CRMs, Beware of Conversions, Part 3

In part 1, I gave a brief background about CRMs (Customer Relationship Management) In part 2, I discussed three commons mistakes when using CRMs. In his post, I will discuss conversions.

Conversions are when your employer converts your data to a new CRM. This is done for several reasons. Maybe your employer feels it’s time to upgrade to a better system. But usually the most common reason is that you are going through a merger or buy-out, and one company has decided to switch to one database to cut down on costs, confusion and ensure better workflow.

Conversions are scary. No matter how well planned a conversion is, there is always the risk you will lose information. I have gone through four conversions in my career. It’s never fun. In fact, it can be very nerve-racking. I had one situation where a conversion was done and the programmers forgot to transfer the sales notes. Fortunately for me, I still had access to the old database for one year. However, it was time-consuming to have to constantly toggle back and forth between one database to another while making sales calls.

How well or badly a conversion is done is a good sign on whether you and your colleagues will survive a merger or buy-out. As a general rule, if the dominating company rushes through a conversion, and forces you to use a lousy CRM, and doesn’t care about your concerns, that is a good sign you will be laid off. For example, one division at one of my former employers based in Maine was forced to use three CRMs at the same time! Each sales person was required to toggle back and forth between each CRM when viewing customer information, entering information and submitting orders. It was no surprise that a few months later, the entire sales and customer service was laid off.

I went through a similar situation after one buy-out. The dominating company dumped our great homegrown CRM and replaced it with an inventory style CRM that had no sales tools or features. It was extremely difficult and time-consuming for us to use. Under the new leadership, we were not allowed to use the dominating company’s better CRM. Since we already knew they were going to get lay off the entire sales team anyway, we were not completely surprised that we were forced to the lousy CRM until they got rid of us.

As a rule, the longer it takes the programmers to do a conversion, the better for you. This means the programmers are taking their time and doing it right. I’ve gone through rush conversions where critical information was not transferred over. In one instant, all my old expired clients were not transferred over. I frequently call on old clients to see if they want to order from me again. In that case, I had access to the old database and I was able to manually enter the better old expires in my new database.  But that is a very time-consuming process.

CRM conversionsWhen a conversion occurs, you must speak up and make sure the programmers understand your concerns. Programmers are not sales people. It’s your job to make them aware of any critical information that must be protected and transferred over probably. When my company was bought by a major corporation, I was pretty much out of the loop in terms of making suggestions. I was low man on the totem pole. However, I knew some of the programmers who were doing the work. Because I was on friendly terms with them, I sent them e-mails with suggestions on what to transfer over. I was completely surprised when I found out they were not planning to transfer sales notes to the new system. When I pointed out the importance of this, and where this information was located, they quickly agreed to move the data over.

You may think I’m being overly cautious about warning you of the potential dangers of conversions. Maybe this story will change your mind – Long before I started working for a major publishing company, that company did a conversion in the early 1990s. The conversion was so bad, that the company could not create or print renewal notices for more than a year. Field reps were forced to visit clients door-to-door asking for renewal payments. Not only did this incident hurt the company financially, but it was a major embarrassment for everyone.

Conversions can make or break you. Speak up.

Normally, you will be given plenty of advance notice before a conversion occurs. That’s good. Because you need to plan ahead and protect your customers and prospects.

Here is what you need to do to prepare for a conversion –

1). Have all your customers backed up on your computer, and if possible, in print. Put your printed copy in a secure place. Use a lock and key if you need to.

2). Make sure there will be no disruption in your call-back calendar. If your call-back calendar is not going to be transferred over, make plans to save it so you don’t miss important calls.

3).  Make sure you take some downtime to learn the new CRM. Yes, I know. It’s a pain to learn a new system. But the sooner you know it, the faster and better you will be doing your sales job.

4). Will you have access to the old database after the conversion? In most cases, companies do keep archive files of the old databases. No matter how successful a database conversion is, I always found myself going back to the original database to access material. It doesn’t hurt to ask if you can access the old records if needed.

Conversions are a necessary evil in sales. If you are unsure about something, or have some concerns, you must speak up.

It’s your information too. If your employer loses it or screws up, it will dramatically hurt your sales and could set you back for months.

CRMs, 3 common mistakes, Part 2

In part 1, I gave a brief background about CRMs (Customer Relationship Management). In this post, I will discuss the three common mistakes that you need to avoid when using a CRM.  These include taking no or little notes, falling behind on your call backs and not maintaining good contact information.

1). Failing to take good notes: If you are dealing with a lot of customers and prospects, it’s difficult to remember each person, every conversation, and every order that you have entered. While you may think that taking good notes is a waste of time, believe me, in the long run it will save you a lot of time. Also, if you are absent one day, and one of your co-workers receives a call from your customer, you want him to have accurate information to draw from to help your client. Nothing sounds more unprofessional than a sales person fumbling around trying to figure out what your customer needs.

Many sales departments have developed a “hit by the bus” philosophy when it comes to note taking. What if you get hit by the bus tomorrow, will someone be able to understand the needs of your customer when he inherits your accounts.

