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Published Books
  • The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer Driven World
    The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer Driven World
    by Keith M. Eades, Timothy T. Sullivan
  • The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell
    The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell
    by Keith M. Eades, Keith Eades
  • The Solution Selling Fieldbook: Practical Tools, Application Exercises, Templates and Scripts for Effective Sales Execution
    The Solution Selling Fieldbook: Practical Tools, Application Exercises, Templates and Scripts for Effective Sales Execution
    by Keith M. Eades, James N. Touchstone, Timothy T. Sullivan
  • The Solution-Centric Organization
    The Solution-Centric Organization
    by Keith M. Eades, Robert Kear
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Aligning CRM with Sales Improvement

Is Your CRM System Helping or Hindering Your Sales Improvement Initiative?

By Ken Cross, Director, Sales Enablement Practice, SPI

Launching any new sales improvement initiative is no small undertaking. Tinkering with the revenue engine of your company always entails some degree of risk. Introducing anything new to your sales team requires forethought and planning to ensure that all goes smoothly.

We have observed that many of our clients misunderstand and underestimate how changes in sales processes, methods, rewards, training or enablement tools can affect the successful use of customer relationship management (CRM) applications. They sometimes forget to plan for adjusting CRM to align with these changes. When there is misalignment, sales people often stop using CRM because it becomes an obstacle, rather than a help, to their success. Additionally, they are unlikely to fully adopt the changes in behavior that you are seeking, because CRM supports old habits.

According to a study by the Gartner Group, companies are spending nearly $20 billion on CRM annually, yet the adoption rate, as measured by regular use of the system, is less than 50 percent. Other studies have been even more pessimistic, showing CRM adoption rates as low as 26 percent. By Gartner’s calculations, this means that about $9 billion is essentially being wasted on CRM solutions to underutilization and related costs. You can’t afford to let this happen in your organization.

So what does it mean to align CRM with sales improvement initiatives and how do you do it to drive higher adoption rates? We’ve put together a CRM Alignment Checklist to help you.

Then, consider these four lessons that we’ve learned from working with our clients:

1. Align sales process language and behaviors with CRM workflow

Plain and simple, your CRM system must support reality. You must use the language in your sales processes to describe your stages, activities and verifiable outcomes consistently in your CRM system workflow.

You need to involve your CRM team as early as possible in any sales process enhancement initiative, so they can develop a clear understanding of expectations and timing for implementation. Making these changes often seems straightforward, but there are often unexpected domino effects that impact reporting and integration with other systems. Your CRM team needs sufficient time to re-align, reconfigure and test your systems.

2. Illustrate your sales process visibly in CRM

Most companies represent their sales processes as a series of steps that indicate the high-level stages, flowing linearly from identification to close, and then sequentially list the activities that support each stage. Unfortunately, too many companies show their sales processes only as textual menus, tabs and links in their CRM system, which can be overwhelming and confusing to users. About 65 percent of us are visual learners, so we recommend representing your sales processes visually in your CRM system, to make them easier to learn, understand and use.

If you represent your sales process as a visual flow diagram, your sellers will have an easier time navigating the process as they work in opportunities, and thus execute good sales behavior more consistently. If your CRM system can’t support visual representations of your sales processes, there are relatively inexpensive plug-in applications that can help. This small investment will pay off almost immediately by encouraging higher adoption.

An example of a visual sales process in CRM


3. Embed sales process coaching and tools into your CRM workflow

Sales professionals will gladly leverage new techniques and tools, if they help them to sell more with less risk and effort. Your CRM system should become the central hub for sales rep activity and provide access to tools and resources that improve their day-to-day productivity. Make this easy by embedding links to supporting resources and tools in CRM, eliminating the need for a salesperson to search for these elsewhere, when they really need them.

This is especially powerful when you bring your sales process to life visually in your CRM system. For example, if your sales process requires the use of tools such as a call planner or opportunity evaluation checklist, then provide those tools at the point of the process when they are needed. If there are coaching tips or examples that make a particular activity in the sales process easier to execute, then link to those from the recommended activity in CRM that the coaching impacts. These links can be connected to help in many forms besides text, such as PDF documents, podcasts, recorded webinars, and YouTube-style videos.

