1 being no impact at all. Figure 6.0 overviews the most commonly cited inhibitors.Inconsistent Sales Process
Either firms reported that they did not have a clearly defined process that was understood across the organization, or they had a process, but no way to see if it was being consistently implemented or not. This was a concern to many CSOs, as the margins are just not there to have each sales representative going out and doing their own thing. This problem is being further compounded by the increase rate of mergers, where multiple sales forces are being thrown together. Many sales executives stated the desire, or fundamental business need, to be able to take more control over the sales process if they were going to achieve business goals going forward.Inadequate Sales Tools
More often than not it was not the lack of sales tools that was the problem, but rather that the sales tools they had didn't solve the problems they faced. For example, some firms reported starting their CRM automation projects by implementing an opportunity management system, only to later determine that another tool - configurator, marketing encyclopedia, knowledge management system - would have been more useful to their sales force.Sales Expert Access
The complexity and breadth of product lines is making it unrealistic to expect sales people to know everything about every product. But the economics of having enough sales support experts in place to support the sales force can be cost prohibitive. A balance though needs to be reached, because without access to the product and business knowledge these experts have, win rates will continue to erode.Inadequate Sales & Product Training
The rate of change in the marketplace is increasing the need for training on products, prospect's industries, competitors, and the like, but CSOs are having a difficult task seeing that this knowledge transfer is accomplished. While wanting to do more training, they can often not justify it against the short-term impact it may have on performance.Summary
Clearly we are seeing the sales landscape changing dramatically and with it we are finding that the strategies and tactics that served us well in the 1970s and 1980s and even early ?90s don?t always work any longer. Product complexity, customer demands, and competitive pressures are all driving the demand to reinvent the way we sell to and service customers, or else face Corporate Darwinism.
Fortunately, we are seeing new solutions enter the sales marketplace. New business paradigms, innovative processes, next generation sales tools are all proving that we can have a significant impact on increasing the effectiveness of our sales operations. Companies are dramatically improving their ability to ramp up new reps, support channel partners, communicate more effectively, eliminate order delays and errors, and more. As a result, they are finding they can more effectively use CRM innovations to improve customer loyalty and thereby increase revenues and margins.
Significant improvements in customer relationships can and are being accomplished. But before you start to seriously consider implementing any CRM solution, be it people process, or technology related, invest the time to thoroughly understand your organization?s specific challenges and get a solution that fits you exactly.
First examine your corporate goals. Next determine what aspects of your sales performance need to be improved to meet those objectives. Finally, drill down and understand what is causing you to be ineffective in areas of your sales operations.
Surface your pains. Is sales turnover costing you a fortune in lost revenue because you take between six and 12 months to get a new sales representative productive in the territory? Are your channel partners selling alternative products because you make it difficult for them to sell yours? Are your new product introductions achieving a fraction of their potential because the majority of the sales force is shying away from introducing them to customers due to feeling inadequately trained or supported to professionally sell them? What problem should you focus on? You will know that you clearly understand the sales effectiveness challenges you face when you can translate into hard dollars the ROI that remedying that problem will generate.