In 2018, my company, Miller Heiman Group, did something crazy: After years of relying on multiple customer relationship management systems (CRMs), endless spreadsheets, numerous marketing systems, and disorganized data … we decided to start over. From scratch.
This makes sense because anyone who has worked at a business that’s changed ownership, acquired other companies or expanded into other countries understands the headaches associated with working in a multi-CRM environment.
Different business units and regions may use different CRMs, each with its own functionality, data storage process and renewal cycle. Our company used 15 of them! And that scenario created an ineffective environment, to say the least.
As a company which advises sales leaders all over the world on how to be more effective, we needed to own our own methodology and drive best practices into our own back office. We became our own case study.
This is not insignificant because CRM represents the largest software market in the world, with $39.5 billion in revenue, according to EContent. But instead of funneling our data and processes into an existing CRM structure, we chose to build our own solutions into an off-the-shelf model from the ground up. Why go to all that trouble? In 2017, CIO magazine studied more than a dozen analyst reports and discovered that approximately one-third of all CRM projects fail.
That finding, together with our own experience, told us we could do better.
What a good CRM should do
In fact, we wanted to actively manage our customer relationships. A CRM should serve as a helpful tool throughout the customer life cycle, whether it’s used by a presale engineer creating a data sheet or a salesperson calculating downstream revenue.
We wanted to break out of those silos. With good reason: Our work wasn’t being managed in a centralized or consistent way. Most of our sales leaders avoided our CRM systems and managed their tasks via forecasting calls and a series of spreadsheets.
And we weren’t alone in this: We knew that such CRM issues happen at other companies. In fact, just 25 percent of sellers surveyed in our company’s World-Class Sales Practices study expressed a high degree of confidence in their CRMs’ data.
So, our goal was to become more efficient. Indeed, before we eliminated our old CRMs, we had been drowning in tedious tasks. Typically, sellers reached out to multiple team members, as well as the client, to gather the information necessary to make even small changes to an account. And this consumed a tremendous amount of selling time: We estimated this was eating up about 50 percent of our time at one point. The result was that we were turning our sellers into administrative assistants.
Overall, our old CRMs demotivated our sales force personnel and wasted their time — a common complaint, according to anecdotal evidence. In fact, in 2001, Ingersoll-Rand poured $2 million into rolling out a new CRM and discovered that the new system increased its sales’ reps workloads, rather than freeing up their time to sell. The result was a relaunch aimed at mitigating pain points.
In sum, we wanted to analyze data, not just store it. All of our previous CRMs had performed data entry and other automated tasks, but none had the capability for a built-in sales methodology. Yet we knew a CRM could do more — including consistent global forecasting and revenue tracking. So, that was the goal we set for ourselves.
Here’s what we did.
From start to launch, the process took approximately two years. But we didn’t just flip the switch on a new product. We changed our entire back-office process flow and integrated legal, finance IT ops and sales-ops processes, gathering feedback and gaining stakeholder buy-in throughout. We also encountered some valuable lessons and reminders that reinforced our decision:
We put end-users first. While a 90 percent adoption rate is the minimum required to affect sales performance, just 47 percent of companies achieve this level. There was no point in creating a new tool if no one used it, so end-user needs were front-of-mind throughout our development and testing process. When Ingersoll-Rand relaunched its CRM, the company directly involved its sales force in the system’s redesign.
We added value with predictive analysis. The ability to accurately predict the methodology-backed action that will increase the odds of closing deals lets sellers see what moves they need to make to move an opportunity through the pipeline. But traditional CRMs aren’t built with this function — or sellers’ needs — in mind. Adding an insight-driven arm to the product revolutionized the way our sellers do their jobs.
We scrubbed our data. We needed to trust our CRM. That meant combing through all the back-end data from those 15 legacy systems and importing only the information we knew was clean. Dirty data damages your reputation — and your ability to do your job. A 2017 study of home sale prices found that estimates on Homes.com were inaccurate 84 percent of the time. Would you trust a company with that kind of track record to sell your house?
We kept existing systems in place to ensure consistency. Although everyone wanted to launch the new tool as quickly as possible, we couldn’t just pull the plug on legacy systems. Our project budget included fees for about a year’s worth of duplicate licenses on contracts with different renewal dates.
We invested in tech that increased the time to sell. While sales relationships of the past relied on interpersonal relationships, today’s buyers no longer consider sellers an essential resource. The analysis provided by our new tool changed that: Sellers have instant access to actionable insights that prove their worth. According to Marketing Week, a CRM strategy helps car manufacturer Renault better understand the customer journey and how best to engage those people on the path to purchase.
We streamlined to improve security. Housing clients’ personal and financial information in multiple places only increases the likelihood of a massive leak like the JPMorgan Chase breach that affected more than half of American households. A single, dedicated CRM means fewer dangers to monitor — and more visibility into suspicious behavior.
We remembered the little things. Our 60-day pilot process involved both internal stakeholders on our operating team and a small group of clients. While we received very little feedback on the CRM’s overall function, one small feature we overlooked was a PDF writer. While our CRM was built with mobile in mind, people still wanted the ability to print documents — a small tweak that added essential functionality.
We kept prospective and existing client messaging consistent. If sellers can’t see every client communication in one place, multiple people will reach out. When that happens, your company looks disorganized, and clients and prospects grow frustrated. A dedicated CRM allows the sales team to present a united front.
In sum, if I could offer just one takeaway from the whole process, it’s this: A CRM is just a tool. If sellers and sales organizations truly want to find value, they should first align around a consistent sales methodology that guides their actions. When that solid foundation is in place, the right CRM will provide the insights to give your company the competitive edge it deserves.
Chief Operating Officer, Miller Heiman Group
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