4. Build more flexibility and responsiveness into your CRM system

As we describe in our latest book, The Collaborative Sale, buyer behavior has been changing rapidly, and you should continuously improve your sales processes to reflect these changes. Maintaining alignment of your sales processes with buyer behaviors is key to CRM usage. Fortunately, there have been many innovations in sales technology that help to support rapid system changes and easy embedding of new coaching and tools.

Download our CRM Alignment Checklist, and let us know if you would like to learn more about how we can help you ensure that your CRM system aligns with your sales performance improvement objectives.


Current Sales Talent vs. Future Growth

Can your existing sales talent execute your future growth strategy?

By Dave Christofaro, Talent Analytics Practice Leader, SPI

To say that markets are changing rapidly in response to many forces is an understatement. For example, we described in our recent book, The Collaborative Sale, how buyer behavior is changing dramatically as a result of easy access to information, increased globalization, the rise of Millennials in business, the shortening time of competitive advantage, and other factors.

New disruptive competitors, backed by deep-pocketed venture capitalists, can pop up overnight. Take the example of HR software start-up Zenefits, which recently announced that it had just raised a whopping $500 million in VC funding – giving them a total valuation of $4.5 billion. Zenefits is bent on disrupting this sleepy and regulated industry, just as Uber disrupted the taxicab trade.

As a sales leader, you know that you need to constantly evolve in the face of these kinds of dramatic changes, or you will be left in the dust. As you adapt your sales strategy to align with your changing corporate strategy, have you also adapted your sales talent strategy to follow suit? In other words, is the team that got you to your current state also able to fulfill your new growth strategy?

Defining Sales Talent

We have observed that most sales organizations struggle to define what “good” and “great” salespeople should look like. They typically default to the characteristics of people who have succeeded in the past. This is not altogether a bad idea. However, as your business requirements change, your sales roles, and the definition of excellence in these roles, will also likely change – and in the face of dramatic business changes, your previous definitions, based on what worked before, may quickly become dead wrong.

For example, we have a client in the software industry that grew primarily through acquisition. Acquired entities operated autonomously and were usually left alone, as long as they made their respective growth and profitability numbers. Although the profile of top performers varied somewhat across divisions, many of their sellers were strong product specialists who excelled by really knowing their product and positioning features and benefits to technical buyers.

As valuations for software companies skyrocketed, fueled in part by bubble-like conditions in the VC market, good acquisitions became much more costly. Our client’s leadership team hired a well-known strategy consulting firm to evaluate their direction, and then decided to transition from growth through acquisition to organic growth. Slowly but surely, they started to integrate divisions under a common go-to-market strategy that focused on selling a comprehensive enterprise solution to C-level buyers.

Some previous top-performers continued to deliver good sales results, while others struggled badly with the transition. We used our sales talent assessment expertise to help them understand why. We started by developing a competency model for their future-state C-level solution seller and supporting roles. While each model will be unique for every organization, we leveraged our competency library and pre-existing profiles as a starting point, and then refined it iteratively to develop a valid competency map.

We then identified the target proficiency levels for each competency in each role. We used a proficiency level scale from 1 to 4, with 4 being the top. Not everybody needs to be level 4. One may only need to be level 3 in a competency in order to perform a role sufficiently. Then we assessed each incumbent to determine their proficiencies and identified gaps to close.

Once we gathered the data, our industrial and organizational psychologists crunched through the statistics to build performance models. This enabled them to determine which competencies make the most impact on sales results and isolate the behaviors of top performers – the critical sales competencies. Out of more than fifty sales competencies, we identified the four most critical ones, enabling our client to focus on what mattered the most.

By identifying the critical sales competencies and proficiency levels for the roles necessary to support the new strategy, our client was able to take the guesswork out of their hiring decisions. It also enabled them to provide individually tailored coaching and development to current salespeople, based on their true needs. They now have a much more systematic way of ensuring that their sales talent is able to deliver on their new business strategy.

