One of my core services that I’m brought in to do a lot is un-stick a stuck CRM. A typical client has essentially had a CRM (usually Salesforce.com) for 2-5 years, yet it’s not being used, it’s not working, and it’s not functional. The data is no good as a result and it’s frustrating to senior leaders and sales management because they rely on what’s going on in their CRM to make decisions and to manage their teams and their people.
I come in and usually in a pretty rapid fashion, I can help them get it working not just to a point where it’s functional, but to a point where people actually use it and view the CRM as a tool for success to make their lives better.
There are two primary challenges I see again and again with CRM’s. The first one is a lack of connection between the sales process we should be following and what’s going on in the CRM. What I mean by that is we have a process we follow either consciously or unconsciously, and that process does not exist in the CRM and doesn’t flow in the same way.
However, that is not what I’m going to talk about today. Instead, I’m going to focus on the second problem, which occurs just as commonly and is far more insidious than the first. You see, CRM’s are full of what is essentially useless (albeit well-intentioned) fields and information.
What happens is that after a CRM implementation, all of the sudden everybody in the company starts to come up with interesting and innovative ideas for what they think the CRM can do, so fields, sections and even applications get added because somebody in the company thought, “Hey, this would be a really valuable piece of information to have. Wouldn’t it be great if we could put this in there?”
I don’t know how this happens but for some reason, they completely overlook the fact that information accuracy and thoroughness is in direct proportion to how much information is trying to be acquired. So it should go without saying that the more stuff you try to cram into a CRM, the less chance of it all getting filled out completely accurately because it takes time and everyone is busy. I’m not saying this to give salespeople a pass, but what I am saying is that senior leaders need to think very carefully about what kind of information they’re going to ask for and then how they are going to ensure it gets put in there in an accurate, thoughtful way.
The client in particular that got me going on this today is one that I’ve worked with for over three years now. When they brought me in, their CRM was an absolute mess and practically unusable. The objects were messed up. The fields were all over the place. The naming conventions were scattered. They had other applications running. Frankly even the UI as a whole and how the fields were organized just made no sense whatsoever, and as a result, not surprisingly, the sales organization really avoided putting stuff in there. There was just no process.
So we spent a lot of time early on diagramming the process we wanted, figuring out the right workflows and how we’re going to move, working between departments and fixing the problems, re-training the sales team, etc, and they paid me quite a bit for it. I don’t feel bad about taking a lot of good money for this because it fundamentally transformed the organization from one way where nobody knew what was going on to everybody being on the same page.
The salespeople were finally able to use the CRM as a tool to support their own success and manage more accounts and leads. Leadership could actually get real data and good reporting, and see where deals were in real time. We even overlayed the CRM with production, manufacturing and shipping, and of late have added in case tracking, customer support and technical support functions.
This was a real success story, but I’ve got to say, for the past three years I’ve been working with them I have been the Salesforce Enforcement Officer because on a regular basis, I’ve received requests by every conceivable constituent within the company in every single department for something they would like to see in CRM because they want their salespeople to start putting it in there. However, this is never with any regard for if the salespeople are going to do it or if it meets their needs.
I consistently and religiously say no to most of these requests, and to their credit, this company and my champion in particular, the VP of Sales and Marketing has said, “You own the CRM.” They’ve retained me as essentially an outside administrator, so I’m the only one who has the ability to add data in terms of bulk uploads. I’m the only one that can change the application, and frankly I think it saved their investment because over the years before I came on, that was the problem. Lots of people could go in and add something to the CRM any time they had a great idea without thinking about how it was going to work and how it was going to impact people’s lives.
When someone wants to add something to their CRM, a typical interaction goes something like this. I get a call from somebody saying, “Hey, I want to put this field in and I want to add this feature functionality. Can you go ahead and do that?” to which I say, “Great. Let’s have a conversation.” We schedule some time to talk, and I say, “Please tell me what you’re trying to accomplish.” Then they tell me, “Well, I want to put this field in here.”
Right away I tell them to back up from worrying about adding a field in Salesforce. The question I am asking isn’t what field they want to add. The questions I’m asking is what business problem or need they are trying to solve for.
I will tell you that nine times out of ten that stops the conversation pretty quickly because the answer is usually, “I just thought that would be a good thing to have.” Well, we don’t just put stuff in Salesforce. We don’t change the application because you think it’s a good idea. We change it because it’s going to improve the business process. There’s a novel concept.
Of course I get a lot of pushback and frustration because they think, “Townsend isn’t being helpful and he’s not supporting us.” The answer is you’re right, I’m not. I’m not here to make it easier for you to screw up an application that the business depends on. I’m here to maintain data and application integrity and usability.
We recently had an interesting (ie. frustrating) situation that is the one that got me on a roll this morning. We had to integrate Salesforce to a third party application for essentially managing trade compliance and making sure we weren’t sending packages to countries that were prohibited by the state department so we wouldn’t get smacked with all sorts of fines and great stuff like that.
It was a pretty straightforward and actually pretty interesting application. During this integration, I had the pleasure to work with a couple of Salesforce consultants from another country and actually learned a couple of things, which was very cool. However, once again, the constant barrage of feature addition requests, and “Can we have it do this?” and “Just a little bit more information in there,” none of which were backed by any business need. Why do we need to do this? Who needs to do this? How often?
If adding a button or feature or piece of data is going to make your individual job easier the one time a month you need to do it, maybe that’s not a good enough reason to change the architecture and fields to make the application potentially less usable for the other 30 or 40 users.
It has been really frustrating but also interesting, I will say, because I see this a lot. I’ve tried to be very polite and somewhat politically correct (at least as much as I’m able to be politically correct, which is not that much), and I just keep saying “No, we’re not going to do that. I just sent an email to the entire team saying this project is closed. There are no more features being added. You all have a nice day.” So we will see how it goes.
I hope the company sees the wisdom in keeping things tight and locked down, and having somebody who is a voice of reason but also empowered to say no when everybody else is saying, “You ask the questions. Let me figure out how to do that.”
I think that is one of the real challenges of CRM implementation. Frankly, companies think it is the business of their CRM implementation consultant to say yes to them and help them accomplish whatever they think they want to accomplish. I don’t think companies go to their implementation partners often enough and say, “Do you think it’s even worth doing?”
So if you’re reading this and you are a company owner or somebody who is responsible for a sales organization, my coaching advice to you is, please be very careful and thoughtful about what you want to add to your CRM. Before you start loading Salesforce up with features, functionalities and fields, ask yourself, “Is it so absolutely critical that everybody in the organization is going to depend on this information?” If it is, make sure they put it in there, otherwise, table it.
Likewise, if you are a CRM implementation consultant or somebody who does Salesforce implementation, I would encourage you to push back a little more. Give it a shot once in a while and let them know you don’t think they should do certain things, and here’s why.
By Townsend Wardlaw
Share Your Horror Story!
I’m sure you all have your own horror stories of crazy, wacky feature functionality that you’ve been asked to put in that has not yielded the desired results or just interesting stories in general about how companies misuse the power of CRM, so I invite you to share those below. Let’s see whose story is the worst!