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Establish sales management processes before new CRM projects, users warn

Much of the hard work of a CRM implementation is ironing out the sales processes before selecting SFA software, say experts and end users.

With the global recession lifting and recovery underway in some parts of the economy, organizations are taking a renewed interest in sales management processes -- and with it CRM software.

It's a trend Michael Dunne, research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., has seen among his clients.

"Where we're seeing it is people taking a look at both management concerns -- sales forecasting, sales force sizing -- and structuring. What are our processes for sizing and shaping the sales force," Dunne said. "It's a function of the economy. People don't want to get to the worst of all worlds where we cut back on sales head count and now there's not enough people in place to take advantage of any opportunity that emerges. Or else targets are too easy so we're not getting full value."

The Harris Products Group, a manufacturer of welding tools and a division of The Lincoln Electric Co., is one such company that recently overhauled its sales processes. The Mason, Ohio-based company upgraded to SAP CRM 7.0 in July, but before it did so, it got the business processes in order.

"As we implemented CRM, we didn't start with technology," said Gregory Langston, Harris's vice president of sales. "We started with the process. We wanted to prove it on paper first. The technology enables the process. If the process is broken you'll just make it look like its broken faster."

To establish the new processes, Langston and John Goetz, the director of IT, went to their sales force and asked five key questions: What are you selling? Who are you selling to? Which competitors are you targeting? What else could you sell? And why should a customer buy from you?

From there the team developed a rigorous six-stage sales process that measured sales reps on things like bookings, billings, call percentage relative to goal, how many calls they make on a weekly basis and how many opportunities they entered on a weekly basis.

However, few organizations have their processes so clearly defined going into a CRM project.

"Usually you want to have the sales process ironed out -- but that's in an ideal world," Dunne said. "There are a number of people who talk about process and accelerate to an evaluation. They really put the cart before the horse."

That was not the case with Harris Products, which had been running SAP CRM for a number of years already and had experimented with SAP mobile using tablet PCs with its parent company Lincoln Electric. It reworked its sales processes before the upgrade. Other organizations are taking a closer look at what they have in-house.

We inspect what we expect

Gregory Langston, vice president of sales, Harris Products

Upgrade or start anew?

"Folks are re-assessing what they invested in," Dunne said. "It could be at a medium to smaller sized business where they got away with spreadsheets for a while, on up to divisions with multi-billion dollar revenues where they are reassessing legacy systems."

Others have older software packages and are purchasing a new system rather than going through the upgrade process. However, most are treading cautiously.

"No one wants a failed implementation with tight budgets, and no wants to go back to the well for another project," Dunne said.

For HID Global, a maker of identity software and ID cards, years of growth and acquisitions left the company with customer data spread across Access databases, Outlook contact lists, Excel spreadsheets and several instances of GoldMine.

"When we began the CRM implementation it was the first implementation of this scale for the company," said Jaleh Partovi, director of enterprise applications. "There wasn't as much sophistication of what it takes to roll out a technology solution on a global basis."

HID Global selected and brought in Bluewolf Inc., a new York-based CRM consultancy, to help with the integration and to define the business processes.

"We wanted the application to be easy enough to grow with our business," Partovi said. "We started with a baseline set of capabilities, knowing we wanted to build on top of it."

Changing the sales management culture

Standardizing sales processes was a daunting challenge. HID Global had acquired a number of smaller companies with their own unique processes.

The company created a cross-functional team of about 20 people after it purchased its CRM system to help with the implementation and to transfer their knowledge to the super users.

"Cultural change was necessary. This is not like installing Word or Excel in your machine," Partovi said. "We went through a lot of exercises. A lot of tribal knowledge was uncovered. One group in China was doing something in a particular way while their counterparts here were doing it differently."

Partovi advises putting the processes first before diving into the capabilities. An application may have 200 features but it's important to look at how the business can leverage those capabilities and what's baked into the system, she said. Additionally, it's vital to get sales to actually use the system.

That was particularly true for Harris Products. Its new processes required sales reps to meet five goals every week; that 90% of their sales come from 12 key product groups; that 90% come from target customers; that 20% come from new customers; that they make 12 highly structured sales calls; and that they do five specific product presentations per week. And these are closely tracked.

"We inspect what we expect," Langston said.

It was not an easy process. The company lost some experienced employees who did not want to go along with the program. In fact, 48% of the sales force that was there before the process overhaul is no longer with the company, Langston said, but he insisted on the new methods. In some ways it was easier with the younger sales staff because the new processes involved significant measurement and working with the CRM system.

"The younger associates are more adept at working with computers," Langston said. "Those that resist have a choice to make. The ones I focused on are the ones that are on the fence."

Langston and Goetz also sold the program to their sales department by simplifying the expense reporting system. Goetz overhauled the expense reporting, partly to satisfy requirements by the IRS and partly to keep sales reps from having to enter data twice.

"Answer the question what's in it for me, provide clarity and accountability and you'll save time and be more in control," Goetz said.


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