Ensuring Strategy and Sales Talent Alignment

When you make significant changes to your sales strategy, it is important to define your new sales roles clearly and to develop accurate competency models for these roles. The bigger the strategic shift, the more likely the model of a top performer will be different from what it was before. Assessing your team against a competency model that is aligned with your new strategy will help you determine where people need help to make the transition successfully, and give you a benchmark for hiring new talent into these roles.

Has your sales strategy changed recently? Use the link above to get a free white paper about ensuring you have the sales talent to fulfill your new sales objectives and goals, or to register for a free webinar on how sales talent analytics enables you to align your sales team with your company strategy.


WEBINAR - Talent Analytics: The Sales Leader's New Competitive Edge

Sales leaders are confronted by a continuing challenge — low sales productivity. In the past year, quota attainment has dropped from 63% to 58%, and it takes too long for new reps to become a productive - 69% of reps take 7+ months to ramp-up (CSO Insights).

According to TDWI Research, only 17% of sales leaders are leveraging a new competitive edge for impacting sales outcomes — talent analytics. Talent analytics are the new way of making talent decisions and professional development decisions; they provide the path from guesswork or subjective-based decisions to decisions based on factual data. Talent analytics create a new edge for sales leaders by:

  • Statistically proving what differentiates top-performers
  • Pinpointing where to target professional development for the greatest ROI
  • Identifying who to hire to reduce ramp-up time

For the sales leader leveraging talent analytics, sales productivity is up 20% - 30%. In this timely webinar hosted through the Sales Management Association, we will explore an advanced, but practical approach for significantly increasing sales productivity. You will learn how to leverage talent analytics to improve the performance of both your existing team, as well as new hires. Join talent analytics experts Dave Christofaro (Director, Sales Talent Optimization) and Trevor Byrd, Ph.D. (Senior Data Scientist) to attain a new edge for your sales organization.

Register today!


Bridging the Sales Training to Execution Gap

by Ken Cross, Director, Sales Enablement

I can remember sitting in a math class, long ago, thinking, and “how is this going to help me? – am I really going to use this”? – Quick side bar: I use math more than I have ever expected (maybe this is top of mind since we just completed a round of business planning, but anyway…)

In most classroom environments, there is little intention to show students how they would apply their learning in real world situations – nor do the training materials (text books) show how it is applied to day to day life. Not surprisingly, your sellers often feel the same way, after exiting training. If sellers find it difficult to apply learning to real-world scenarios, the value of the learning retention is diminished. We call this the gap between learning (training) and execution (real-life application).

Instead, sellers need the following to bridge this gap between learning and execution:

  1. Automated, Seller Journeys
  2. Contextual Learning

Automated, Seller Journeys

An automated seller journey is essentially a toolkit. Including everything needed to win an opportunity, develop and execute an account plan, find opportunities within your territory, or to manage your channel partners. This can include, but is not limited to: the process (sales, account, etc. processes), activities, verifiable outcome’s, job aids, contextual learning, and various other company specific assets and information. When automated correctly, the automated seller journey becomes the hub, which launches users to what they need, in the context what they are doing, ‘right now’ and in real-time.

You may recall from our prior blog, “Aligning Sales Talent to Drive Your Business Goals,” that there is huge value in aligning sales talent by leveraging sales talent analytics. Guided sales journeys can provide the vehicle to support the usage of these Critical Sales Competencies™ every day. For example, let’s assume that analytics prove that having Effective Sales Conversations is a Key Driver of Quota Attainment. The everyday ability of a seller to 1. Learn how to have effective sales conversation, and 2. Apply that learning with real clients become mission critical.

Overall, the power of this approach is driven exponentially higher, when users are served up the appropriate automated seller journey, based on the situation they are engaged in and aligned with those competencies that are statistically proven to drive results within your specific organization – one size doesn’t fit all.

Contextual Learning

Showing a seller what to do next, via a guided sales journey, is only half of what they typically need. The other half is to provide the learning, in small digestible servings, to show them how to complete something based on what they are doing at that moment in time. In short, a long list of reinforcement assets can have value, but unless they are presented within the journey and within the context of what the seller is doing, then they are likely to remain unused.

