If you’re shopping around for CRM software and other kinds of valuable decision support tools, you’ve probably seen some of the forums and other places where people are talking about how to make good decisions. Some of these relate to researching a brand and figuring out if its dashboards and features fit your needs, but there’s a whole other issue involved in choosing and implementing customer relationship management platforms.
Basically, the utility of CRM software mainly relates to how you use it. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for these kinds of products, and different businesses will get different results: adding powerful CRM functionality can actually boost revenues and empower sales people, or, alternately, it can really destroy a business model, by confusing workers, baffling executives, and sinking business processes in unanswered questions and loose ends.
Wax On, Wax Off
If you were around way back in the 1980s, you probably remember this four-word tagline that Pat Morita, playing the lovable ‘Mr. Miyagi,’ delivered in the classic Karate Kid movie to a young Ralph Macchio. Although it might seem a little pop-culturish, the kind of idea presented in the film– that you can learn discipline and martial arts by getting disciplined in mundane activities like watching a car — has an application to a lot of those big conversations about the ‘best CRM around.’
How is “wax on, wax off” related to CRM? You could say that the best use of CRM systems involve a very fundamental “data and data out” model, where businesses really need to brainstorm about not just what products they choose, but how they’re going to use them, and that both sides of that model take real, consistent work, not just setup.
First, let’s talk about the “data in” principle. The idea is that CRM resources can’t do their jobs unless they have access to a wide range of data on each deal or account.
That data has to come from somewhere — in some cases, compatible platforms can automate data aggregation, and it’s possible to choose better CRM tools according to their compatibility, but for most businesses, there are going to be those times when large-scale, comprehensive data gathering involves good old-fashioned human data entry.
Unfortunately, a whole lot of businesses are ignoring this kind of responsibility and hoping for the best, but in the end they’re just churning data resources; people end up looking at screens with a lack of relevant data, and trying to make decisions without being fully informed.
“But it’s a pain to enter data!” – well, that’s true, but it’s fundamental to the end goal, and like most other good things, good business models often involve tedious or menial work. With that in mind, business leaders who are real problem solvers will pursue a consistent deployment strategy: They’ll allocate hours and staffing to the task. For example, the manager could incentivize salespeople to do regular data entry every week, or every month. Or, you could task one person with this kind of job and make it an advertised part of job duties. Either way, it’s provided for, not just being shrugged off as people complain that it’s ‘not my job’ or generally ignore the need for regular disciplined ‘data in.’
Experts and those experienced in using CRM can testify that the above kinds of in-house dedication and persistence can make all of the difference in whether a given platform is ultimately going to boost revenue and enhance business processes. For example, take a look at this Forbes article by Gene Marks – here, the writer is really focusing on how it’s the work that goes into better products behind the scenes that supports success, and not some magic bullet system that does all the work without any support from client staff.
“(CRM systems) are terrible when senior managers don’t pay the attention needed to make these systems successful, and instead cave in to the complaints made by lower level employees who don’t want to do the extra work.” Marks writes, and this gets to the heart of the matter: discipline and knowledge of how to really back up good software with skilled human labor. In other words, it’s not the tools, it’s how you use them – and, in the case of a specific business, whether the tools are right for the teams.
What kinds of data have to go in? Answering this question tells a lot about how CRM actually works. It’s the actual nuts and bolts details of a progressing deal that have to be in the system. It’s customer identifiers and historic information about those customers. It’s the dollar amounts that deals are resting on, actual financial records of what’s at stake for the company. It’s the details of works in progress that will show everyone huddled around the computer exactly how to go forward with each sales or business process that’s being analyzed.
When you invest in getting these kinds of data in, you set the stage for your ultimate success with the CRM product you’ve chosen.
While the ‘data in’ process very much involves in-house discipline and strategy, ‘data out’ often partially relies on the actual platform or product you selected.
In other words, the best CRM tools will do some of the ‘data out’ work for you and present all of that carefully collected information in ways that you can read and interpret easily.
The best CRM dashboards are built for visual presentation. They’ll show clearly what’s been done on a deal, who’s involved, what the goals and objectives are, and how far along the project is.
This is where CRM actually gets used. It gets used in meetings where people are trying to brainstorm about strategy, and it gets used in actual interactions with customers, in the field, over the phone or online, as salespeople or others need to see what happened previously, pick up that ball and run with it.
Although CRM systems can support data out, though, this phase also takes its own kind of discipline. Here, staffers need to train, and train, and train some more, until they know where everything is in the system, how do use it for long-term planning, and how to use it at a glance. Like the Karate Kid’s ‘muscle memory,’ a person’s intuitive and practiced knowledge about CRM is going to eventually kick in and make them a black belt in sales, if you’ll forgive that extended analogy.
That’s where CRM builds value over time – think of it as similar to the process of a young child (and then adolescent) learning how to read because, in fact what you’re doing with most CRM systems is learning how to read them. At first, the new learner struggles just to figure out where everything is – the child learns what each letter of the alphabet means, and how, when strung together, they develop more sophisticated semantic meaning. Years later, that same person ‘knows’ words and phrases on the page, through consistent practice and memory. Finally, the best readers become “speed readers” or “scan readers” who can drink in meaning with hardly any effort at all. Have you seen those Facebook posts where people swap out letters in a text for numbers? These are essentially tests of speed or scan reading, of being able to fil in the gaps. That’s how experienced users learn from CRM systems – for them, it’s as easy as plugging in in the morning, and getting updated, actionable business data almost at a glance.
Effective CRM Support
The StrideApp CRM platform was built to assist companies in keeping an eye on customer accounts as they evolve. With this dashboard, you get the kinds of linear, modulated information that you need to look at each and every account process, and see where it’s at.
By combining good ‘data in’ with good ‘data out,’ your teams will be more able to satisfy and build relationships with clients. Your company will be able to benefit from a good bird’s eye view of operations, and there’ll be a lot less back-and-forth about many of the kinds of details that come up during the average workday. You’ll see, first hand, the value of ramping up sales and sales support with CRM interfaces that work. And you’ll be ready to teach a new generation about how to develop next-gen business solutions.