Distribution sales teams often ask us, “when is the best time to implement CRM?” That implies that there is a wrong time to implement CRM; however, is there ever a wrong time to grow sales in your company? The truth is that when business is down that is exactly the time you need to do something different to empower your team to grow sales and take the time to retool your sales practices. And when business is up, you need a tool to help support your growth so that the wheels don’t come off the bus.
Following Up: Your Sales Reps will Respect What You Inspect
One of the most frustrating aspects of business management is the common gap between what you instruct your employees to do and what they actually end up doing or not doing. Unfortunately, it’s not simply a matter of employees ignoring your instructions. If it were, improving performance would only depend on hiring more attentive employees. Neither is it a matter of trust. Most employees conduct their business with the best intentions. It is a matter of establishing patterns in your business that reinforce your priorities. In reality, all of our employees are busy and can easily get distracted from high-value activities by urgently pressing lower-value issues. Part of being human is occasionally forgetting things even when we have the best intentions. Sales reps are no different and in fact, may have more issues and distractions than the rest of your employees.
The adage, “people respect what you inspect,” is especially true in sales management where consistent behaviors and reliable metrics lead to predictable results. Unfortunately, most distributors lack a simple and effective inspection system. With a distribution-centric CRM solution, you can more easily lead your sales team toward the behaviors that generate success.
We suggest four simple patterns inside and beyond your regularly scheduled sales meetings to reinforce your priorities:
- Review metrics
- Track and discuss decisions and actions
- Reinforce consistent communication patterns
- Collaborate in sales behaviors every week
Winners like to see the scoreboard. Successful sales reps are inspired by performance reviews—their own and others—even when they have an off month. Taking the time to review metrics in your weekly sales meetings can also identify problem areas and obstacles that might otherwise remain unseen. Unfortunately, many sales managers wait until their quarterly business review to have meaningful discussions about sales metrics and by then it may be too late to take meaningful action with specific customers and deals.
It’s important to keep your discussions objective and constructive. It’s not enough to simply say, “you missed your number again,” or “you need to make more calls.” Critical comments can actually have the reverse effect you intend by making your reps want to avoid discussions about metrics. Your goal in your metrics review is to help reps understand and learn successful behaviors and problem issues to avoid or overcome, not simply to report on wins and losses.
To be meaningful, your metrics review should focus on benchmarks that help you evaluate progress toward the specific goals of your team. These should already be established and understood by your team. Only review the metrics that are key to success and represent the right areas of focus. Trying to review more than a few metrics in one meeting can be confusing and counterproductive. As a starting place, we recommend the following areas for discussion:
- Lagging indicators like total sales and win-lose ratios.
- Current “health,” metrics like pipeline size and stage.
- Leading indicators like call and activity volume, email statistics and inbound requests.
Track and Discuss Decisions and Actions
How many times have you left a meeting with great ideas that were not followed up on during the next week? Productive meetings are more than just status updates, they should result in some new decisions and action plans for your team. Without a standard system of tracking decisions and actions, most of the action items will fall by the wayside. By tracking these decisions in your distribution-centric CRM system, you can easily review progress on those decisions and actions either in your next meeting or between meetings if appropriate. Knowing that decisions and action plans will be monitored and reviewed increases the mutual accountability of your team and improves focus on high priority activities.
It can be as simple as entering new activities in your CRM system for each decision and action item. In some cases, these actions are small and discrete, entering future calls with prospects, sending a follow up email on a proposal, setting a meeting to discuss a new discount strategy. For larger projects, such as calling a set of vendors for new price negotiations, entering a single high level activity will suffice for your tracking purposes and you can instruct your sales reps to enter and manage the resulting calls and activities on their own after the meeting.
With a powerful CRM system, it is a simple task to report or view each sales person’s open and completed activities for the prior week. When sales reps know you’ll be discussing the progress on their activities with the team each week, they will be more attentive to completing those tasks. You might see a flurry of activity in the days or even hours before your next meeting, but at least you know they are committed to completing their action steps on a regular basis.
Reinforce consistent communication patterns
One of the most common mistakes made at the end of sales meetings is assuming that your sales reps know how to communicate to your customers, vendors and fellow employees. While most successful sales people are natural communicators, the specifics of your message will be filtered through each individual’s point of view. Fortunately, with a CRM system there are very simple ways to ensure that the content and structure of your key communications are followed.
Some managers guide sales communication with vague instructions like, “remember to tell your customers about the vendor’s price increase.” Unfortunately, this leaves the door open to a wide range of behaviors. Will the wrong message give a competitor new opportunities? Will a poorly crafted message seem to put blame on one of your best vendors? Will an ambiguous email cause frustration and confusion in your customer base? Even matters like typos and grammatical errors can ruffle feathers with your most fastidious customers.
With a CRM system you can craft the exact message you want to communicate through templates for emails, call notes, proposals and marketing assets so that you know your team will be on point. Further, your team will save time by leveraging each other’s work. You can assign different sales people to different messages, then after reviewing, editing and approving those messages, your entire sales team will benefit.
Collaborate in sales behaviors every week
While sales meetings are a great forum for inspecting the results of your team, you should also follow up between meetings looking for ways to collaborate with your reps for greater success. It’s important to keep in mind that these customers really belong to the company and stakeholders, not to the sales people. You need to take responsibility for the interactions with your customers.
With CRM you have visibility to key touch points with your customers and in a few seconds you can view details about activities, calls, emails and sales pipeline. Instead of spending hours generating reports, your time is better spent looking for ways to coach your team. Send an email to a sales rep about their top ten accounts giving them suggestions on how to proceed. Review their last couple of weeks of activities and provide some insight as to what you see was successful and what areas might need some more attention. Just showing them that you are paying attention in between meetings can trigger more activities that will lead to success. And with CRM, your sales team has access to the same information you do so you are all on the same page. Spend a couple minutes every day to send some coaching emails on specific accounts and activities to each rep and you will drive an enormous amount of valuable behaviors.