Why ‘sales gurus’ and CRM systems can’t increase your sales effectiveness

The other day I read another ‘sales guru’ offering his sales elixir and have written this post to debunk  these elixirs.

In the land of B2B selling there is real pain.  Whenever people are in pain they turn to the ‘gurus’ to give them answers.  And there are plenty of ‘gurus’ selling their particular elixir.  In the process companies have spent many millions on training, methodologies, negotiation skills and CRM systems.  Yet, the task of B2B selling has not become easier and the sales folks have not been raised to new heights of sales effectiveness.  Let’s take a deeper look at the issues and associated elixirs.

CRM systems make life harder for the folks at the sharp end

The theory and the rhetoric is that CRM systems make the people actually doing the selling more effective and efficient. The reality is almost the opposite: the sales folks spend time entering data into a system and get little value out of it.  The CRM system does not magically offer better customer insight (needs/wants), nor automatically select the right product/solution.  And it certainly has no influence on how well the sales folks interact with prospects: answering their questions, addressing their concerns, negotiating and closing the sale.  Most CRM systems end up diverting productive time into admin activities.  Allow me to elaborate a little.

The problem with most CRM systems is that it is quicker for me to get the details of my prospect from Outlook than the CRM system. And it is quicker for me to scribble down the details of any conversation on paper than it is easy to punch this into a CRM system.  What happens in practice?  I talk with a prospect and I scribble it down on paper – taking down notes in the course of the conversation.  Later I have to spend time entering these details into the CRM system.  What value does that add to me?

In theory CRM systems help in team based selling.  In practice, as a team member you cannot be sure that I have updated the system with the latest details and conversations.  It is highly likely I have not.    I will probably do it an hour or so before the weekly sales meeting to please the boss: the sales manager.  And if I have entered the details it is quite possible I have entered it against the wrong account; you’d be surprised how often the same account has been set-up but with different names!

Sales managers, not sales folks on the sharp end, have bought CRM systems.  Why?  Because they have promised and given the sales manager greater visibility and control over their sales folks.  This has come at a cost to the sales folks: time spent entering data and making things up to ‘please the boss’ or at least not get into trouble.  The CRM system has often became a master to be served and not a tool to help me sell.

Training – how much of it is useful?

No sales person should need ‘personal skills’ training.  If they do then you have recruited the wrong person and they will struggle because you are asking them to push a boulder uphill.

Every sales person has to understand the ‘product’ he is selling and I can totally get the value of practical, hands-on, immersive training that provides this understanding.

People that are new to selling can benefit greatly from sales skills training.  The issue that I have with most of the so-called ‘skills training’ is that it is ineffective.  Bombarding people with motivational stuff does not make them better sales people.  Bombarding them with lists of techniques does not make them better sales people – not by much.  The most effective way to build good sales people is to apprentice the new to the ‘masters’.  That way the ales stuff that really counts is absorbed – it becomes muscle memory.  Think about children they do not sit in a classroom learning the rules of grammar, the simply imbibe ‘best practice’ by experiencing it and practising it.

In theory negotiation skills training sounds great.  The reality is that the organisations that are busy sending their sales folks on this training have no negotiating power.  They are offering ‘me-too’ products/services and the guy on the other hand knows that.  Your negotiation strength rests on your ability and track record in walking away.  And that is the very thing that most sales folks will not do because any deal is better than no deal.  Why?  Because that is what the sales manager expects.

Processes and methodologies promise much and deliver little

Process fixation is great for a manufacturing where you are acting on matter which is always the same and which has no intelligence.  So repeating the same steps again and again – provided they are the right steps – gets you ‘zero defects’.  This is not the case when you are dealing with human beings who have ‘personalities’ and ‘intelligence’.  Each person is unique and the same can be said for ‘sales encounters’.  What counts is your ability to be flexible and adapt to this variety: one prospect might want you to get to the point whilst another may want to have more of a discussion and get to know you better before he buys from you.

Simple methodologies like SPIN selling tend be useful for people that are new to selling.  I found it useful back in my Andersen days when I moved from doing the consulting work to selling and leading the doing of consulting work.   My issue is with the more complex methodologies where you have to gather lots of intelligence, enter it into the CRM system and figure out what strategies you are going to use: are you going for full frontal assault or are you going to adopt a flanking strategy? What is forgotten is that in a competitive situation (RFP, pitch) your competitors are doing exactly the same.  So how do you figure out which strategies your competitors are going to use?

Let’s assume that you have no competition, it is just you and your prospect.  And let’s take a simple methodology SPIN selling.  SPIN tells you that you have to figure out the prospects Situation and his Problem/s.  Once you have that insight then you draw out the (negative, undesirable) implications of the prospect failing to take action.  And when you have your prospect there you can propose your solution.  Negotiation. Sale made!  Great theory but sucks in practice.  Why?

How do you get that insight?  The fact is that prospects are no longer open to talking with us sales folks.  Why should they?  They can find all the information they need and it is usually a few clicks on the mouse.  The sales gurus tell you that it is up to you to get this insight and then come up with a compelling proposal so that the prospect will see you.  But how do you do get the quality of insight you need to put such a compelling proposal together?  On that the sales gurus are silent or offer platitudes.   I put a proposal together and there is world of difference between version 1 and 2.  Why?  Because the person on the other side of the table opened up and told me all about his situation, pointed out the weaknesses of version 1 and described exactly what he is looking for in version 2.

My View

The key to sales effectiveness is insight.  Insight into the people you wish to do business with.  This insight has to be at two levels:  the person/s that you wish to sell to and their business situation.  What are they like people?  What do they want to achieve personally?  What is their business situation?  What are they seeking to achieve?  What are the problems/issues they are facing?

Process will not give this insight.  Methodologies will not give this insight.  CRM systems will not give this insight.  Sales training will not give this insight.

Only the person who you want to do business with or his inner circle can give you that insight.  So the key sales challenge is how do you get into that inner circle.   Many years ago Andersen arranged for one of the partners to live next to a CEO and frequent the same golf club.  It paid off.  In politics and in warfare extensive use is made of spies.  If you think of that creatively then it may offer some avenues like seminars, conferences, so called ‘independent’ research organisations…..

Sorry I cannot offer you a magic elixir. I am no sales guru just a student of life.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.