CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software made its way into the lives of sales professionals with the introduction of the PC software, ACT!, in 1986, and the client-server software, Goldmine, in 1989. The dotcom bubble took these apps online and soon spawned Salesforce.com – the 800 lb gorilla of the CRM industry.

Instead of tracking customer contact information in a little black book, and sales opportunities using index cards, most sales people now enter information about their customer and prospect contact details, communications, and sales opportunities into CRM systems.

Now that we are 30 years into the CRM revolution, it’s a good time to step back and look at how and why we use CRM systems, and ask whether they are making us more or less productive.

4 Primary Functions of CRM Systems

  1. Contact Database
  2. Call/Task List
  3. Communication History
  4. Pipeline Management & Reporting

A few CRM providers also serve as email service providers, so all of the individual and bulk emails you send are captured in your communication history. Since this is not true of all CRM systems, I have not included email as a primary function.

How useful these core functions are to you will depend upon whether you are an individual salesperson or a manager / business owner.

Full Contact Sport

If you are a sales professional, you could just as easily store your customer contact information in Outlook, Google Contacts, iOS contacts, or even in Evernote. As long as you can back it up and find it easily when you need it, you probably don’t care.

However, if you are a manager or business owner, you really want customer information stored in your CRM system. This is so you can continue to contact your salesperson’s customers and prospects even after they leave your company.

Task Master

As a sales professional it is critically important that you are able to quickly and reliably schedule calls and tasks that need to be completed on a specific date.

There are many paper and digital systems you can use for this purpose, including Outlook, but the ideal system will keep your tasks hidden from your daily task list until their due date arrives. This will ensure you don’t become distracted or overwhelmed by a long list of tasks that are not actionable.

Managers and business owners would prefer that your pending tasks are stored in their CRM system so they can see the open items that must be completed for any sales opportunity.

Most CRM systems also enable multiple people to “own” different tasks and still have them all show up under a single contact or opportunity. This can be useful to everyone as you can keep track of what your colleagues are (or are not) doing to advance the sale.

Just The Facts

The next benefit of CRM systems is that they serve as a place to store details regarding your communication with clients and prospects. Emails are usually automatically attached, but notes from phone calls and meetings must be manually typed into the system. This is a lot of work, so many people don’t take the time to log call & meeting notes, which limits the usefulness of that history.

Your email is usually easily searchable, so the only reason an individual sales professional would need a CRM is to write down call or meeting notes if you are worried you will forget them.

You can solve this problem by simply sending your client or prospect an email summarizing what you discussed. If you don’t have the customer’s email address, you can always send an email to yourself to log it in your email system or write a note in Evernote, both of which are easily searchable.

However, managers and business owner want customer communication history to be stored in a CRM system so everyone can see what has been discussed and agreed to with each client.

Lastly, in businesses where other team members have contact with customers, then individual salespeople will find it beneficial to be able to review the entire communication history too.

Pipeline Management

Most individual salespeople don’t need a CRM system to keep track of their sales opportunities. They could just as easily enter them into a spreadsheet, in Evernote, or even write them on a dry erase board in their office. All you need is easy access and a commitment to keep it honest and up to date.

However, if you are a manager or business owner, you should require your sales opportunity pipeline to be stored in your CRM system so you can run reports to assess the past and potential revenue generated by individual salespeople, your team or the entire company. In my opinion, this reporting capability is the primary reason CRM systems have become widely popular.

Think Before You Type

While many CRM systems give us lots of powerful tools to help us better serve our customers, they also give us many ways to waste our time entering information nobody will ever look at again. This is time you could be spending selling something else to someone new. Continually ask yourself, “Will this be important to me or my company later?” If not, skip it and go sell something.

There are two cardinal sins in the use of CRM systems. First, many sales people use the CRM haphazardly. They only enter some of the important information, but not all of it. If you do this, you and your team will distrust the information in the CRM and will stop using it to its full potential.

The second cardinal sin is to not run regular reports to glean actionable insights. How many meetings does it take on average to close a sale? Which types of customers are most likely to buy? How much revenue do you expect in the next quarter? All of these questions (and many more) can be answered by a well-designed CRM that is steadfastly populated with accurate and important information. It is surprising how few people take the time to create reports, run them regularly, and learn from the output from their CRM.

In closing, it should be clear that CRM systems may or may not be needed for an individual sales contributor, but they are incredibly important for a sales organization with multiple sales people.

The key takeaways to become a CRM master rather than a slave are:

  1. Only enter important information.
  2. Don’t use it randomly – be consistent
  3. Run reports to extract meaningful insights

Questions

Where do you currently store your contact information, communications history and sales opportunity pipeline?

How often do you go back and search communication history? Why do you typically do it?

Do you or your manager report on your sales activity using a CRM? How much of the information that you enter is used in a meaningful way to help manage your business?

Reminder

Happy selling this week. Remember, it’s an abundant world so focus on building value and detach from the outcome.

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