Want real CRM adoption? Look at your MarTech suite from Sales’ perspective.

When business leaders discuss CRM adoption, they are often concerned with compliance. It’s a fair concern: a Marketing transformation decision has been made by leadership, and they need staff to follow suit. The conversation often focuses on how to enforce CRM adoption – Will we use the “stick” or “carrot” to ensure our sales team properly utilizes our CRM? How do we make sure our sales staff don’t “go rogue”? 

Unfortunately, even the most well-intended CRM adoption discussions can be interpreted as condescending and uncollaborative by Sales teams. Failing to address Sales’ legitimate concerns about time-consuming CRM processes almost always results in pushback. To enable consistent, long-term CRM adoption, we must go beyond encouraging Sales to use the CRM and discuss whether the CRM is worth using. Considering Sales’ perspective at every stage, particularly in strategic conversations and planning, can help leadership to build a Sales and Marketing automation system which is efficient, utilized across the organization, and has a measurable impact on revenue.  

I have been on both the Sales and Marketing side of a CRM rollout and ongoing MarTech adoption efforts, and have seen how underconsideration and misunderstanding of Sales’ perspective can impact revenue generation. Here are some key considerations I recommend to all companies looking to build and promote a revenue-focused CRM system.  

Consideration #1: For a Sales team, every minute counts.

Leaders often attempt to close the Sales and Marketing gap with a high number of meeting invitations and collaborative committees. It seems simple: make Sales part of the decision-making process by giving them a literal seat at the table. If they decline the invitation or fail to show up, their opinion must not be overly consequential, right? 

Not necessarily. Consider the traditional Marketing meeting from Sales’ perspective. A one-hour planning session is a major commitment for someone focused on progressing deals and meeting sales targets. Sales representatives, who often make the majority of their income on commission, do not have time to sit through an arduous back-and-forth with Marketing.

When those who most value time are not in the room, the decisions made in that room often undervalue efficiency. A salaried Marketer can easily suggest adding a few more categories to a CRM form in hopes of additional analytics. An IT professional can make the case for two-step authentication or regulated password changes in the name of security. But, for a commissioned Sales representative, these extra steps –  a tedious login process, several minutes of data entry after each call, a “quick” half-day training session – can add up to hours of additional administration each month. This can not only damage morale and cut into commissions, but can ultimately have an adverse impact on overall revenue. Sales values time because time is money – and everyone else seeking to drive revenue should value time for this same reason.

The solution is not to force Sales to participate in meeting after meeting about Marketing transformation or lead management. Instead, leaders should take the following steps to understand Sales’ concept of time:

  1. Make the question “How would this impact Sales?” a necessary part of every discussion regarding CRM processes. A representative from Sales does not need to be physically in the room for a team to consider their interests. Think carefully before implementing changes that involve additional steps or onus on the part of Sales.
  2. When presenting a CRM process that will take precious time from Sales, be straightforward about the positive impact they will see from adopting the change. Will the additional step result in better lead data, thereby cutting steps out of the discovery process? Will the change make it easier for sales reps to remember follow-up calls? Explain, using numbers if possible, how compliance will ultimately leave Sales team members with more sales in less time. For most reps, this will be the basis of buy-in.
  3. Develop creative, efficient methods of gathering insights from the Sales team about CRM processes, expectations, and challenges. This may include quick, one-on-one conversations with key representatives, a lunch and learn format, or a rapid-fire brainstorm.
  4. Take an incremental approach (crawl, walk, run) when rolling out CRM changes. Making adjustments one step at a time will prevent multi-day training sessions and give Sales teams a chance to master tasks one by one, rather than forcing them to immediately learn a full suite of new processes. In addition, the crawl, walk, run approach makes it possible to measure the impact of each individual change made as part of overall Marketing Transformation.

Leaders must always work to reduce the burden on Sales when developing technology-driven solutions. Respecting Sales’ time will free them to focus on closing more deals and make CRM adoption an easier task overall. 

Consideration #2: Sales does not always want more leads – they want better leads.

A decade ago, the promise of more leads was attractive for most Sales teams – an increase in leads meant more potential commission, and everyone was excited by the prospect.

