How to Make Your CRM System Sparse and Successful

By Geoffrey James

When sales managers used to get together to discuss CRM, the question was: How can I force my reps to use the system?

With all due respect, that’s a dumb question. It’s a truism in the IT world that any system people are forced to use ultimately will fail. That pretty much sums up the experience most sales managers had with CRM, back when they thought arm-twisting the sales force would be a good way to move forward with CRM.

When CRM first came out sales reps didn’t want to use CRM systems because they were too complex, with dozens of screens and forms, and because they were most useful for making fancy reports that sales managers could use to impress the bigwigs in the boardroom.

Then, as now, sales reps don’t want to wrestle with screens full of bells and whistles; what they want is a system that’s streamlined and easy to use. “All too often CRM vendors get involved in feature wars with one another when what the end-user community really wants is a simple system they can use easily,” observes Larry Caretsky, CEO of Commence Corporation, a CRM vendor headquartered in Oakhurst, NJ. He also notes “an overly complex system can actually impede sales and ultimately result in the failure of a CRM project.”

Furthermore, most sales reps don’t care a fig whether their manager wants to throw a fancy slide on the screen during the next quarterly review. So the real question sales managers need to ask is: How can I get a CRM system that the sales reps actually want to use? The answer well may be: Make the CRM system sparse.

Here’s why. The best way to make a system easy to use is to remove useless options. Sales managers should insist that their CRM vendor provide a customized system that only presents the features and functions that are absolutely necessary to their sales process. No matter how neat a feature seems, it doesn’t belong on the screen if it doesn’t drive sales or save lots of money.

Another reason that sparse is better is that it greatly reduces the training burden. Let’s face it: Sales reps want to sell, not sit in a classroom and learn how to navigate computer screens. If the CRM implementation is sparse, even to the point of simplistic, sales managers might not need to bring reps into the classroom at all. “Several large high-tech sales forces are using sales simulations to train their sales force and identify specific skills they need to develop,” observes Erin Kinikin, vice president of CRM at Forrester Research, a technology research company headquartered in Cambridge, MA.

So resist the urge to add the kitchen sink to your next CRM system or upgrade. After all, technology for technology’s sake is so 20th century.