Why Sales Reps don’t like using CRM

I should qualify from the outset that my focus here is B2B complex sales, hence my use of the term ‘Sales Rep’ rather than the more generic ‘Salesperson’. I consider myself less qualified to comment on non-complex sales and not at all qualified to discuss B2C…other than from a buyer’s perspective of course.

CRM systems are an invaluable business tool; revenues of $18Bn a year and growing (IDC) demonstrates the CRM industry is doing a lot that’s right. However, it doesn’t do everything well; one is helping Sales Reps in their primary role…selling. I say that because there is any amount of anecdotal, if not empirical, evidence that Sales Reps are not the most enthusiastic adopters of CRM. Surely if CRM helped Reps sell, they would happily use it?

So what is the problem?

Now I know the conventional wisdom of CRM advocates is that reluctance is principally down to lack of management commitment, poor implementation planning, lack of education, support etc. or all of the above. Certainly they are factors, but if CRM really helped Sales Reps sell, wouldn’t they use it anyway? I mean, who is going to go out of their way to not use tools that help them make sales? My take is that at best CRM doesn’t offer enough of what Reps need to help them sell and at worst it’s a potential threat to their job security.

I don’t know who first said it, but the comment ‘most CRM systems are bought by marketing departments for sales departments to use’ is not as facetious as it might sound. Lest I be accused of typical sales ‘marketing bashing’, my point is that the benefits of CRM are particularly obvious when it comes to marketing as much of what they do suits automation e.g. data collection, analysis, marketing campaigns and so on. Marketing is by definition more about ‘big data’ (markets) than discrete data (individual prospects and customers).

Nor am I suggesting the benefits of automation are lost on sales, but Salesforce Automation (SFA), which I’ll cover next, is more oriented to meeting the needs of management than Sales Reps. It does streamline some of what Sales Reps have to do, but much of that (e.g. pipeline updates, activity reporting) is more about the needs of management than the Rep. That is not to invalidate the importance of those processes; they are essential. In addition, CRM and other tools such as Linked In are invaluable research, communication and information sharing tools.

But Sales Reps need even more; they need help to, well…sell.

The most critical role of B2B Sales Reps, particularly in complex sales, is face-to-face selling; interacting effectively with decision makers so they become trusted and influential and win the sale. If there was a tool that materially enhanced Reps ability to do that it is hard to think of a reason why they wouldn’t use it.

What is Salesforce Automation exactly?

I couldn’t find an authoritative definition, but what I did find essentially describes it as using software to automate tasks such as lead generation and tracking, order processing, contact management, information sharing, order tracking, customer management, pipeline management, salesperson performance monitoring and so on.

Undoubtedly there are benefits in automating those processes, but they are principally tactical (streamlined workflow), rather than strategic (increased win rates). In fact, nowhere did I find references to activities such as identifying or interacting with or influencing buyers. That is to be expected I guess; as how could they be automated? But they are the most critical of all sales processes; they determine professional effectiveness and ultimately personal success. Surely if CRM added value to those processes there would then be no reluctance to use it?
How CRM can be a threat to Sales Reps

In the push to automate low-touch processes we arguably threw the baby out with the bathwater as we overlooked the high-touch processes that actually make sales happen. Ironically, that happened just as those processes were becoming even more critical, as it coincided with the shift in power from sellers to buyers. So much so that it is driving ‘sales transformation’, the change in emphasis from what you sell to how you sell. That is a topic for my next post, but essentially it reflects that in a world of abundance, vendors and products no longer determine where buyers buy; the ‘Sales Experience’ does.

This brings me to the proposition that many Sales Reps see CRM as a potential threat; it is the elephant in the room perhaps. The skills and relationships a Sales Rep builds over the years, her insights and industry knowledge are her stock in trade. It is her most valuable professional asset and sales transformation is making it even more valuable. What incentive can there be to share that knowledge with a corporate system? How can she benefit from that? Certainly there is a benefit to the enterprise, but ultimately it’s a classic win/lose; unless that is addressed Sales Reps are unlikely to embrace sales systems.

In forthcoming posts, I’ll explore transformation; how it mirrors the trend to ‘socialization’ of business and how new approaches to sales technologies such as CRM can materially improve win rates and turn Sales Reps into enthusiastic advocates of sales systems.

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