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CRM sales success still elusive

More than half of sales professionals who participated in a recent study said their CRM system isn't making their sales team more effective. Some are finding success through other methods.

If you think your salesforce isn't getting much benefit from your CRM implementation, you're not alone.

In fact, slightly more than half of the 3,435 sales professionals who participated in a survey from Reno, Nev.-based Miller Heiman Inc., said CRM isn't improving their sales efforts.

It seems the problem remains one of adoption, said Jeff Brunings, director of marketing and research for the sales process company.

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The survey identified 188 senior sales leaders who not only grew sales revenue in the past year, but grew the average size of their deals and increased their customer acquisition rates. While an economic turnaround "lifted all boats," Brunings said, these companies were able to truly capitalize on the recovery. Yet, they still had CRM adoption issues.

"I couldn't find a statistically significant difference in utilization between those sales leaders and the rest of them," he said. "They had the same challenges and struggles with CRM. It looks like they didn't crack the code with utilization any better than other organizations."

The survey also showed that 73% of respondents aren't convinced their CRM technology is helping to move sales opportunities through the funnel; 79% believe CRM isn't being used effectively to improve account strategy and planning; and 79% aren't convinced CRM does a good job of defining an effective sales process for their organization.

Even though they may not be having any more success with their CRM systems, the 188 sales leaders were doing something right. According to Brunings, these organizations excelled by improving customer retention, growing incremental revenue and converting leads by addressing return on investment. ROI justification and discounting pressures remain high, according to the survey.

The marked difference from Miller Heiman's first sales effectiveness study, conducted last year, was the number of respondents and their outlook on the future. "There is an overwhelming sense of optimism," Brunings said. "The selling environment is improving, overall effectiveness is improving and sales teams are moving prospects through the funnel more effectively."

For example, 51% of respondents reported new account acquisition and 70% believe there were more opportunities in 2004 than in the prior year.

Yet it is more difficult to determine the effectiveness of the sales team in a strong economy, Brunings warned. Firms should measure growing incremental revenue, customer retention and lead conversion.

Selling into the executive level was also identified as a significant challenge in the survey, although respondents saw improvement in that area over last year. Additionally, sales professionals believe not only are sales cycles not getting shorter, they're getting longer.

Data from the report was gathered from October to November of 2004 across 28 industries. The size of respondents' salesforces varied from more than 1,000 to less than nine.

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