What comes to mind when you see the words “sales software” or “sales force software?” Are you envisioning something that helps your reps manage their contacts, to-do’s and deals? That’s what most people think of and that’s a good place to start. This type of software is referred to as sales force automation (SFA), customer relationship management (CRM) or sometimes contact management software. I’ll use the term CRM as a generic term.
If you don’t use a CRM program now, it’s likely that you use some other kind of system. Many smaller companies use Microsoft Excel for this purpose; it is easy to figure out and the cost is low (it’s already on most computers). With Excel, each individual spreadsheet or worksheet can represent a prospect or company. Prospects’ names and contact details, opportunity details and notes all can be easily added to a worksheet. In fact, you can get quite sophisticated with Excel.
The biggest worry you should have about using spreadsheets is reliability. On occasion you’ll get a corrupted formula. If the total for forecasted revenue is computed using a corrupted formula, you’ll make decisions based on erroneous data. Other concerns: You need to backup your files to prevent loss of information and also make sure everyone uses the most up-todate document.
In my view, there is no reason why a company should still be using Excel for contact management and forecasting purposes – not even cost. Several companies offer free CRM products such as SugarCRM, FreeCRM, and Zoho.
Recognizing that there is a cost associated with trying something new, i.e. time, there may be an even greater cost in not changing. It’s worth it to “sharpen the ax” as the following parable teaches.
Ben was a lumberjack who swung his ax with great power. He could fell a tree in 20 strokes, and in the first few days he produced twice as much lumber as anyone else. By week’s end, Ben was working even harder, but somehow, his lead was dwindling.
One friend suggested he swing harder. Another said he had to work longer. Neither idea worked. Finally, an old fellow asked Ben if he had stopped and sharpened his ax. Ben said he had no time; there was too much to be done.
Stop and take the time to investigate, buy, and deploy CRM software. Here’s what CRM software can do for you.
Keep track of names, accounts, phone numbers, addresses, e-mails, location, industry, assigned sales rep and other attributes of your choice. You can import existing data into your new CRM system. Typically, you do this by first converting your data from an Excel spreadsheet to a CSV file type. It’s simple: You just do a file>save as> file type>CSV.
Enter opportunities (deals you’re working on) for each prospect. Details such as amount, product name, product type, forecast date, closed date and lost deals allow you to manage your pipeline. You can quickly see how much revenue you’re expecting and the odds of closing. Many sales reps will use their opportunity list as their main reference when planning their daily activities.
Track your interaction with contacts. Schedule follow-up phone calls, sales meetings, e-mails and to-dos. Check off competed tasks, view your to-do list, send e-mails and view contact history. With every contact, you can easily see at-a-glance the history and content of your conversations and notes.
Easy report generation is usually built in to CRM systems. Reports can be generated almost with the click of one button. See each sales rep’s activities, how much revenue they each expect to close and when, where each deal (opportunity) is in the sales cycle and which products they expect to sell.
Most CRM programs include such reports as Top 10 Open Opportunities, Opportunities by product category, Total Opportunities per Sales Rep and Probability Reports.
In addition to the standard reports, many systems let you create customized reports.
Choosing CRM software
There are many opinions about the right way to select and implement CRM. And there are an equal number of studies that show poor adoption of CRM (sales reps aren’t using it). If you have little time or money and simple needs, keep your selection process simple.
You’ll find that most – if not all – CRM products have the fundamental features listed above. Others add a great deal more bells and whistles.
Look for the CRM that is the easiest to learn and use and one that allows you to add functionality if – and when – you need it. Start by outlining your minimum needs as you see them today and what you think you will likely need a year, two or three from now.
There are over 100 CRM products and you can’t possibly evaluate all of them. So to help you start your investigation, we’ve compiled a comparison chart for eight CRM products.
They all have the basic features: Contact management, forecasting, task management and sales management. The chart on page 18 lists their price and shows whether they have any of four additional features:
Lead routing means that contact information (a lead) captured by a form on your website is automatically entered into the CRM system. Then, based on pre-defined criteria such as zip code, the lead is automatically assigned in the CRM system to a specific rep for follow-up.
Collateral management is the ability to post your brochures, spec sheets and other digital marketing materials within the CRM system for easy access by sales reps. Asset management assures that the most-up-to-date materials are readily available for sales reps to use.
Sequential, Automated Follow-Up
This is an extremely valuable feature because it’s a huge timesaver and at the same time it helps you stay in front of your prospects. For example, say you’ve just finished a cold call with someone who requests information. You can activate a string of follow-ups that occur automatically without further intervention. Perhaps the first e-mail is a “thanks for your time.” The second e-mail contains a webinar link and is set to go out automatically one week later. A third e-mail follow-up is set to go out one week after that.
This capability means sales reps have some way of sharing and retrieving information when they need it. It could be in the form of a Wiki1, a blog, or a standard directory with files and folders.
I’ve outlined typical CRM programs with typical CRM capabilities. However, there’s one more approach to CRM. Instead of using a CRM program as an independent system, it’s possible to get CRM capabilities from within Microsoft Outlook. If you and your team use Microsoft Outlook for mail, tasks and calendars, you might find this a desirable approach. A handful of companies offer this type of system. The benefit is that your sales reps are already familiar with the Outlook interface, so learning time could be substantially less. In addition, reps might feel more comfortable and at ease because of their familiarity with Outlook.
And yet another big advantage is that e-mail and contacts in your Outlook program are connected to their respective contact records. Most other CRM programs require you to synchronize the data between them and Outlook. Products that fit this category of CRM are Prophet’s Avidian, SalesOutlook, and TeamScope. Microsoft has its own add-on to Outlook called Business Contact Manager. You can purchase it separately for $149.95 or bundled with Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Office.
Nancy Nardin founded Smart Selling Tools after a prestigious career in high-tech and IT market research sales. She is considered the leading expert on sales productivity tools.