Use CRM to Micromanage and Suffer the Consequences

By Geoffrey James

Don’t overdo it. That’s the advice experts are giving sales managers who want to use CRM to monitor sales reps’ behavior and activities.

Let’s face it. One of the reasons sales managers like CRM is that it gives them greater visibility into the sales pipeline. With CRM – and a sales staff willing to use it – a sales manager can find out how many sales calls are taking place, the results of those calls, the forecasts that were made, the costs accrued during the sales process and, with some systems, even track the physical location of sales reps during each moment of their workday.

While that may sound like management heaven if you are a control freak, there’s a real danger CRM reporting mechanisms will create an oppressive big-brother environment that kills sales productivity, according to Erin Kinikin, vice president of CRM for Forrester Research, a consulting firm headquartered in Cambridge MA. “Many sales force automation tools are unsuccessful precisely because the sales staff perceives the software as a monitoring tool rather than a useful assistant,” she explains.

The problem is that the overuse of CRM monitoring clashes with the self-image of most sales reps, who tend to think of themselves as cowpokes riding the range with all the freedom the image implies. Because of this, sales reps who feel their CRM system is intrusive will work ceaselessly to subvert it. This is especially true among top performers who are quite aware that their ability to deliver big sales ultimately will be perceived within the company as more valuable than the micromanager’s attempt to control everything. “There has never been a sales metric that sales reps don’t find some way to fix, especially if it affects compensation,” says Kinikin.

The conflict between misuse of CRM and the self-image of the typical sales rep absolutely clobbers productivity. First, it wastes sales reps’ time because now they are spending time subverting the system rather than making sales. Second, it wastes sales managers’ time as they struggle to make the system work in the face of the inevitable passive-aggressive behavior. Finally, when the CRM system fails, as big-brother implementations inevitably do, the expense and effort of installing the system and training the sales team goes to waste.

Make certain you don’t create this kind of stultifying environment for your sales group. The best way to do this is to approach CRM as a way to help salespeople sell rather than a way to help sales managers administer the sales process. When implementing or upgrading your CRM system, Kinikin suggests you take a bottoms-up approach by asking sales reps where they are encountering difficulties in the sales process and then implementing technology to ease the bottlenecks. “The participation of the sales force in the design and direction of the application is absolutely critical to success,” she says.

In short, CRM-empowered micromanagement might be common, but it isn’t inevitable. If you want your CRM system to be successful, you need to realign priorities so the basic assumption of the entire system is that management trusts sales reps to do the right thing and get the job done, without the help of big brother.