One of my formative experiences was visiting Nissan’s assembly operation in Sunderland back in the 90’s. The car plant was the most productive in Europe at the time and the thing that really struck me was how the company had applied the principal of Kaizen – never ending improvement – to the production line.
Considerable thought had been given to making every task as easy to perform as possible, right down to the positioning of individual tools so that the worker barely had to move to pick them up. Thousands of small improvements had resulted in huge overall gains in productivity.
Sunderland was an eye-opener in terms of the value of productivity improvement, and initiated a long standing interest in how these principles could be applied to other areas of business. Given the sales department is the revenue engine for many companies, and with most research suggesting that the average sales person spends less than 40% of their time actually involved in face to face selling, even small improvements in productivity can have a big impact on overall profitability. Here, for example, are six ways that CRM technology can play a role:
Ensuring leads are qualified and sales ready – a lot of sales time can be spent on leads that aren’t going to buy. While leads are never going to convert one to one, filtering out the poor quality ones ensures that sales effort is focused on the more promising opportunities. This requires close cooperation between sales and marketing including a common definition of what constitutes a lead. Tools such as marketing automation applications can help with this process by scoring leads based on the prospect’s interaction with the web site, for example, leads which visited the pricing page and signed up for a webinar might score more highly than those that visited the careers page. Robust lead management processes, including nurturing campaigns designed to move a lead into a sales-ready state, can also avoid wasted effort and have a huge impact on sales productivity.
Speeding up quote production – the generation of sales proposals can be a real chore for sales people. Having a range of predefined quote templates integrated into the CRM system can help speed up the generation of quotations, while often improving the quality of what’s sent out. This approach also allows companies to test different template formats in order to optimise conversion rates.
Streamlining order management – for many salespeople the down side of making a sale is the paperwork that goes with it. Many order processes are long-winded with the same details being recorded in a range of different documents, spread sheets, and systems. There’s often scope to streamline these processes to free up more selling time, and using the CRM system to support this can be an effective strategy as details about the customer and the sales opportunity will generally already be recorded there.
Improving the quality of delivery – trying to sort out post-sales issues, where what’s been delivered hasn’t worked or met the customer’s expectations, can be a big drain on sales time, and this has become more of an issue as the complexity of many products and services has increased over time. Improving the quality of post-sales fulfilment can therefore have a big impact on making a sales person more productive. As problems can often originate before the sale, improved controls over the sales, quotation and order management process can often help, as can tools such as configuration management applications.
Creating a 360 degree view – the challenge with managing the on-going relationship with the customer is often getting access to the data required to do the job. Information held in ERP, finance, support, and other customer management systems, often isn’t readily accessible to the sales team. Moving customer-facing functions into the CRM system, or integrating with other key systems, can significantly reduce the time involved in handling customer queries, and provide ready access to the information that sales need to better retain and develop the customer.
Auto-generating sales reports – salespeople can spend a lot of time creating reports for their managers to review. In many cases this information already exists in the CRM system, or with modest changes can be tracked there. This not only streamlines the reporting function but also improves the depth and immediacy of management information.
These are a few examples where the combination of sound process with technology results in productivity gains, but there are a raft of other potential improvements both within the sales function and other customer-facing areas such as marketing and support. While no single change may prove to be transformative, the accumulation of lots of tweaks and enhancements can have a profound effect. In the world of sales a shift in the balance of time spent with customers as opposed to administration can have a big positive impact on profitability.