That was then; this is now. Most seasoned Sales representatives have become disillusioned by Marketing’s promise of “more leads.” When leads are in high supply but revenue is down, leadership often points a finger at Sales – why are they not accepting and qualifying leads Marketing sends to them? Sales may lament that the leads are unqualified, but they are almost always still held accountable when a lead does not result in a won opportunity. The resulting statistics are jarring – 50% of Sales representatives say they ignore Marketing-generated leads, and an average of 79% of B2B leads from Marketing never become a closed sale.

An increase in low-quality leads is not an opportunity for Sales teams – it is a risk to the whole organization. Driving MQLs without paying attention to quality will result in lower close rates, mistrust between Sales and Marketing, and revenue plateaus. Sales is right to be wary when Marketing brags that “more leads” will come from its tactics. 

Understanding this perspective can not only inform a Sales-aligned approach to internal adoption and change management, but can also have a positive impact on a company’s overall Marketing strategy. 

Here are some questions to consider about a Marketing strategy before chasing buy-in from Sales:

  • Is Marketing adequately targeting the right leads?
  • Is Marketing capturing enough data about a prospect before Sales gets involved, or is Sales expected to manage the entire discovery process? 
  • Can Marketing clearly identify how reps entering data into the CRM will directly result in more closed deals from qualified customers?

Once these answers are established, it is important to then communicate these benefits and considerations to Sales. Aligning around shared goals and strategies will ultimately make Sales teams more open to supporting data-gathering efforts through CRM adoption.

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Consideration #3: Your Sales team has a unique perspective.

Having worked with dozens of Sales and Marketing teams on Marketing transformation and automation projects, I can say with certainty that each organization truly is different. Nearly every B2B enterprise faces similar challenges with CRM adoption, however there are significant contextual factors that influence Sales’ perspective and pushback in unique ways. If a Sales team is particularly skeptical, concerned, or unavailable, there is usually a clear underlying reason. Understanding the specifics of an organization’s history, personalities, and even fiscal calendar can make a major impact on how one should approach CRM adoption.

Here are some of the questions worth considering while developing a strategy to rollout and monitor your CRM process:

  • Have our Sales representatives been “burned” by a platform shift before? Do they have a reason to be skeptical about new technology based on their experiences? Be willing to acknowledge these past missteps and explain how you have worked to build a better system.
  • Who do the Sales representatives trust the most in the executive and management team? Your top Sales representatives in terms of revenue are not always the ones with the most thought leadership potential. Picking the right individual or group to champion a new system is just as important as selecting the right method or message.
  • What is the educational and career background of our Sales team? While Marketing jargon might catch the attention of the MBA holders in the room, a Sales team full of self-made networkers is likely more interested in the tangible, practical impacts of your system. Knowing who is on your team and what “language” they speak day to day at work will make a significant impact on how you communicate any changes which impact them.
  • Is it a busy time of year for your business? Sales representatives live by fiscal calendars and seasonal buying trends. The end of every fiscal quarter is almost always a busy time for a B2B Sales Team – if Marketing tries to shift focus to a CRM when Sales is fully booked with client calls, expect pushback. Plan for training, QA reviews, and other change management steps in between busy seasons.

There are likely other questions worth exploring as you seek the best way to communicate with your Sales team. Are they on the road or in the office? Do they have good rapport with one another or are they highly independent? Do they make a flat salary as well, or are they completely commission-based? Understanding the experiences and pressures on the Sales team will help you make sensible decisions to encourage CRM adoption within your team.

Why Sales’ buy-in is critical to your Marketing Transformation

It can be tempting to take a straight-forward, strict approach to CRM compliance in a B2B company. Requiring CRM adoption seems a lot easier and more effective than softly encouraging it.

In reality, you need not choose between these two extremes. You can be unbending in requiring CRM use in your company while still acknowledging Sales’ perspective, priorities, and ideas as you work to optimize your Sales and Marketing technology. Taking the time to consider your MarTech suite and strategic approach from a Sales perspective will ultimately provide you with a better system for driving revenue.

We often pay lip service to the fact that Sales teams are “on the front lines” and have an “ear to the ground,” but struggle to make the most of this experience and insight when developing lead management processes. Yes, Sales might not want to attend our three-hour strategic meeting, but that does not mean their ideas and experience should be ignored. Valuing efficiency, prioritizing lead quality, and staying aware of your Sales teams’ perspective  are best practices in all aspects of Marketing transformation, particularly those with a direct impact on Sales’ day-to-day operations.