In Praise of the CRM

The CRM doesn’t get near the respect it deserves. Far too many salespeople believe that the only purpose it serves is to act as Big Brother, watching their even move, monitoring what they are doing—and more often, what they are not doing (as a quick aside, if you have low activity and poor results, no one needs a CRM to know this is true). An equal number of sales managers believe that the CRM’s primary purpose is to provide an accurate forecast (there is a certain truth here, but another truth is that sales managers describe their approach as data-driven and spend more time behind a dashboard—far away from the Ground Truth).

Before the CRM, contacts were kept in a Rolodex, a horrible place to keep your contacts, but better than almost any alternative. If you were sophisticated, you kept business cards in a leather binder, in alphabetical order, of course. Deals were kept on index cards, in binders, or in a spreadsheet. You had information in different places, with different data about individuals in different places. You had business cards in one place, your personal phone book in another, deals in yet another, and notes all over the place (on index cards, napkins, the clean side of a paper with printing on the other, or on a business card). If you had any insight or a new article about the company or a person, it went in to a manila folder, separate from everything else.

The CRM is not Big Brother, and though there are sales managers who want to use it to ensure their salespeople are doing the work of selling. Its primary role is not to allow for an accurate forecast, even though that may be a benefit that accrues to those who use their CRM well. The primary role of a CRM is to manage your relationships with your clients and your prospects, creating a record of everything note-worthy, including the opportunities you pursue with them.

If you were to leave your company today and take only one thing with you, it would be a copy of all your contacts. You would want their phone numbers, their email addresses, and the record of your communication. If you had to start over, you’d want to start over with the relationships you have built. You want the knowledge and insight you gathered over the course of years.

As a thought experiment, let’s pretend that someone accidentally deleted all of the opportunities in your CRM. Everything was lost, including the opportunities themselves, and every note on every client meeting, as well as every document and communication ever shared between you and the people you were working with or whose business you were pursuing. You are now left with only what you remember about each opportunity.

If you want to learn to love your CRM, you need to be as selfish as possible when using it. You need to treat it as the record of your relationships and a place for you to store all the knowledge you have gained someplace better than your memory, which is limited and increasingly unreliable over time. By making your CRM your outboard brain, you relieve your mind of having to remember everything you need to know to compete and win and serve your clients, freeing your mind up for more important and more creative work.

The CRM is a powerful tool in the hands of those who use it well—and selfishly.

Filed under: Sales Knowledge

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