What To Do When Your SFA Software is Broken

Customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) systems are essential for successful selling. In fact, CRM software is a precursor for sales reps to succeed.

But the analysts are correct when they advise CRM and SFA software fall short for most sales teams. As a salesperson and sales manager I've lived these common challenges, and fortunately have been able to resolve them.

SFA systems are broken when they don't help sales people do their jobs better and they fail to deliver a financial return on investment. That may manifest itself in a number of ways: intolerable cost of ownership, poor user adoption by the sales force, or low impact or little productivity gains.

When you need to fix broken SFA software systems, there are two moving parts to review:

  1. The vendor's SFA software, and
  2. The company's planning and execution.

Sometimes it's the application software. If you bought CRM or SFA software that has a low fit for your sales methodology, your sales processes or simply is not well supported by your vendor, perform a new and more comprehensive search and replace it. Problem (painfully) solved.

But most of the time, the software performs as promised (even if it doesn't deliver, that doesn't imply its necessarily broken). I wish I could tell you differently, but most of the time these systems are broken because the planning and execution processes are broken.

And more often than not it breaks at the start of the software evaluation process: at the goals analysis stage. Too often, SFA or CRM buyers focus on the vendors software features list, instead of their own real requirements. An enterprise software vendor may demonstrate productivity gains, such as on average, "reducing non-selling time by 15% for the sales force", or possibly achieving "20% in call duration reduction" for the call center.

Great. But do you have the repeatable business processes and information reporting that support these reductions? If you achieve these reductions will they have a meaningful, measurable and sustained financial impact? Those are the questions to ask before you add "more selling time" or "call duration reduction" to your software selection evaluation criteria.

In most situations where sales force automation software is broken, it traces back to incomplete objectives and lack of process support. And it's here where you start your repairs. What you want from your CRM system has to be reexamined and more precisely defined.

  1. Start with clear objectives. Begin with a basic question: where do we expect CRM to deliver the greatest impact to the bottom line? It may be in increased time spent selling or decreased call duration. It may be in the automation of laborious sales team activities or in real-time sales dashboard information delivery. In may be in increased up-sell or cross-sell orders. Whatever it may be, the process begins with definitive and measurable requirements.
  2. Establish realistic, financial goals for each of those points of impact. Before you add "better visibility to a more accurate and timely sales forecast" or "reduce the number of stalled sale opportunities" to your requirements list, make sure you know how that forecasts into dollars and cents.
  3. Quantify it. You may want to see a 20% decrease in sales cycle duration. If so say so. You may want to reduce the cost of customer acquisitions. Say so, and be specific. Specific goals are required to achieve measurable objectives.
  4. Get the vendor to help. Now bring your current SFA or CRM vendor in and ask them to tell you, specifically, and then show you how they can achieve those goals. You are not the first customer to ask them these questions.

Satisfied with the new direction? Everybody on the same page? Then move forward. If not, it might be time to look around for an alternative.

My prescription for repairing broken CRM software and improving the future of selling is neither novel nor difficult. But it is nonetheless effective for many organizations. The problem with most CRM implementations is poor goals analysis and poor supporting processes. It's often the company that must look in the mirror to prescribe the correct sales fix. The result can be worth the introspection and effort: an SFA or CRM system based on the right financial objectives, delivering measurable results and achieving the right goals for your sales team, marketers or call center.