Focus On Sales Not Sales Reports

By Geoffrey James

There are two target user groups for CRM systems: sales reps and sales managers. While a CRM system must satisfy the needs of both groups, if the system focuses too much on the needs of management it can have a negative impact on sales.

Ideally CRM systems make it easier for sales reps to keep track of customers, keep them informed, develop new opportunities and perform other activities that lead toward higher sales. CRM systems can also help sales managers prepare detailed reports and sales forecasts to keep top management informed. Both functions are important, but focusing too much on servicing management needs can create a net drop in sales productivity.

Many CRM systems are implemented with the sales manager as the primary target user. Such systems tend to be complicated, requiring sales reps to access multiple input screens and spend large amounts of time entering data. Few sales people enjoy such electronic busywork. Many resent spending time entering data that could be better spent meeting with customers. In addition, sales reps often don’t want the sales manager to have too much information about their plum accounts because it might make it easier to assign them to somebody else. While this may be an unreasonable viewpoint, it can still create resistance among the sales force, especially when there is a lack of trust between sales management and the sales staff.

Because of these factors, CRM systems that focus primarily on management needs can get in the way of sales by taking up valuable time, de-motivating sales reps and forcing reps to question management’s motives. The end result easily can be a net loss in sales productivity and a decline in actual sales. In such cases, sales management often ends up with fancy reports containing the bad news that sales aren’t where they should be.

Rather than focusing on servicing management needs, the primary focus of the CRM system should be meeting the needs of sales reps. Rather than being a vehicle for creating reports, the CRM system should be a tool that sales reps can use to develop and track customers and close business. Once this is achieved, there will be time to worry about producing those fancy management reports.

Adapted from an interview with Erin Kinikin, vice president of CRM at Forrester Research, a market research firm headquartered in Cambridge, MA.