Don't let technophobia squash CRM

Reluctant reps have doomed many CRM projects. Now find out how to cure your sales staff's SFA fear.

Every organization has 'em.

Those old-time sales guys who have been doing it "their way" for years and want no part of new technology. They're the bane of executives who have spent millions on sales force automation (SFA) software that's now gathering dust.

Yet it is vital that every salesperson takes up a new technology when it's adopted, said Liz Roche, analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group.

Even your star sales rep, she said.

"Management has to make a decision whether [the software] is important to them or not," Roche said. "If they make an exception, it's not important. This is hard cultural stuff to do. If the top guy says 'no,' management has to say, 'Fine, you don't have to work here.'"

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In fact, the top rep may be best at converting the other technophobes in a sales organization. Roche said that taking a sales star out of the field for several months to develop best practices and train colleagues is a weighty investment, but also a worthy one. Salespeople need to know how technology can be incorporated into their daily processes to generate more revenue. More revenue means more commissions.

Mobilkom Austria, a subsidiary of Vienna-based Telekom Austria AG, recently completed the first phase of a rollout of ClearSales software from Israel-based Amdocs Ltd. The company wanted more visibility into its sales process and to enable reps to access both customer billing and contact information, said Claudia Leeb, project manager for business sales at Mobilkom.

While many of its sales reps welcomed new software, the company tried to ensure adoption of the system from the very beginning of the two-phase deployment.

Leeb said that the company faced two challenges in the first phase: getting reps to enter both contacts and the information gleaned from field visits into the system. While most were happy to have a new way around what had been a cumbersome data-entry process, Mobilkom wanted to make sure everyone used the system.

The company set deadlines for a certain percentage of all information to be in the new system, Leeb said. It then internally published the results of the total percentage of contacts entered in the system and the percentage for each rep.

"It's just a reminder, a way of saying we know you haven't done your job. And that seems to be the difference," Leeb said.

Currently, 98% of Mobilkom's contacts are entered in the new system, Leeb said. The company also awarded MP3 players and other prizes to reps who were first to enter in their contacts.

Many organizations have had success rewarding salespeople who enter good data into the system; others find it useful to penalize reps, perhaps by withholdings commissions, if they fail to use the SFA tool.

The value of good software

Executives at Siebel Systems Inc. admit that reluctant sales forces hamper CRM success. The San Mateo, Calif., company has tried to counter that by providing flexibility in its sales applications to make sure reps see the value, said Jeff Summers, general manager of Siebel Sales.

Summers, a former salesman at IBM, said that sales reps readily use voice mail and e-mail because they see the communication value. The same needs to be true with a SFA application.

"With professional, white collar salespeople, you're dealing with a different animal," Summers said. "They're almost all artists in the way they like to organize their day and time. You will never find two salespeople who [like to do it] in the same way."

One common attribute, however, is a reliance on popular e-mail programs like Microsoft Outlook. That's why SFA-Outlook integration is so vital, Summers said.

It starts at the top

Management needs to do its part as well, Roche said. SFA software should generate forecasting and pipeline reports. Senior executives should regularly scan the reports and call the rep to ask about various opportunities, Roche said. Doing so sets the tone that upper-level management takes the software seriously.

Usage must be measured, as Mobilkom did in its internal reports and individual sales reps should easily identify useful components to the tool. The application should include some special feature like automatically generating a proposal when a contact is entered, Roche said.

"The old guard may not like using the technology, but being a technophobe is absolutely no excuse," Roche said. "Either management demands the tool be used by integrating the tool into sales culture or it won't be used."

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