I confess, like most sales people I do not like - no I hate - paperwork and administration, because in my experience most of it is unnecessary.
Aggh! I hear some people say "information is vital for any business". Yes it is, but not all of it. What information and how much of it do we really need?
As a sales person I do know the importance of information. It allows me to be focused when getting on the phone and out into the field to find more viable sales opportunities. I am focused on who I need to contact, how I need to contact them and how often I need to contact them to get the type of customers and sales I want for my business.
I have goals and targets set, I know my market and how I need to sell to them, I know what products and services I can sell and at what price, I understand my competitive advantage and value proposition, I aim to clearly understand my customers' needs, I have proposal or quote templates I can use when putting forward an offer or solution to a prospective customer.
I use PR, marketing and contact campaigns to help drive more leads and new business, I liaise with other team members who get involved with project delivery to ensure they understand the brief, I provide accurate data to our bookkeeper for invoicing purposes.
With the right information I am prioritised and focused on my job. I value information, and I know I need to make time for information management.
I clearly understand that the capture, distribution and management of the right information is critical to my job and the outcome of any sale. Getting the right information to the right people is important in my job, my staff, my clients and my peace of mind.
However, anything that blocks or gets in my way of doing my job effectively is frustrating. Too much unnecessary paperwork/data management can easily erode hours of my valuable selling time if I am not careful. We can all get hooked into filling out this and that, and suddenly you find it is the end of the day and you haven't made a prospecting phone call to anyone - Missed Sales Opportunities.
The information age can be a huge advantage, but also a huge trap for sales people.
With the advent of CRMs (customer management systems), data capture and management can be made so much easier - well almost. I do value database management systems. We use one ourselves and if used properly they can be an amazing attribute to any business and sales person's job.
However... too many businesses believe that sales automation will solve all their problems.
In fact some companies have tried to eliminate their sales forces altogether (in the vain hope they can automate sales completely) only to find that it didn't work. Now maybe some businesses have cracked it, but I am yet to find one. I am yet to see the complete automation of customer acquisition and retention for businesses.
So as far as I know it, nearly every business needs someone working in a proactive sales role if they want to make money. And salespeople should invest their time at what they do best - selling.
However I am seeing an increasing problem of too many salespeople spending too much time managing data on CRMs when they should be out prospecting and selling. They are falling into the trap doing too much paperwork, or should I say CRM work. They look very busy, but on closer inspection they are just shifting around bits of information and not making sales.
There can be two main reasons for this:
- They are hesitant and fearful of making contact with prospects, so data base management or paperwork is an easy way out to look busy (this is usually due to a learned behavioural and attitudinal issue that can be addressed by cognitive behavioural techniques - another topic for another time).
- The expectations set by management around data capture and management paralyses the sales team and holds them hostage to the CRM. Classic "paralysis by analysis".
If your sales team is spending too much time on their CRM filling out data, and not enough time in the field or on the phone with customers, then you probably missing valuable sales opportunities.
I mean how much information do we really need? What it the right information to capture and manage? It all depends on your business of course. I like to keep it as simple as possible and the basics could include:
- Size, type, potential and value of customer - their buying patterns, market potential and history including sales volume, margins, product mix, etc.
- How they came to your business - via lead, referral, direct marketing, direct prospecting, etc.
- Prospect lists including type of prospect, type of contact approach used and outcome of contact.
- Competitors - how many of them, how you are positioned against them, what they are doing with whom, etc.
The thought of having to fill in forms and details for the sake of it leaves me cold. Don't get me wrong. I understand that key customer, market and competitor information must be captured and stored for tracking and account management/development/penetration purposes. I also understand that in this networked world data is paramount to any business - let's just make sure it is the right data though.
CRMs are at risk of paralysing sales forces.
Sadly, sales people are often not consulted on what they want in a CRM nor are they involved in buying the CRM software. Even worse, many CRMs have been designed without little or no consultation with sales people. We often find CRMs slow, cumbersome and arduous to use, with no apparent links to clear sales KPIs - not what you want when you are a fast moving on-the-go sales person.
Advice from some William T Brooks, author of The new science of selling and persuasion is:
- Build or buy customer acquisition and retention engines (aka CRMs) that are simple, easy to use and provide meaningful information linked to relevant sales performance criteria.
- Work on cost reduction initiatives using technology that doesn't turn sales people into data entry clerks.
- Never allow digital solutions to dominate a sales force's life or curtail creativity or productivity.
So beware of competing motivations! It could really cost you.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.