Getting the activity-level visibility to manage effectively

Imagine a head football coach trying to run his football team. His main focus is to help his team improve and win games.

But this coach has some problems.

He has to coach from the locker room. He has no video of his team’s previous games to study. He can’t tell if his offensive linemen are making their blocks, and following their assignments—he just has to take their word for it. He can’t see which receivers are catching the ball and which are dropping easy passes. He has few statistics to review. No record of plays run. No assistant coaches in the press box giving him insight into the big picture. He waits in the locker room until he finds out whether his team won or lost—but he never really knows why.

Sound a little ridiculous? Like you might not want to coach under those circumstances?

Welcome to the world of many B2B sales managers and leaders.

The problem

Visibility is the big problem. Without visibility into actual sales rep activities, it’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, to manage a sales team effectively. The main reason for the lack of visibility is that sales rep daily activities are not tracked. CRM adoption continues to hover around 50%, and effective usage (reps actually adding tasks, activities and notes) averages around a miserable 20%.

With very limited sales activity data available we can’t report effectively. Coaching is much harder—because we don’t have any record of what the rep’s been doing—or not doing. Accurate forecasting becomes almost impossible. Forget about analytics—without the sales activity data we’re not going to gain any real insight. We don’t know if our sales process is working or not working, or whether reps are actually following it. In short, we really can’t determine the level of sales execution at which we are operating. Managers and leaders may have the illusion of control, but it’s an illusion only.

Fixing the problem

One way to fix the visibility problem is to encourage and incentivize reps to enter their activities into CRM. This is tough because people, especially sales reps, hate entering data into CRM. My experience in working with many clients is that it takes an extraordinary amount of management effort and energy to make a dent in the CRM usage problem. This is critical time and energy that could be spent in more productive areas.

The best way to fix the problem is to automate CRM data entry. And the technology is now available. Plug-ins for email systems like Outlook are becoming more widely adopted. These plug-ins automatically insert emails and calendar events into CRM freeing the reps from much of the manual entry.

A more comprehensive approach is to use a server-side solution that connects to corporate mail servers and automatically checks any emails going out to CRM contacts, or coming in from CRM contacts and intelligently inserts them into the right opportunity or contact record. It works for calendar events too. The email server-based solutions avoid the problems you’ll face with deploying plug-ins to individual rep computers, and the bigger problem of getting reps to use the plug-in. It also solves the problem for mobile device users. In short, it’s a more complete solution ensuring visibility into a much richer set of sales activity data.

Problems you’ll face in fixing the problem

Many IT groups will push back (at least initially) on the idea of server-side CRM data entry automation, citing privacy issues, etc. Don’t fall prey to these arguments. They’re generally senseless. The technology is now mature and doesn’t interfere with mail server operations. In addition, filters can be applied so that only emails going out to CRM contacts, or coming from CRM contacts are captured and inserted into CRM—which are emails you’d want reps adding to CRM manually if you didn’t have any automation. The business value of having the sales activity visibility dwarfs any downside arguments (if any good downside arguments exist).

The great benefits of visibility

Once you gain the visibility into what reps are actually doing every day, a world of possibilities opens up. Now your sales activity and pipeline reporting gets much better. Your coaching improves across the board. You can start using deep analytics to uncover what your best reps are doing and use that information to bring B and C players up to speed. You can discover risk areas and openings in sales opportunities. Even your forecasting will become more accurate because the empirical sales activity doesn’t overstate—but tells you the facts about what’s actually going on. In short, you will get a clear picture of how well your team is performing in terms of activity levels, and the effectiveness of those activities. Your job of managing, leading and coaching will get a lot easier (and more fun) once you get out of the locker room.

– Pete McChrystal, CEO & President of Accent Technologies, Inc.

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