Achieve Near-Real-Time CRM on a Shoestring Budget

My outside sales force has reported every detail of every sales call they’ve made since 2001. Before we launched the Cohon System, as each salesperson completed a sales call he jumped into his car and focused immediately on rushing to his next call. By the time he eventually documented each call, days had passed and many of the details were forgotten. Facing a mountain of long-overdue reports, he grudgingly dredged up just enough detail to complete each report and get that chore behind him.I tried making same-day call reports mandatory, but smart, creative salespeople always found smart, creative ways to push back and make enforcing that rule nearly impossible. I learned that once CRM compliance became a contest of wills, I won an occasional battle, but never won the war.

Knowing that a never-ending contest of wills would be unproductive, I launched a CRM system salespeople chose to use because it focused on what they wanted: “Let me devote my time during business hours to sales calls and my time after business hours to my personal life.” Focusing on what my salespeople want may appear as if I am pandering to my sales force, but I am just being pragmatic. I know how salespeople behave when I try to bully them into CRM compliance, and that behavior is unacceptable. To eliminate the unacceptable behaviors, I removed the conditions that triggered those behaviors.

The Cohon System gives salespeople what they want because call reports, expense reports, and mileage logs don’t interrupt their sales calls or their personal lives. To see how it works, let’s follow one of my salespeople through a typical day.

  • When Eric leaves home he pushes a speed dial button on his cell phone, connecting him to a voice mailbox dedicated to capturing his call report data. He reads the number from his car’s odometer into voicemail so we can calculate his mileage. The voice mailbox adds a time and date stamp automatically.
  • Each time Eric arrives at a sales call, he uses that voice mailbox to record the name of the company he is visiting and his odometer reading. Again, the voice mailbox adds a time and date stamp.
  • As Eric leaves each sales call, he uses the voice mailbox to record the details of that call: who he saw, the topics discussed, action items like sample or literature requests, and any expenses associated with that call. Eric hands off his receipts to our office staff the next time he is in our office.
  • When Eric returns home he phones in his final odometer reading of the day.To transfer the data from voice mail to our CRM system, we start by transcribing those messages into a Word document. Then we fulfill any quote or literature requests Eric noted in his report and confirm the completion of each action item on Eric’s copy of this document. To complete the process we copy the text from the Word document and paste it into the record of the appropriate contact in our CRM software.

Of course, when we launched the Cohon System our salespeople resisted it, some because they feared I would use this data to punish them for minor transgressions or micromanage them, and others because it would reveal they had been coasting.Dealing with members of the first group required my promise that the data supplied never would be used as punishment. Even if the sales team initially were skeptical of that promise, as time proved their fears to be unfounded they embraced the system that eliminated clerical work that previously had intruded into their evenings and weekends. Dealing with members of the second group required that I either reinvigorate them or release them.

Since 2001 the Cohon System has proven itself by enabling us to capture rich sales call history that no battle-of-wills system ever could match. We have achieved 100 percent outside sales force CRM compliance and have begun to approach real-time CRM as we build the capability to go from sales call to richly detailed CRM entry in just a day.

The data you need to manage your sales force is there for the taking if you put systems in place to capture it while it is still fresh. You already have lost most of the data from last week, last month, and last year, but if you embrace this system the data from next week, next month, and next year still can be captured. The choice is yours: Be pragmatic and start capturing richly detailed data now, or keep fighting a battle of wills that lets another year of data fade away unremembered and unrecorded.

About the Author
Charles Cohon is president of Prime Devices Corporation.

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