CRM and Sales Force Automation have been with us for several decades now, and most companies have gone through many iterations of the constantly improving technology.  From basic contact management to advanced data analytics, Rolodexes and spreadsheets have been replaced by sophisticated technology platforms that are increasingly easy to deploy and use.  At last, the critical information that you need to run your sales force is literally at your fingertips.

Do you want to know what happened in the field yesterday?  No problem – There’s a report for that.  Want to know where your team’s performance stands today?  Shucks – Just press that button there.  Want to know what your sellers have planned for next week?  You can see that right in their calendars.  Practically anything you want to know about your sales force is probably in CRM somewhere.  And that’s been the blessing of well-designed CRM – easy access to the data you need.

So why then does CRM still feel more like corporate infrastructure than a strategic advantage?  Why does it still do more to inform the past than to shape the future?  Why do we have more and more reports yet little more control?  Why does CRM seem to always leave us wanting?

From our perspective, all of these unsatisfying feelings are NOT the fault of the technology.  CRM is just a tool that does exactly what we ask to do.  You ask it to capture data, and data is captured.  You ask it to dispense data, and data is dispensed.  CRM is great at that.  What the system CANNOT do for us, however, is manage the sales force.  We have to do that.  And that is the next step in the evolution of CRM… For us to learn how to use CRM data to better manage our sellers.

At its most basic, CRM is a decision-making tool.  It provides us with the data we need to make management decisions, but it does not make the decisions for us.  It only gives us what we ask for – the inputs to our decision making process.  The problem is that sales management has not been given the one last thing that we need to become expert decision makers…  The decision-making criteria.

We ask CRM for how many prospects our sales team contacted last week, and CRM returns the answer immediately.  But is the number that CRM returns to us too high or too low?  We ask for the mix of products that our sellers sold last month, but is that mix of products good or bad?  And if we decide that the volume of prospecting is okay but the product mix is bad, what do we do about it?  CRM can’t tell us that… It can only provide us with the data – not the right decisions.

This is at the heart of why CRM leaves us all feeling a little bit empty.  It does what we ask it to do, but it doesn’t necessarily make things better.   We have to do that.  And despite sales management’s years of experience, no one ever taught us how to use rich data to make bullet-proof decisions.  How many of us ever took a great sales management class in school?  How many of us ever read a sales management book that put it ALL in perspective?  How many of us ever had a mentor that helped us make sense of the conflicting messages that come at us every day?  Not many.   Not many at all.

We believe that our research into sales measurement and management best practices has made a contribution to the void of sales management decision-making criteria.  We now know some of the levers and pulleys that guide the sales force’s performance, and we understand which metrics are important and which are just distractions.  But there’s much more to learn, and we will figure it out.  In the meantime, let’s fess up to the fact that CRM’s limitations are not necessarily CRM’s fault.  CRM is just a computer full of bits and bytes that provide us with the data we request.  It’s up to us to use that data to answer critical sales management questions.  The truth is, CRM will never be a long-term strategic advantage… But you will.

Agree?  Disagree?