Is CRM hurting sales? The answer might surprise you

For the most accurate response, ask your front-line sellers

In today’s increasingly competitive global marketplace, CRM—Customer Relations Management—is essential for sales and corporate success. The intent of CRM architects was and is altruistic: CRM is designed to fulfill specific needs within the organization. But the elephant in the room is, whose needs?

Back in the 1990s when business was bad, and corporations were downsizing, or as they put it, rightsizing, no one was safe from executive scrutiny and the corporate axe. With dwindling sales, sales management was an easy target. To survive in what was coined crisis management, managers had to be able to demonstrate that they had a plan and/or were doing everything they could to drive sales.

So, what did sales management do? Suddenly, sales reps had to fill out detailed micro-managed reports that monitored their every movement: the number of calls they made every day, the names of companies and customers they spoke to, the topics discussed, and so on. It was endless. The data, and the time necessary to complete the detailed minutiae, was ridiculous and often fictitious.

Who was served by this burdensome activity? The sales manager, who, when the corporate axe-holder showed up at his door, could survive because he could show reams and reams of data he hoped might do three things for him: demonstrate they had a plan and were working it; help him stand apart from other managers without a similar plan; and send the axe-man down the hall to other managers who didn’t have  ‘insurance’ data. In hindsight, the irony is that burdening frontline sales reps with this reporting strategy actually drove sales down demonstrably. Why?

Think about the behavioural attributes of the best sellers you have ever known. Outside of their innate people skills and high energy, what was it they did that achieved sales success? Their modus operandi was to simplify everything. They were minimalists. But the question is, did they learn to be minimalists, or were they naturally wired to be minimalists?

In the late 70s, I was a national sales trainer and recruiter for a Fortune 500 company. All applicants had to take an aptitude test to determine whether they fit the traditional psychological sales-success mold. I was trained to mark and measure the results of these tests that were surprisingly accurate. The fact is, there are ideal psychological profiles for almost every profession. I need only look at an individual’s profile graph and could say, “That’s an accountant, that’s a politician, that’s a scientist and ‘that’ is the perfect personality profile for a successful sales person.” For the most part results were surprisingly accurate.

Within each profile there are detailed personality traits that exist on a spectrum that predict the adequate and sufficient fit of that individual within that discipline. For sales, high energy, above-average people skills, high need to control and dominate and high motivation to get things done are the essential components for the right stuff. But they possess another strong personality trait. One in which they are not so strong at.

In psychology we know every personality has its strengths and weaknesses. For accountants, doctors and lawyers, detail presents strongly within their unique personality traits. But rarely in the best sales people.

You may find it interesting that psychological studies posit there is a disproportionate number of top sellers and business leaders/entrepreneurs (who often got their start in sales) who suffer from ADHD and can’t concentrate on detail. In my case, I have ADHD and mild dyslexia. Is it a coincidence that creative over-achievers like Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, John F. Kennedy, Will Smith, and Jim Carrey, all suffer from ADHD? 

Despite their disorder, what are they all good at? They are minimalists. Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain something simply then you don’t really know it.” The fact is, they possess the ability to take what for others in their profession is seen to be exceedingly complex, and make it look simple – minimize the detail. The same system-of-influence exists within the art and science of professional successful selling. The question remains, however, do they do it because they want to or because they must?

Going back the question of whose needs your CRM programme is serving, you may find it’s not your frontline sellers but rather the detail-oriented architects that crave data or the sellers of larger more complex, detailed CRM solutions.

The bottom line

CRM is essential and is here to stay. It is integral to sales and corporate success. There is no argument that too much of anything is bad. The danger with CRM is that it’s often designed to meet the needs of those who are detail oriented at the expense of those who are not:  sellers – the lifeblood of any organization. So, how do you know if your CRM programme is right for you, and is not hurting sales? Look at your sales, and then… ask your sellers.