This approach has such great value, that we are currently engaged with multiple clients to build short, learning moments that sellers can use on the go; for example, prior to walking into a meeting with a prospect, they might need to watch a short, 3 minute video, on their smartphone, which shows to best utilize the 9-Block Vision Creation Model.

At its core, this approach works to bridge the gap between learning and application. Simply put, closing the learning gap is defined as providing your sellers / managers with the automated process, tools, and access to learning, to experience the learning every day – with this approach, they learn through application, usage, and contextual learning and content.

This approach attempts to bring together concepts that in the mind of the sellers, can appear to be disconnected. The application of the learning concepts moves students smoothly from a classroom setting to problem solving with actual opportunities and situations.

By providing information in the context of the process, sellers are also able to find what they need, when it is needed. Most sales operations managers can relate to the constant battle of ensuring that their sellers have access to the latest version of contracts proposals and other various templates. By linking this information within the context of the process, sellers not only know what to use, but they also begin to understand when to use these internal tools. This step moves the needle on both efficiency and effectiveness. We engage with many clients, whereby their sellers send proposals to their clients before fully understanding their critical business issues. One small step is to place the link to access the proposal templates further into the process map. Within this approach, the sales process (and hence the CRM) becomes the hub, where users can gain access to critical information, exactly when needed.

Optimal sale enablement therefore blurs the lines between learning and execution. Learning becomes ongoing, in real-time, and in the context of each client engagement.


Is Sales Training Really Impacting (Business Outcomes) Behavior Change?

The Missing Link to Attaining Business Objectives

There is a simple concept in corporate learning that tends to get overlooked… and it might be the biggest reason sales training fails to have an impact on business outcomes!

If we think about why businesses train their individuals in a sales organization, it’s simple – they want to equip them with knowledge and skills that help them do their job in such a way as to lead to desired, business results.

But here’s where things appear to break down…

Sales Leaders want the business results - so they will monitor and measure the pipeline of deals to ensure sales activities are contributing to the intended results. Good learning initiatives provide sales professionals with the required knowledge. Knowledge acquisition is tested and reinforced. That knowledge is also put to application during the learning process through case work, exercises, role plays, etc. And more importantly, application happens back in the real world where key learning and supporting tools help the seller perform in their every day job.

However, these “training initiatives” often fail to ensure that critical behavior change around the required knowledge and skills has occurred.

ES Research indicated that while most organizations measure knowledge and business results, however they found that less than 10% of organizations measured behavior change.

While the concept of “behavior change” can sound rather “learning academicish” (my made up word) those in sales leadership roles should care… because it clearly is the lynchpin on the path from learning to business results.

Why does this “behavior change” gap occur and what can organizations do about it?

One of the reasons this gap occurs, is that it isn’t generally appreciated as being a key step in the learning-results spectrum. Ironically enough, to further answer “why it happens?” you need to look at “what” organizations can do about it.

If we exclude the topics of compensation and other motivating factors, let’s answer the “what” in a logical manner…

Once learning objectives have been defined (and this may often happen as part of activities found within the “knowledge” and “application” circles) related observable behaviors need to be defined. Then learning plans (curriculum, activities, timeline, frequency, etc.) need to be created that will drive observable behavior change. These activities are usually the role of L&D… HOWEVER… the next set of activities are the role of sales managers and leadership (often activities that L&D cannot mandate). First line sales managers have new knowledge to acquire and apply as well. They need to be equipped if they are to inspect and observe whether or not their sellers are applying new learning and that it is resulting in desired behavior change.

If the change occurs, it should be reflected in how deals progress in the sales pipeline and ultimately business results… which are usually the role of Sales Leaders. 

The first challenge is to recognize that behavior change is important and secondly that both L&D and Sales play a joint role in ensuring behavior change can and will occur.

I would encourage anyone in a learning and development or sales leadership role to assess whether this situation is occurring in their organization and whether or not they are positioned to implement these behavior change initiatives in order to provide the missing link in the learning-results spectrum.


James Touchstone, Director of Learning & Development