The minor trend I began noticing over the last week or so is budding optimism about the future. COVID-19 cases and deaths are in decline, financial indicators are decent and trending up, and forecasters are predicting a booming economy. The Federal Reserve anticipates a 4.5 percent growth rate while Goldman Sachs says it sees growth at more like 6.8 percent.
This involves a lot of buying and selling at both the business-to-business and business-to-consumer ends of the spectrum. So now might be a very good time to take inventory on plant, equipment and employees through the lens of CRM.
Last year wasn’t good for all of the reasons you already know about. During that time I surveyed over 1,000 end users about their CRM systems for two different vendors, Oracle and Zoho, and the results correlate well. The upshot, which you may have read about, is that the people who have to use CRM day-to-day are underwhelmed with their tools.
But before you start wondering about the products on offer today, understand the tools these populations were griping about were more than a few years old and closer to end of life than to being new. They weren’t integrated well either, for the most part.
That said, my research leads me to two conclusions and recommendations.
First, our CRM infrastructure is over the hill and maybe we need our own build back better program in CRM.
Second, even with new tools, it’s going to take some time and effort to get employees up to speed on modern CRM and, most importantly, best practices.
In the study I did for Oracle, users said that email was their most important tool for dealing with customers. CRM came in fourth in that study.
Not only that, but users said they might have as many as eight screens running at a time to get the all-important 360-degree view of customers.
There was more but let me leave you with this image, a majority of the panel would rather visit the dentist, stand in line at the DMV, have a fight with their significant other, or clean the bathroom than update their CRM. These people are also working long days with little reward.
What to do?
I always say that flexible software drives business agility and the need for agility is about to go through the roof. Forget having eight screens open at once, forget relegating CRM to fourth place, if we don’t get a handle on the front office soon, we’re likely to split the market into haves and have-nots and you don’t want to be in the latter group.
Getting new software is and is not the issue. Sure, the new stuff performs better but that’s because for the most part it’s built on platforms that enable rapid change to keep up with your business, something the panelists did not have for the most part. The equally important issue that’s often missed is how we’re training our users both in CRM and in best practices.
CRM is not a panacea. All of the research I did last year involved tools that were once new and shiny but still left us trying to stitch together front office processes with chewing gum. In addition to having the right tools, and it goes without saying, that your front office instances talk to each other is part of that, we need a little learning. Actually, we need a little learning all the time. Continuous learning and the only way to get that is to build it into CRM.
There’s an old joke that I was told at the start of my sales career: How long does it take to become a salesman? The answer? Your business cards are here. It means we spend next to no time teaching our front office people how to do their jobs and now that the jobs involve proper use of some powerful technology, we have a lot on our plates.
It also doesn’t help that some vendors are still selling CRM with appeals that say salespeople should be out in the field and not doing data entry. That’s wrong. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s an and: out in the field and entering data so that algorithms can pore over it and recommend better next actions. You don’t get that if you don’t enter data. Instead, you just get stuck.
We haven’t spent much time talking about front office training tools. We all know about Salesforce Trailhead primarily because Salesforce does a very good job of telling us — but also because it fills a need. People learn how to develop and manage Salesforce apps on Trailhead and partners are also setting up education programs there as well. Trailhead and tools like it can be used to reinforce formal training and keep us from making the same mistakes.
But Salesforce is not the only game in town. I’m in the middle of another project that scopes out online training options from some of the major CRM vendors and it will appear here soon.
We’re witnessing a rather typical maturation process all over CRM in which the product gradually expands to include not just the technology, but the services, training, and content used to keep customers up to date. That’s where we need to be with CRM as the economy thaws and turns red hot. This is the time to do that spade work.