This story was originally published on Oct. 18, 2013, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.
One of the phrases CRM vendors love to toss around these days is this saw: “CRM makes every employee a salesperson.” I’m sure the VP of sales loves this vision, in which he suddenly is served by a quadrupled or quintupled number of salespeople, many of whom he doesn’t have to manage and to whom he doesn’t have to pay commission.
The idea is a canard. It’s a sham. It’s targeted at people in sales, and not the deep thinkers in sales, either; it’s directed at the same people that the saying, “CRM will solve all your problems!” worked on during the 1990s.
Here’s the reality: Everyone in your company is not a salesperson. If they were, they’d probably not be in customer service or engineering or field service or marketing. They’d be in sales, making salesperson-type money. (Plus, if you’re a business leader, do you want to manage an entire company’s worth of sales personalities? That by itself sounds like a recipe for disaster.)
CRM does not make every employee into a salesperson. What it does is something more subtle and more effective: It puts employees in the position of being better ambassadors for your business. From their efforts will come prospective customers who are better educated, farther down the decision-making path and more inclined toward your company — all before they speak to a salesperson.
Selling the Business
In the social media era, customers (and potential customers) are discovering their own pathways by which to learn about your business. Sure, they can go straight to your website — but they may also learn about you from someone they know who knows someone who works for your business. That may be where you make first contact. If CRM is poorly deployed, contained within sales or viewed as the exclusive turf of one or two departments, that contact has nowhere to go and that employee has no process through which to share data about that prospect with other parts of the organization.
That’s an argument CRM vendors make for wider implementation of CRM applications. Of course, their goal is to sell more CRM seats — which may or may not address this issue. The reality is that you’re not going to buy CRM for your receptionist, your HR director, the guy who does payroll and many other employees. So how do you loop them into your CRM system?
There are three keys to doing this. First, you have to embrace the idea that all your employees are ambassadors. Their connections will learn where they work; some may ask about your business, and some may even be in the market for what you’re selling. Again, the social media era amplifies the numbers of contacts your employees have — even those who are not customer-facing.
Next, you need to create a process for allowing these employees to deliver information about prospects who contact them to the right people in the business. A simple set of directions should suffice. Give them clear instructions to help as much as their expertise allows and then move that contact to someone in your organization who can provide deeper and more complete help. For instance, if someone hears a question that involves integration of your application with another application, the process might be to forward this communication to your professional services group. A question about pricing might be directed to sales. A more basic question about your product might go to marketing who could answer the question with a piece of content. Of course, when this contact information is forwarded, the person who services a request needs to enter it into the CRM application.
The key is to have these pathways through the business understood ahead of time. Addressing these contacts and questions on an ad hoc basis is a recipe for frustration and, over time, those questions will be heard but will be handled by the employees who hears them first but never getting deeper into the organization and going to the employee best suited to help the prospect. Nothing is worse than promising additional help and then having the rest of the business fail to back up your promise.
The third key is probably the hardest: establishing in every employee’s mind that he or she is an ambassador. Even when you don’t interact with customers directly, you still can be “customer-focused,” as the jargon puts it, if you’re given the tools to help customers and instilled with the idea that at some point you may have the opportunity to contribute to customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and sales success.
Finally, remember what I said earlier about commission? The best way to get employees to use a process is to show them how it can benefit them. Why not establish a reward system for non-sales employees who contribute to new sales by using these processes? In hockey it’s called an “assist,” and it probably should be in sales as well. It doesn’t have to be compensation on the scale of salespeople’s commissions; it can be a flat amount. But it can help align the business around the idea of helping the people with whom they come in contact move into and through the sales pipeline.