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Is CRM Workable?


A few years ago, I came across this information:


gIndependent research from Gartner Group and Meta Group show that 60-70% of all CRM implementations failc Many companies spend huge amounts of time and money trying to implement esolutionsf, only to find that hardly anyone is using the software 2 months after the training ends.h


The article went on to say,

gHow many end users can stand using CRM solutions?c Many people simply refuse to use these systems, because they may have to –

·          spend an extra 2 hours at the office every day entering data into a CRM system;

·          spend 10 minutes to record a telephone call that only took them 30 seconds to make.h

gYou are incredibly busy and you can tolerate about 5 minutes a day worth of CRM, at which point you expect some serious resultsc. You owe it to yourself to look for the simplest methods possible in logging and tracking your activity with prospects and clients.h


Well, comprehensive CRM can cover several parts of a company – marketing, customer support, sales, contracts.  The above comments seem to relate mostly to sales.  Letfs stay in that vein. 


My personal experience is along the same lines as the article.  When I was a salesman at a small Japanese company, we set up a database with about 40 items in it.  We had the core data-as-data items like name, address etc, and activity tracking items such as type of contact, when, what discussed, follow-up action, when to follow up etc.  Not very complex, but still time-consuming to find each customer record, and record ALL activity as well as update the core data.


In a cycle that I repeated several times, I conscientiously updated the info for a while – maybe several days continuously, maybe a few weeks.  But then Ifd get busy, and not update anything for several days.  When I got around to it, I now had several hours of work to get caught up.  With days having passed, my recollection became fragmentary on contacts made, follow-up etc.  At that point, frankly, I just didnft bother to put in everything.


After several cycles like this, I gave up on database software, and switched to two spreadsheets.  One was the core data – addresses etc.  The other was the activity.  I kept both to the absolute minimum set of items.  This worked somewhat better.  It was faster, and I saw the benefit of using the activity sheet to remind myself of when and what to follow up.  (There are other benefits, worthy of another article.)


Some years later, I was deeply involved with the sales department of a global companyfs Japan subsidiary.  The Japan sale staff numbered in the dozens.  There was a CRM system built inhouse.  I saw the same pattern again – highly inconsistent updating – for almost every salesman in the department.


That companyfs regional HQ made strenuous efforts to get the CRM system used.  At one point, there were threats of being fired for failure to update at a certain level, or of reductions in salary.  The companyfs position was that this information was corporate information, a duty of the salesman, and one of the activities for which base salary was paid.


As far as I know, updating continues to be quite spotty.


So, having come at this topic from three angles, maybe we conclude that, yes, CRM systems for sales use are so time-consuming that they generally fade into non-use.


But is that the whole story?  What if we compared CRM usage with sales results?  


The article mentioned above said 60% to 70% of all CRM implementations fail.  Maybe that is precisely the portion that is getting mediocre or poor sales results. The global company I mentioned, had mediocre sales growth in Japan; there were other factors, of course, but maybe it is more than coincidence that low CRM usage was evident too.


What is CRM usage at top-notch companies like GE and Microsoft ?  (For the latter, Microsoftfs OEM division is B2B business, applicable to this topic.)  I havenft checked in detail, but I strongly suspect they do not allow their sales staff to be fragmentary in CRM system usage.  If you donft do it, youfre out, period.


So on the one hand, usage of typical CRM systems is a great pain for most sales organizations.  On the other hand, not doing it at all maybe one sign of a mediocre sales organization.  What to do?


Two overlapping approaches come to mind:


-- Keep it simple.  One crux of the matter is the time needed for data input.  (Another critical point is convincing salesmen that they get benefits from the system, but thatfs another story.)  Minimize the time needed, wherever you can, by whatever method you can.  Split up the info into a few distinct parts, such as core data (addresses etc), activity tracking, deal status, and contact person profiles.  Activity tracking is what a salesman should update every day, and is the most time consuming.  For that, the closer you can get to the idea of 8 to 10 items on a spreadsheet, the better.  Deal status is weekly, probably more manageable.  For core data (addresses), get sales assistants to do it, or outsource it. Contact profiles are infrequent.


-- In Japan, Softbrain provides a system aimed at solving the bottleneck of data updating.  They turn responses to each data item into a pull-down list.  And they enable entry from these lists from a mobile phone.  So the updating is fast, and can be done immediately, anywhere.  That latter point helps a lot when you want your salesmen to be out of the office, with prospects, most of the time.  Softbrainfs web site has information (in Japanese) about their system. 


Donft give up on CRM in the sales department.  But keep it simple. 


Dan Harris

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MAP / Market Action Partners                  Dallas (USA) - Tokyo - London

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