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Small steps toward CRM tame a reluctant sales force

Is your sales force ready for a headlong rush toward full CRM implementation?

Sales representatives are a stubborn breed. They resist change with tenacity, and the status quo fits them like a comfortable pair of old shoes.

But what would your organization be without them?

For that reason, some companies have learned that one of the best arguments for a phased-in approach to CRM is to keep the sales force engaged.

"People have a God-given right to say, 'What's in it for me?' if we're going to give them these CRM technologies," said Jim Dickie, managing partner at the Boulder, Colo.-based research firm Insight Technology Group and the featured speaker at a recent seminar on "Sales Effectiveness in the 21st Century."

What kind of tribe is your company?

When it comes to tying CRM to processes such as sales, industry expert Jim Dickie said there are four levels of companies: ad-hoc, repetitive, predictable and dominant.

Following is Dickie's description of those four.

  • Ad-hoc companies can't automate processes because they don't have any processes.
  • Repetitive companies are ones "ruled by tribal wisdom." Newer staff members look the "tribal elders" to learn about processes -- but even the elders don't have a clear understanding about why they've always done something a certain way.
  • Predictable companies "take that tribal wisdom and make it a religion." That is, they adhere to processes -- and they know why.
  • Dominant companies are a rare breed that share the knowledge of their well-defined processes across the organization.

Dickie -- himself a former salesman -- said research bears out the conclusion that user buy-in is critical to the success of a CRM initiative. From a study he conducted earlier this year in conjunction with CRM Magazine, Dickie said about 55% of the 226 companies surveyed reported that managing resistance was a major CRM project challenge.

Wasted technology

Steve Ruzicka, director of sales operations at Aspen Technology Inc., has first-hand knowledge of such resistance from a sales force.

"They are probably the slowest in our organization" to embrace new processes, said Ruzicka. His Cambridge, Mass.-based software company had a sales force automation (SFA) system that gathered dust because of resistance. "It was nice, but it wasn't used."

AspenTech decided to try another route: portal technology that eases the sales force into automation by letting them use as much -- or as little -- online sales content as they wish. Tools help the company track which documents generate the most page views -- and therefore generate the most value. The technology is based on Bedford, Mass.-based Conjoin Inc.'s Field.First portal software and allows content to be easily published, accessed and shared across the organization, said Ruzicka.

About 20 months ago, hardware giant Compaq Computer Corp. -- soon to be merged with Hewlett-Packard Co. -- was in a similar bind with the content it produces to aid its regional sales organizations. Marlboro, Mass.-based Compaq realized the jumble of intranets it operated were mired in inefficiency and slowed its "velocity to client," according to Joseph Batista, director of Internet and enterprise initiatives at Compaq.

"We had a number of Web sites with content all over the place," said Batista. "It was so toxic, we didn't know where the information was and whether it was good information or bad information."

Publishing in real time

Compaq too settled on a portal approach based on the Field.First software. With the technology, out-of-date sales content was weeded out and the time it took the marketing staff to publish content for the sales staff was trimmed from about two weeks to "real time," said Batista.

Compaq's sales portal was deployed in 70 days and met the company's goal of creating content that was easy to publish and easy for sales to access and share.

For AspenTech, the expected return on investment was only about one thing: usage. "It was our only criteria for success," said Ruzicka. That was important to the company because the sales force portal is the first step in a slow march toward a full CRM system, he said.

That's an approach to CRM favored by Dickie, based on the 2,500 implementations that he and his colleagues have studied over the past nine years.

"The ones that work all the time are phased implementations," he said. "But they always start with things that are high value to the sales organization."


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