Salespeople Need More Leadership, Not More Technology

Too Much Technology…

When working to help an underperforming business unit (in my real job) grow their revenues, I always discover instances where the unit has purchased some widget, gadget or other magic bullet designed to help them sell more.

Although well-meaning, the manager who made this purchase generally believed against all his or her own better judgment and experience that this solution would enjoy high adoption and utilization, and would deliver the desired results with little or no work required. Given a warm welcome by the sales team, this manager was certain that the worm would soon turn, and that the good times were just around the corner.

… Not Enough Reality

Usually between six hours and six months of the initial purchase, the manager believes they were taken. The widget does not perform as demonstrated. Their team is not selling any more (and maybe selling less) as a result of adding this technology and expense. What gives?

The truth is that while there are certainly technologies that have made a salesman’s job easier; sales still requires people to do work. Products that still involve salesmanship – cars, real estate, personal services, home repair – also require that those gifted with salesmanship work to leverage technology to their advantage.

Generally, these overbought and underutilized tools are CRM-related. CRM, it seems, is the greatest underutilized business technology “in use” today. In fact, we once discovered that one of our business units was paying for eight different, yet overlapping, CRM tools… and none of them was helping drive any incremental business.

CRM Does Not Mean What You Think

Twenty years ago, great salesmen used 3X5 cards and small plastic boxes as their CRM tools. They organized their prospects and were tenacious at follow up. They used these boxes and their day-timers to remind them to send letters and birthday cards, and to remember the names of a customer’s wife and children. Today, we expect technology to take the place of this tenacity – we expect that technology can replace people and process.

While a great CRM tool might help an organized person stay organized, it offers nothing for the disorganized. Likewise, CRM falls well short of getting lazy salespeople to care, or the sales laggards to do something (anything!). More often than not, bad salespeople spend an inordinate amount of time trying to game the system. (If they just used this time for good, rather than evil, they’d be superstars.)

Because of this, CRM tools are the biggest rip-off in business today. Too many business owners and business leaders have spent too much to equip their teams with expensive tools to manage customer databases, only to have the great procrastinators (salespeople) destroy real progress by failing to complete even very simple steps. I am convinced that you could take away any underperforming business unit’s CRM tools and provide that same sales team with index cards and pens, with the end result being better sales numbers than are realized today.

While the acronym CRM (which stands for Customer Relationship Management) is meant to describe the means a company or salesperson uses to manage their customer relationships, the onslaught of underutilized tools led us to coin the memorable (if not a bit hokey) phrase “Crutches Require Muscle” so those purchasing new CRM software would understand that assembly is required and magic bullets are not included.

As sales leaders, our goal has to be to make certain that everyone and anyone on the sales side understands that you cannot successfully manage customer relationships without work – hard, sometimes tedious work.

Crutches Require Muscle: Two Real Life Examples

Next week, my family will have an invisible fence installed in our home. We own a couple of small dogs, and these little buggers have figured out how to burrow under our traditional fence. After coming home too many times to notes on our door that read “Your dogs got out again. We have them at our house,” we’ve decided to spend a few bucks on shock collars and electric barriers to keep our pets (and neighbors) safe.

Because this is the first time we’ve ever had to purchase something like this, we sent price quote requests (via email) to seven local invisible fence companies who operated websites. These seven are using technology (the Internet, email and CRM) to their advantage, we figured, so we expected quick and complete responses.

Long story short, we received three automatic responses (43%) to our inquiries and only one of the original seven (14%) bothered to personally follow up with a price. We heard nothing from four companies (57%). This is pathetic, of course, because these seven companies are spending thousands each year on technology designed to capture more business, yet only one of the seven bothered to add people and process to the mix in an attempt to gain our business. The other six likely believe that their websites and CRM tools are magic bullets designed to deliver millions into their bank accounts with little or no work.

Can you guess which of the seven companies is installing our invisible fence next week?

Sylvan Learning Centers Need to Learn Something Themselves

CRM real life example number two: On a recent Thursday afternoon, one of our sons (we have three) brought home a mid-term “D” in English. We were shocked, scared and mortified for two reasons: 1) none of our sons has ever delivered anything below a B+; and 2) the boy speaks English, doesn’t he?

