Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

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Most creative firms use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application for their own new business development efforts but in the most recent survey we conducted (which is a couple of years old now) few claimed to be happy with their use of it. My own experience has been that even today it is rare for a creative firm to demonstrate a medium-high level of proficiency in their use of their CRM application.

In the peeks I’ve had into the CRM instances of firms both large and small, in single office firms or global networks, I remain surprised at how the technology is used and not used.

My goal here is to point out misuses or misunderstandings that might be holding you back, so that you can make some corrections and get more out of your investment i this vital technology.

Before We Begin…

Some caveats about my list. First, it isn’t exhaustive – it could easily be twice as long and perhaps three times. These are the ones that I see most often.

Second, this list isn’t scientific. It’s what I think I'm seeing. I’m compiling nothing but my own observations, not real “data”.

Third, this isn’t a countdown. The mistakes are ordered in the order that I think it makes sense to discuss them.

Fourth and finally, most of my comments are generic enough to apply to most CRM platforms but for a few of them I do reference the standard that is Salesforce. If you find the specifics don’t apply to you, it’s probably because you’re using a lighter application.

Alright, here we go: Seven CRM Mistakes to Avoid

1. Using the App “Out-of-the-Box”

Easily the most common and limiting or even damaging mistake is to open up your app and not change the pick-list values to reflect how you sell. In most cases your CRM provider does not want to impose sales process on you, they want to enable you to customize their app to the way you sell. So the pick-list values for things like lead status or opportunity stage contain all kinds of crazy things that need to be edited, amended or deleted.

A lot of firms buy the technology thinking that a sales process is coming with it. It’s not. You have to decide what constitutes a lead, how you’re going to work leads and therefore what the proper lead statuses are in your firm. Likewise for opportunity stages, opportunity types and other variables. The technology works to support properly defined sales and marketing process. Establish the processes first then customize the app, not the other way around.

2. Giant Address-Book Syndrome

One of the world’s largest PR firms has multiple Salesforce Enterprise seats in numerous countries and all they use it for is a Rolodex in which they store names, phone numbers and other lead or contact data. That’s one expensive address book!

My estimation based on our survey is at that time 40% of all agencies employing CRM only used this most basic address book function to store names, phone numbers and other elementary contact or demographic information. Surely this number is better today but still, many firms remain confused or intimidated by the other basic CRM functions, which leads us to…

3. Confusing Leads, Contacts & Opportunities

My guess is that 50% of all installs of CRM apps in creative firms have these three objects confused. Let’s clarify.

A lead is a clue to a possible sale, not yet qualified. (That’s the WWP definition, anyway. Interestingly, there is no universal definition for a lead in the sales world.) Most can agree however that leads haven’t bought from you, you haven’t had a meaningful conversation with them recently and you have no real data to support whether an opportunity exists. You need to talk to these people.

The list of attendees at the conference you just spoke at? Those are leads. Import them as such then start working them by talking to them on the phone or nurturing them with your content campaigns.

Once you have a conversation with a lead and determine that an opportunity exists (they see a fit between their need and your expertise), you then convert that lead to a contact (individual) and account (organization) and you create an opportunity (possible engagement). Opportunities are what get tracked in your pipeline report.

We could talk about this at greater length, and there is a deeper level discussion I’ve avoided around the distinction between marketing leads, sales leads and whether you store them all in your CRM or the former in your marketing automation app, but my key point is leads are just clues and they require a conversation before you can convert them to contacts and add an opportunity.

Most of the data you mass import into your CRM will be leads. I’ve seen leads imported as contacts or stored as opportunities more times than I can remember.

4. Tracking the Wrong Things

I don’t want to make too much noise about this one because I’m always pleased to see reports of any kind being used on a regular basis and I’m outright thrilled to see reports being generated and distributed automatically. The problem is when you’re reporting on the wrong things. As Verasage fellow Ed Kless likes to say, “All measurements are judgments in disguise.”

If you choose to track meetings obtained or proposals submitted then your implied judgement is these things are predictive of future success. I argue that in a typical consultative creative firm they’re not. Similarly, placing too much importance on the probability of close (%) in a weighted forecast is a common judgement that just does not apply to a customized services firm where the number of ongoing clients is less than fifteen and new clients are added at a pace no greater than about one per quarter. Such a measurement does make sense in a more transactional firm where you’re selling products or productized services at a larger volume but in a typical firm the measurements and judgements are more subjective, making weighted forecasts irrelevant.

5. Underbuying or Overbuying

Speaking specifically of Salesforce, there’s little point buying any edition below Enterprise. Anything less and you forgo the use of workflows and the open API that allows you to connect all kinds of other apps. It’s pricey, though, at $125 per seat per month.

It’s common to see firms struggling with the cheaper, stripped down Professional version and it’s also common to see firms overbuy by purchasing full Enterprise seats for people who are not actively involved in sales or marketing.

For independent firms with small salesforces the compromise of sharing a fewer number of more expensive Enterprise seats is usually best. I might suffer the wrath of Salesforce publishing these words but I know Salesforce partners who do this.

6. Not Entering Data As You Go

If you dislike your CRM app then you will probably prefer to “do the work” then update your app at the end of the day. Which turns into the next morning. Which turns into never or results in missing data. Enter as you go. You have to enter as you go.

If you’re not doing this, ask yourself an honest why not? and then fix it.

It’s a great feeling for a salesperson to see progress as the conversions go up, opportunities get added, etc. Entering as you go not only ensures higher data quality it gives you visual feedback of your progress. It is addictive. It spurs you on.

The reason you may not be entering as you go is usually the app isn’t set up right or you, you haven’t been properly trained or you just don’t like it. A lot of design-based businesses refuse to use Salesforce because of the lousy user interface. I understand, but there’s are solutions to that too, which brings us to…

7. Ignoring Powerful Integrations

Yes, the Salesforce UX is lousy, but that shouldn’t stop you from using it because most of your logins should be API calls from connected apps with better UIs and not direct logins to the CRM app itself.

As an example, my favourite app in the Salesforce ecosystem and maybe my favourite app of all (tied with Gmail and Evernote) is Cirrus Insight. It integrates your Gmail or Outlook inbox with your Salesforce account, allowing you to push almost anything to and pull almost anything from your Salesforce instance from within your inbox.

Create or change a lead, contact or opportunity or pretty much anything else without leaving your email client. Once you start integrating other apps like your marketing automation to Salesforce you can push that to your inbox too, so at a glance you go from the email in your inbox to that person’s entire history on your website and other cool stuff, without ever logging into Salesforce directly.

That’s just scratching the surface of what Cirrus Insight and similar apps can do. It integrates with your calendar, it tracks email opens in real time and more. The big thing however is it lets you live in an interface you like and is easy to use. I estimate my own direct Salesforce login has dropped by 80%-90% from this one app alone.

Cirrus also allows you to log emails against leads and contacts with the click of a button, again within your inbox, but we use Absolute Automation from iHance to do that automatically. iHance will even create leads or contacts automatically from incoming emails depending on the rules you assign.

Yes, we’re into the cool stuff now and I’m dangling this in front of you to get you excited about what could be. First, get the basics down. Understand the different key objects like leads, contacts, accounts and opportunities, source some training for your people, and bring your sales process to the app, not the other way around. Once you do that, the possibilities really are endless and exciting.


PS: If you’re still unsure about the entire subject of CRM, read my article, CRM: The Train Coming at You

Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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