The CRM Crisis: Why Sales Force Automation Failed

4 Jun

Just two decades ago, B2B sales people spent most of their time filling out computer forms to manually track hundreds of pieces of data on customers and accounts, mostly for the benefit of managers who watched their every move. Two decades later, virtually nothing has changed.

Over the last twenty years, consumer web and desktop software has evolved: the consumer world has become social, mobile, and location aware. Interfaces have become simple, intuitive, and pleasurable. Data collection has become automated and increasingly intelligent.

During the same period, enterprise software has made surprisingly little progress. In the case of sales force automation (SFA) and customer relationship management (CRM) software, the lack of innovation in the user experience is particularly remarkable. While new software-as-a-service models have streamlined deployment, customization, and IT management of CRM tools, the tools themselves haven’t evolved at nearly the pace of other technologies.

CRM has a problem: it’s not working as advertised. A 2011 Accenture study of sales effectiveness and CRM usage found that only 16.9% of companies using CRM believed that their CRM tools improved win rates. Only 11.8% believe that their CRM tools shortened sales cycles. And only 15.4% and 3.7% believe the tools increase revenue and margin respectively. Where did CRM tools help? The survey showed that slightly more than half of companies believe that CRM helps to improve communication between sales people and their managers. Why? Likely because forcing sales people to document every activity improves managements ability to monitor activities and to discuss them with their teams.

Today, almost every business-to-business organization struggles with basic sales force management problems that have plagued the industry for decades:

  • Sales activity tracking remains a largely manual effort: CRM systems are filled with information on customers, prospects, accounts, and activities. It’s not uncommon for companies to require more than a hundred fields of data on a typical opportunity and the corresponding accounts and contacts. What do all of these data points have in common: they are typically manually entered into a web browser or software application by the sales people themselves.
  • The people who drive revenue spend too much time tracking sales: Across the industry, sales people typically spend less than 50% of their time selling. Most of the day is spent on administrative tasks, in internal meetings, and researching accounts. Two-thirds of companies believe that CRM tools have added to the administrative workload of sales people.
  • The data in sales tools is typically incomplete and out-of-date: The problem with the current sales tool paradigm is that sales people enter as little data as possible to get the job done and to keep sales management happy. Because data stewardship is left to the individual sales person, data is not updated on a regular basis. When a sales person leaves, the data that they have entered into the CRM system becomes stale, the data that they never entered goes with them.
  • Most of data recorded in sales tools doesn’t really help with sales: Sales people often manage 1,000 or more contact relationships. While CRM systems help large sales teams to collaborate, they do little to help sales people to intelligently prioritize their activities, to derive valuable observations based on observed data, or to provide sales with tips based on what has worked for other sales people.
  • Modern sales tools don’t leverage modern software capabilities: Some day, sales people will receive a lead that includes fully populated account information based on the email domain. They will visit a prospect and check-in on a phone or tablet to easily record a customer visit. Their CRM system will automatically tell them who to call and what sales action will maximize the probability of success.

While new CRM add-ons are beginning to close these gaps, few sales teams have seen much innovation in the world of sales force automation tools. But as sales tools become more social and mobile and location aware, automation should follow. And when it does, the real test of sales force automation will be whether sales people use the software on their own because it makes selling easier — or simply use the tools because they are required by management. When the sales person becomes the customer for CRM innovation: enterprise sales tools are likely to rapidly improve.

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