Sales Sultans or Dukes of Data?

By Paul Field – C.O.O @ Improved Apps

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Salespeople have always tended to regard themselves as tribal icons – they are, after all, the ones who feed the rest of the tribe through successful hunting or farming. Equally well, they are held responsible for those times that the tribe does not eat. So as symbols of success and scapegoats for failure, these specialists in the kill or harvest had little interest in anything else and commanded an exalted position.

 

Sales people were regarded as the Praetorian guard of the organisation; highly capable and highly rewarded, but subject only to the ultimate sanction of being sacrificed if they did not meet their objectives. Anything that was not central to that task of extracting money from the customers’ wallets and moving it into their company’s coffers was superfluous.

Complying with compliance

In recent years, post-Enron, the demands on businesses from regulatory bodies has increased dramatically: Compliance requirements have emerged in every area including financial reporting, revenue recognition, environmental protection, contracts, sales behaviour and just about everything else that a business engages in.

 

As a result, the heroic, maverick sales person has started to look increasingly anachronistic and lonely in this new heavily compliance-driven world. Regulatory demands have reached out and ensnared the hunters in the drudgery of data maintenance for reasons that they don’t care to remember and to which they pay lip (or finger!) service. Sales management often find themselves empathising with their direct reports but also knowing that they must improve their forecasting, account and contact accuracy.

Ramping up regulation

Having personally lived through the transition from light to rampant regulation as well as surviving several CRM implementations (including Salesforce.com twice most recently), I can testify to the upheaval that sales teams have undergone. As a sales manager I have been plagued by the out-dated data that defines my world – the business assumes that I have 5000 customers whilst realistically the number is nearer 750 (the rest are out-of-date/duplicates/multiple sites for one customer/wrongly classified by product or country/failed prospects rather than customers) and expects results accordingly. My pipeline looks massive, so surely I must be able to deliver double my forecast?! (but in reality we are now just putting everything in, rather than just the opportunities with legs).

 

Equally I have been frustrated by reps failing to keep their opportunities up to date and misunderstanding the pipeline stages/probability or the way to use any number of important data fields. Sales management get caught between the desire to keep their staff focussed on selling and the need to have accurate data to do their job properly. The advent of sales ops. as a kind of internal data and procedural police can add to the frustration – sales managers now have to spend time answering to sales operations and therefore making even more time-based demands of their reps to understand and fix anomalies.

 

In large part this comes back to the fact that sales representatives still do not think it matters. The data they enter into CRM seems to make no difference as to whether or not they make the sale, and their defence is that time spent on data entry is time not spent selling. They cannot be expected to remember how to fill in specific fields on a form or care about its impact elsewhere, can they?

The question we must ask ourselves therefore is “are we serving the data or is the data serving us?”

It sometimes becomes hard to remember that there was actually a point to all of this in the first place! We put in CRM systems because we could not rely on the poor record-keeping of sales and the “squidgy” nature of forecasting. We could not rely on everybody meaning the same thing, when they said the same thing. We could not access someone else’s spreadsheet to check their perspective of their local reality or rely on a common view of common data interpreted in a common fashion. Maintaining accurate and timely information is actually vested self-interest on the part of sales management, and the obstacle is not really reluctant salespeople but unclear applications. It is the responsibility of any application and its administrators to ensure that the user quickly and clearly understands exactly what is expected of them at any stage in any process. This also means that clarity must be provided about the ‘why’, the ‘when’ as well as the ‘how’. Most importantly the user should not have to go looking for this information nor be forced to understand any caveats: We have wrongly made it the users’ problem to find the information to do their jobs when in fact it is the responsibility of management to make that task as simple as possible by pushing the information to them when and where they are working.

Eating our own dog food!

So imagine my joy when I joined Improved Apps… We most definitely eat our own dog food (drink our own champagne?) in the form of our solution Improved Help: Every field that sales need to keep updated in salesforce.com has embedded help that not only explains exactly how it needs to be filled out (depending on the exact circumstances they are confronting) but also explains why this matters. We are still not perfect but mostly we get it right first time and can then focus on doing more important things like looking after our customers and getting more of them.

 

Find out what our satisfied customers have to say about how our solutions Improved Help and Improved Noticeboard are helping to transform training and aid the communication of critical information within their Salesforce applications.

 

Paul Field – C.O.O @ Improved Apps