In our momentary horror, we were convinced that the best thing for this likely slacker was for him to get professional help (clearly his teachers, and especially his parents, were doing a poor job). We immediately sought an afterschool tutoring program that could release this young man from the dark side and make him our son once again.

A quick Google search yielded a sponsored link to Sylvan Learning Centers – hey, I’ve heard of them – so I submitted an online request to have my local Sylvan office contact me with pricing and other information. I was clearly desperate in my initial plea. Not surprisingly, the CRM tool used by Sylvan immediately fired off an automatic response that gave me confidence: My boy will read again, I cried. Here is the reassuring auto-response I received:

Thank you for your spending time with Sylvan’s website today. Whether your child needs to improve a report card, get ahead in math, end homework struggles or prepare for college, Sylvan can help.

Please keep this e-mail for your records; below is the contact information for your local Sylvan Learning Center:

Your local Sylvan is located at: (followed by the local center’s various contact info)

Visit your local Sylvan’s website often; you’ll find information about news and events, hours of operation and if they offer live, online tutoring from the comfort of home. You may want to even bookmark it!

Thank you again for visiting Sylvan’s website. We look forward to serving your family in the near future.

Your friends at Sylvan Learning®.

Awkward first sentence aside, I was convinced that my son was not going to have to ride the short bus after all.

Sylvan is on the Case

I heard nothing from my local Sylvan center the next day (Friday), though I was not concerned. Surely, they are so busy turning around the lives of so many children that they’re just a little behind in checking their emails.

At exactly 1:29 AM Saturday morning I received the following email (names and locations changed to protect the guilty):

I’m John Doe, Center Director from your Anytown center. Thank you for contacting us regarding your child’s learning needs. Your recent inquiry has been marked for our immediate attention, and one of my staff members will be contacting you shortly. If you have a preferred method for contacting you, please reply to this email with your preferred contact information. We look forward to talking with you soon.

Wishing you and your student success,

John Doe

Center Director

I was starting to get concerned, because they certainly must think we are all a family of morons if they believe they can fool us into thinking someone is sitting at our local Sylvan center sending out emails just after the bars close.

Although I responded to this email with very specific needs, no one on Mr. Doe’s staff ever bothered to respond, though I did receive the following automatic email on the following Monday afternoon:

I hope one of my staff members from Anytown Sylvan center was able to resolve your questions or concerns. Please reply to this email if you still have outstanding items you would like to discuss, and we will contact you as soon as possible. Thank you for your interest in Sylvan.

Wishing you and your student success,

John Doe

Center Director

I responded to this email immediately, and have yet to hear anything from them. It’s now been over a month.

As frustrating as this process was, it forced me to help my son with his English, and he is now back to a solid B – not great, but also not summer school material.

How to Guarantee Utilization

How much revenue could Sylvan have realized from my family over the next 10 years? If they were successful in helping this son with his English grades, would we not use them to help our other sons improve something? In my estimation, this local Sylvan center lost a minimum of $10,000. If you multiply that by the hundreds of other potential customers with similar experiences you begin to get into some real money.

The issues in these two real life examples are not caused by bad CRM tools, rather these instances point to a sales leadership void within these organizations. Without leadership, these organizations have too much technology. Case in point: if none of these businesses attempted to employ CRM tools, I would have been forced to call them, and chances are they might have answered the phone.

What can a leader do to guarantee utilization of tools designed to help an organization close more sales and drive more revenue? Accountability.

It’s a cliché, but your team will truly respect what you inspect. (By the way, we generally hate sayings like this, because people assume they’re true simply because they rhyme. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” could have just as easily been “if you killed your ex-wife, you’re gonna do life.”) Inspecting the daily inputs and outputs of your salespeople, and then holding them accountable for employing the designated processes for prospecting and managing customer relationships, can change everything virtually overnight.

The truth is that most salespeople are lazy. They expend more energy avoiding work than they would have to use if they just completed tasks as designed.

Salespeople need more leadership, not more technology.