“User first” doesn’t mean “sales managers last”

By Chris Bucholtz

Earlier this week I wrote about the idea of the user coming first in my column in CMS Wire. That was a refinement of an earlier column here on the CRM Outsiders. My argument was this: without working to build a CRM experience around the end users – the front-line people who deliver data into the CRM system – adoption suffers, and the data you collect is merely a sample of what’s actually going on. All the great tools in CRM designed for sales managers and others who depend on reports aren’t worth much if the data they’re being applied to are incomplete.

This seems like a blindingly obvious point to me, and I like to believe that CRM users themselves have become sophisticated enough to see how adoption and usage is the key to complete visibility. However, Doug Guilbeau, managing director of operations, sales and business development at Levementum, took exception with this idea in his blog.  To paraphrase Eric Idle in the Rutles, Doug grabbed the wrong end of the stick and started beating around the bush with it.

Of course, Doug comes from a different place than I do – I’m just a goofy blogger, and his company needs to sell CRM, and the people buying are almost always managers (which is exactly what I said in my blog). But unless the CRM application is constructed in such a way that sales people actually use it, both they and their managers are going to face difficulties.

What you’re likely to get is the draconian “use the CRM system or you get no commission!” stick employed by sales managers. This approach can work; it can also alienate staff from the CRM system and create an adversarial relationship between sales people and technology that really should make them more effective – if they fully embrace it. And they’re not likely to fully embrace it if it’s positioned more as a punishment than as a productivity tool that will help them earn greater commissions.

I don’t think Doug and I are really that far apart, although you’d never guess it based on his blog. He says, when it comes to manager-focused features, “the pendulum may have swung too far in that direction, but it’s incorrect to think that swinging it all the way back the other way from buyer to user is going to drive success.” Which is true. It’s also not what I said. I said that, without emphasis on the user, usability and the “what’s in it for me” for the user, all those great tools for managers will be starved of data.

Doug argues that, to sales managers, the trend information generated within CRM is “valuable data, and they come from a robust system which is capable of putting that data into (sales managers’) hands. CRMs aren’t purchased to make life easier for the sales team; they’re purchased to provide a return on investment.” True – but you won’t get that ROI if the system isn’t used. Making life easier for the sales team is a great way to get them on board as part of a CRM effort.

This isn’t even a chicken-and-egg conundrum: in order to do analysis, you need data. Sales managers aren’t going to input the data – that’s the sales staff’s job. And if you create a scenario where the sales staff doesn’t like using the CRM system, you’re setting yourself up for a situation as a sales manager where you spend most of your time enforcing CRM usage policies. You have better things to do than that.

Doug says, “The implication is that it’s wrong to measure both sides, but users and buyers are part and parcel of the same equation. We have to build CRMs for managers and end users alike; that’s how we build value.” I think he’s suggesting that I wrote that it’s wrong to build CRM applications with both end users and managers in mind – which is exactly not what I asserted. I said that we’ve spent an awful lot of time making the experience of using CRM increasingly powerful for managers while the experience for front-line users has languished – and when you do that, it’s self-defeating, because those front-line users are the people who collect and record the data the managers use and analyze.

It’s a lot like taking a poll: if you want a wide response and a complete data set, you can’t drop a set of questions on people that is hard to understand, arduous to answer and has no apparent value to them. In the past, sales people have been confronted by CRM applications that have, at times, been hard to understand, arduous to work with and which have little apparent value to them. Adoption has suffered, and the result of poor adoption has been a partial data set for managers, which can lead to inaccurate conclusions about what’s actually going on within the business.

Let me be clear: both sides – management and sales people – are important. But one side has been neglected for too long, and if you want to reach the vast untapped market of potential CRM users you need to understand that success starts with actual use of the application, starting with the users. 

One thought on ““User first” doesn’t mean “sales managers last”

  1. This is a case of you and I violently agreeing. You are right that without users using CRM there is no data to collect. However, my core concern is that if CRM software vendors shift the product development strategies to focus entirely on end-user usability, the natural extension is to build CRM that is all about updates, documents, and text. And that would represent the mistake of swinging the pendulum to far the other direction. The business need numbers, dates, and amounts to define trends. CRM software providers must respect and invest in BOTH, But how long has it been since SFDC or Sugar truly invested in their reporting infrastructures directly or by an OEM approach? My bottom line is that the “Means” AND the “Ends” of CRM are of equal importance.

    If the influencers of the CRM market (and you know who you all are!) focus so much hype on usability as the end-all, be-all of success then customers will begin to believe that it’s all that matters. But those of us who actually have to help them achieve their goals know better.

    As an implementer of CRM, Levementum is confronted more and more these days with customers who mistakenly buy into the hype that by installing a CRM they will magically get more sales or a “sales plan”. It just doesn’t work that way. CRM is a tool that can give you truth’s about your sales process. But if the tool doesn’t also help you analyze that process so you can act to improve upon what you learn, your company won’t get any better.

    I invite you to ride along someday. You might be surprised by what you learn in the trenches.

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