Customer Relationship Management

Like most ad-numbed and ‘spin’-undated consumers, when considering a CRM solution, sales software buyers focus on the usual eye popping standards like price and features, while leaving the most important element a distant third – the one that will keep the system in the ‘go-to’ category long after price and features have faded from memory – and that is use-ability.Perhaps in the future, when budgetary concerns force the sales division decision-makers to hide their checkbooks, software solutions wrapped in market-speak like CRM will be tagged will a seal of approval like UPMs, which would designate some form of ‘User Performance Measurement’, instead of Can’t Reasonably Manipulate this the way the vendor promised it was designed to function.When filtering through your CRM options, it is quite natural and very tempting to start with price. Like all good consumers, we want to get the most for our money, the most ‘bang for the bundle’, while spending the very least amount of cash in the process. And features are certainly an important consideration, especially when one knows what ‘the other guys have’. Comparing features is one of the easiest methods of differentiating between one solution and another. But I caution buyers from placing too much importance on the array of features, regardless of initial attraction.

On a primary level, all CRM solutions contain a standard off-the-shelf sub-set of features like contact management, activity management and forecast management. Some CRM solutions include advanced or trend-focused features like social networking, collaboration, and lead tracking. These would certainly set them apart from the rest of the field, and are easily embraced. However, differentiating solutions based solely on features alone puts the focus too heavily on functionality, and subsequently at the expense of that critical component called use-ability.

It doesn’t matter how many grand or dazzling features a CRM solution has, or even if it is a budgetary no-brainer. From a real bottom-lime assessment, if it is difficult, cumbersome, or slow – the 3 elements that make up a system’s ease-of-use capability – then it might as well be put back in the box (or remain “in the cloud” as it were).

Ease-of-use is by far the most critical consideration, simply because the biggest reason for most failed implementations is poor user adoption. What good is a ‘relationship management’ tool if those who are using it can’t mange to build and manage relationships with it? Poor use-ability blatantly translates into sales reps never using the system with any regularity, nor ever realizing its promised benefits. In other words, not only is the investment thoroughly wasted, but so is the time spent trying to ‘fix’ something that was broken at the get-go. So much for promises! Implementing a CRM system that ultimately fails can significantly harm sales productivity, morale, and a company’s top and bottom-line.

Because of this, features and price pale in comparison to ease-of-use when selecting a CRM solution. CRM vendors certainly know how critical ease-of-use is. If they can get you to focus on features and price, then they don’t have to bother overcoming doubts about use-ability. Our objective here is to step away from this tunnel-visioned vendor tactic of using the ‘if they don’t ask, then we won’t have to tell’ approach to CRM solution marketing.

The 8 buying considerations CRM vendors don’t want you to know about are:

  1. Takes too long to access: This includes accessing the internet, signing into the system, and gaining access to the appropriate screen. Do reps have fast, easy access no matter where they are or what device they are using? Answer: decide accordingly based on your own experience not a vendor demo.
  2. Takes too long to navigate to the appropriate screens: The number of steps required to get to needed information often requires the patience of a saint. If reps have to click through numerous screens, or flip back and forth between records, you are dealing with a cumbersome system your reps will tire of quickly.
  3. Takes too long to enter data: Does the system force reps to become data-entry junkies? Answer: Check them for finger-tip calluses. If your system forces reps to enter more information than what is needed for the task at hand, the system is slowing them down. That is a ticket to frustration, and a motivation to update the résumé.
  4. Takes too long to get the full picture: The information housed in a CRM system should be gathered and projected into informative and enlightened views that convey not just raw data, but critical flashes of insight and inspired calls-to-action. If reps have to pour through mundane histories and notes to formulate or simply ascertain which appropriate steps to take, then your system is not only too slow, but extremely counter-productive!
  5. Doesn’t present information in a way that is useful to reps: As an example, it is not enough that the system presents one screen with a list of leads that need to be called, and then a second screen with a list of current prospects that need to be called. Allow your reps to see all the people that need to be called in one location, and let them evaluate and build the levels of priority. Carefully think through how your reps work from a strategic standpoint, and make sure the CRM system presents the needed information in a concise and comprehensive manner.
  6. Takes more effort to use then it is worth: People start out with unbridled enthusiasm for the potential a CRM system holds. Remember, it is touted as a game-changing solution that can transform sales. As people begin to use the system, they quickly determine whether or not their excitement was warranted, and evaluate it (and their resulting productivity) accordingly. If it makes their job easier, faster, and more fruitful, then it will be worth navigating the learning curves, and abiding by the confinements inherent in a software system. If it doesn’t perform as ‘promised’, then it will be abandoned faster than an iPhone 3.
  7. Can’t go beyond the basic features: Reps and managers can only get value from the features they actually use, and those that demonstrate an increase in performance and productivity. If more advanced (and value-added) features prove too difficult to figure out or navigate through, they will be stuck using the bare minimum of capability by default. Bare-minimum capabilities are not enough to provide a return on your CRM investment, nor create or sustain any form of sales or marketing momentum in a positive direction.
  8. Takes too long for the system to become engrained in the sales process: Reps give up on using the system long before it will ever become a part of the natural way they work. Old habits die hard, and inadequate or poorly designed CRMs just breathe new life into those old habits. If your CRM system forces reps to change the way they work in too many ways, they will consciously and purposefully resist it, and revert to their previous tried-and-true methods quite easily. The longer that happens, the longer it will take for the system to ever provide value for those it was designed to assist, and the bigger the odds that the system will eventually fail due to poor adoption. Darwin certainly knew what he was talking about.

Features and price are indeed important considerations. And they are the two considerations that are easiest for vendors to differentiate by, and place on the front burners for ‘targeted’ focus. However, these factors will not matter in the end if the system is rejected by the sales organization, and justifiably so. Whether or not that happens is dependent primarily on the 8 buying considerations that define ease-of-use. Bells and whistles are one thing, but common sense, efficiency, and practicality in CRM design parameters serve a far grander and certainly more lucrative purpose.

About the author

Nancy Nardin

Nancy Nardin is a recognized thought leader on sales technologies and building a sales stack. Smart Selling Tools reviews the latest sales and marketing software across multiple categories, including Inside Sales, Sales Intelligence, Sales Acceleration, Pipeline Management & Deal Flow, and Predictive Sales Analytics. It's been named a Top Sales Blog by HubSpot, and Nancy Nardin has been named alongside Forbes’ top 30 social sales influencers in the world. Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools