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One IT Leader's Advice on How Sales Can Get CRM Adoption Right


In my role at Salesforce, I meet with many midsize to large companies every month and talk to many sales leaders as a result. I often see two forces that create a challenging situation for them and more broadly for the company as a whole.

Either people don't use the customer relationship management or sales force automation tool because:


“The data is bad so we don't use the tool. Can't trust it.”

“We can't force our account executives to use it.”

“The sales execs don't use it so it doesn't really matter if the AEs do.”


Or, they've found that lack of sales visibility impacts the growth of the business:


“We have little insight into an accurate forecast.”

“We see margin erosion because we aren't managing our discounting properly.”

“The last day of the quarter is always a big surprise — sometimes good, sometimes bad.”


Both of these challenges must be addressed or a company will not only impede its growth through lost opportunity, but also lose its best sales talent due to frustration over a difficult selling process.

With these in mind, I typically recommend three success factors that a sales organization can leverage to fix both sides of the equation:

#1. The sales executive team must use the same tool as the sales team.

Whether the sales team is holding its weekly forecast meetings or its quarterly business review meetings, the team should be directly using the tool to analyze the business. Leading by example is critical. Training on how to use the tool may be necessary, so leverage your sales ops team to build a training plan by sales profile (e.g., executive, manager, AE). Craft custom dashboards that help you laser-focus on the key sales metrics that really matter.

My friend Mark Parrinello, VP of North American Sales at Nimble, underscores the importance of leading by example. In his words, “When leaders lead and use their CRM tool (Salesforce in the case of Nimble), it becomes part of the team DNA. And when it's part of the DNA, it allows executives to understand the business in a much deeper way, which ultimately improves business agility.”

#2. The more you use the tool, the better the data gets.

If the sales data is not good, it will take a few iterations to improve it. Keep using it and data quality will improve. The initial reports and analytics could potentially be inaccurate or out of date if the sales team hasn't been using the tool. Start by identifying the top three process or policy issues that are negatively affecting the data — for example, reps wait until the last minute to enter opportunities. Address those top three issues and then rinse and repeat. Be realistic that it will take some time to improve your data quality and don't give up. Leverage your sales ops team to maniacally address the issues affecting data quality.

Eileen Hsu, Director of Sales Operations at Cisco, said, "My team and I strive to motivate the sales team to enter their sales data into our CRM tool by making sure we always understand what the 'value exchange' is. Value exchange means that the sales team must see an improved selling motion in exchange for entering sales data. With all the technology we have now, we can motivate them through key insights that will help them meet or exceed their quota. Making the tool and process easy to use is fundamental to success."

#3. Rewards-based competition can go a long way with driving adoption.

An effective way to drive adoption that I have seen at a few companies is creating a competition using a race or climbing metaphor. One example is a “climbing Everest” competition based on key usage metrics. Break the sales team into regions or logical groups with the corresponding sales executive as the “climbing” team leader. The teams advance by getting forecast data in on time, entering opportunities, tracking leads, and more. Each week an update as to how the teams are progressing is communicated, ideally to the CEO and the sales team. The team that climbs Everest first wins a substantial prize, as well as bragging rights.

A friendly competition can drive better operational excellence in terms of using your CRM tool. Usage leads to better data and, therefore, greater insight into the business, more closed opportunities, and fewer surprises.

Making the tool and process easy to use is fundamental to success.”

Brett Colbert | Solutions CTO & VP of Enterprise Architecture, Salesforce

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