The New Era of Selling and CRM: In With the New...Again

Well, it looks like CRM is about to be overhauled again.

For a long time, CRM was mostly about contact management. It evolved to include more sophisticated tracking of touch-points and was able to track pipeline, forecast revenue, and provide data for incentive compensation. With the rise of internal sales organizations many solutions like upped their game again and made it much easier for internal and external teams to collaborate on leads.

But now, sales is changing again and in some industries, it's already changed. Today's sales process is much more of a complex, social game and, as noted in this recent Forbes article, there are a variety of new competitors to the mainstays of CRM (ahem...Salesforce). There are a number of reasons why, but points two and four are the most important takeaways to me. *

If you're about to undertake a big, expensive CRM implementation it may be worth taking a step back to make sure you're solving the right problems.

First issue: Your sales force doesn't like the software

  • Your sales force is resistant to using your current CRM system as prescribed
  • Your software is mostly glorified contact management
  • There are few value-added processes 

As you may have picked up on, the user experience is one of the attributes I value most in enterprise software. I have documented its importance a few times, like here for ERP software and here for its positive impact on talent and culture.

What I haven't talked about much yet is how good user experiences provides incentives to get people to actually use the software and to use it properly. In some cases this isn't as much of a factor. For example, accountants need to use the general ledger you provide since there isn't a way to do those tasks offline.

But CRM is different. Your sales people can do most of their jobs offline if they really want to. Other than management policies, strong-arming, and incentive compensation, there aren't too many ways to force them to use the CRM system as its intended.

The answer, of course, is to give them a set of tools that helps them do their jobs demonstrably better. If your sales team gets tools that help them engage customers like they were never able to, if it helps them quickly prepare for their meetings, if it allows them to get ahead of the sales process and increase the quality and sell-through of the leads they create, they will want to use the CRM tools.

One last thing: For the love of all that is good in the world, please give them something that's mobile. And not just a mobile website; choose a system with apps designed to be used on mobile devices.


Use a carrot instead of a hammer. Incent them with great tools.

Second issue: Customer engagement is lacking

  • You still rely on cold calling most of the time
  • You have no or little social media presence
  • You are not actively using content marketing
Around the world, customers enabled by the rapidly rising availability of mobile connected devices 3,4 are moving from product or service awareness, to research and then to taking action in a far shorter time than ever before
— A smarter approach to CRM: an IBM perspective (

If customers are moving from awareness to decision faster than ever, then you need to establish awareness more broadly and more actively than ever before. Customers need to know you and like you before they are even ready to make a buying decision. 

In most industries, this requires content marketing. And content is only as good as far as you can get people to read it, so in many cases you need a strong social media presence. And it requires establishing connections with potential customers long before they need to buy anything.

There are, by my count, about 7 critical social media platforms depending on your type of business.

  • B2B: LinkedIn (personal and business profiles), Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Blogging platform (Wordpress, Blogger, etc.)
  • B2C: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, some LinkedIn, Google+, Blogging Platform

How do you manage your interactions across all these platforms? There are certainly tools like Hootsuite that allow posting across multiple platforms but these won't help target or track them as closely as you need to. There are tools like SumAll and Klout that help measure and manage your impact. But how do you track it all?

New solutions combine CRM and social selling to help track all of this centrally and to measure its impact over time. I use Nimble for this. It centralizes the social media profiles of my contacts, provides opportunities to engage with them on social media, tracks all interactions over time, and makes sure my data follows me where ever I go online. It's not the only solution available, but it's my personal choice and it demonstrates the dramatic, recent evolution of the selling process.


  • You need to ask your sales people in order to find out about deals, their size, or their status
  • It is unclear which sales tactics are working most effectively for specific products, customers, or markets
  • You can't tell if the money you are spending on developing content is really worth it

With so many sales channels, you're going to make decisions about what content and which channels to invest in. And later on, you're going to want to know how they are doing. You'll need a way to measure this. This will be challenging with most of the big CRM platforms.

You'll also want to see your pending deals and, particularly for the big ones, be able to develop strategies to engage and close your biggest deals. This may involve developing new content, providing points of view, reaching out to develop new relationships and sharing a lot of information with your own people. You need to make sure you have tools that can bring this together.


If you don't have CRM yet, it's time to give it another look. There are more great products that do more great things than the last time you evaluated it. They add more value to your sales team than they every have and help your sales people sell in ways they probably can't right now.

If you have a CRM solution but are looking to change, don't default to a new system based on benchmarks or reputation alone. The assumptions in this space are quickly becoming outdated and those reputations and benchmarks are often not based on the new realities of selling. Go through a real selection process that takes into account how you sell today, how you think you need to sell tomorrow, and what your salespeople think they need.

Don't go full-boat on a new solution all at once. The new solution will (and should) be much different than what you currently have. Adoption is likely to be a challenge. Instead, pilot something you think will work. They all have settling in periods and you'll need to give your people some time to work with it and get comfortable with the functions. Finally, invest in training and change management. It will take time and effort to onboard people to the new processes.

Finally, you need to care about social. It isn't just for announcing new babies and sharing pictures of your food. Social can have real, meaningful impact to your businesses. At least have a conversation with someone who can explain how and when this technology can help drive revenue for your business.

For the record, I don't give much credence to point 1 in the Forbes article. NetSuite is taking customers from a number of different vendors, but competitively it's the same as it ever was. Businesses who strongly value the integration of CRM and ERP or prefer the "one throat to choke" mentality will continue to look at integrated single-vendor systems (just like Oracle or SAP in the past).

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