Sometimes sales people just don’t get the message. I heard of a sales rep who worked at one of my old employers who actually was fired for not entering notes into the database. He was warned repeatedly, but refused to listen.

taking notes while on a sales callI generally take good notes. I’m not just entering basic information, like which order did the client place, or what products he may be interested in purchasing later. I try to take more personalized notes about the client’s family, favorite hobbies, recent or upcoming vacations, etc. I will also take note of the customer’s tone during my conversations with him. Is he angry, anxious or happy? You are not a telemarketer. You are salesperson. Your goal is to develop a long-term relationship with your customers. The best way to do that is to have personalized conversations based on good note taking.

2). Falling behind on your call backs: The second biggest mistake sales people make is falling behind on their sales call backs. I know of situations where sales people would have weeks – if not months – of call backs entered in their calendar, because they don’t follow through on making their call backs or have unrealistic expectations of their time. Don’t do this. Keep up. Depending on the CRM you are using, you may want to rank your call-backs from the highest to the lowest priority. Your highest priority call-backs are clients who are about ready to place an order, or finalize a contract, or trialing your service, as well as qualified inbound leads. Your lowest priority calls should be courtesy calls to see how your clients are doing, or prospects that are on the fence about your product.

3). Not entering good contact information: And finally, the third biggest mistake people make is not providing or updating good contact information. It may sound like common sense, but many don’t include the full names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, titles and other critical information that makes your job a lot easier.

A CRM is a tool. It is only has good as you use it. Use CRMs wisely, could save you money and time down the road.

In part 3 of this post, I will discuss the problems of CRM conversions.

CRMs, Brief Background, Part 1

Most of us have used a wide variety of  Customer Relationship Managers (CRMs).  But in case you are new to the sales profession, a CRM is a software system designed to maintain and update customer and prospect records. Those records would include basic information such as names, company names, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail addresses. More sophisticated systems would include order history, sales notes, billing information, and a call-back schedule to plan your upcoming calls or meetings. Marketing tools may be included to help track customers and prospects using social media. Still others will allow you to develop and keep track of marketing campaigns.

CRMThe major purpose of a CRM is to maximize your time, set priorities, and target those customers and prospects you believe will generate the most sales. In short, it is designed to save you time and money.

I have used seven different CRMs in my career. Some of them are homegrown, and others are off the shelf tools like Advantage,SalesLogix,TeleMagic,Salesforce.com, and Microsoft Access. While I have never used them, I’ve heard positive feedback from sales people who have used Act! and Goldmine.

The Homegrown databases were created specifically by my employers and are not available in the open market. Some employers believe that developing their own CRMs tailored to the needs of their sales, marketing and billing staffs are worth the expense. In the long run, homegrown CRMs are easier to maintain and upgrade and no license fees are paid to a vendor. If the employer decides to convert from his homegrown CRM to another one, he doesn’t need permission from a vendor, or have to deal with the hassle doing a conversion within a limited time frame. I once worked for a mid-size publishing company that was forced to dump all its records from one CRM to a new CRM on a strict deadline because the vendor was upset about the switch. The fast conversion process created a total mess of records in the new CRM that took months to organize.

My favorite off-the shelf CRM is Salesforce.com.  I find the interface easy on the eye, is user-friendly and does a great job of maintaining customer records and call-back schedules.

If you glance at most help-wanted ads these days, you will find a lot of employers require you to have experience using Salesforce.com. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to use the database. Most employers will train you. I was able to learn how to use the basic features of the program within a couple of days. There are also several books on the market to teach you how to use Salesforce.com if you want more detail.

No matter which database you are required to use, take some time to learn how to use it properly. Any of these tools will save you an enormous amount of time and make you a more effective and efficient sales person.

In part 2 of this post, I will discuss the common mistakes of using CRMs.

Would you call a prospect on his mobile phone?

Would you call a prospect on his mobile phone?

Let’s say a receptionist gave you a prospect’s mobile phone number. You have been trying for weeks to reach the prospect using his regular business land line, but you haven’t been able to get through. You left several voice mails and sent him emails, but no luck. You’re getting frustrated. Now, finally, you have an “in”. You have the prospect’s mobile phone number. That’s great news! Because in most cases, people are more likely to answer their mobile phone than their business land line.

angry prospect receiving phone callBut wait! Before you dial, is that a wise move on your part?

My answer – No.

Here’s why – put yourself in the prospect’s shoes. If he hasn’t returned your messages by now, how do you think he’s going to respond with you calling him on his mobile phone and catching him off guard? You may catch him at a bad or inconvenient time. Maybe he’s grocery shopping, or sitting in the doctor’s office, or driving in congested traffic. Maybe he’s heading to the emergency room because his daughter is hurt, or heading to school for an important parent/teacher conference.

Sure, you may score some points by reaching him on his mobile phone, but you would have won the battle and not the war.

When you call someone on their business phone line, you expect them to well…be doing business. Sure, you may still catch them at an inconvenient time (maybe he’s playing solitaire or eating a late lunch), but he’s at a place of business, so you would expect him to at least talk to you for a couple of minutes. The prospect may still brush you off, or he will tell you to call him back later, but in most cases he’s not going to be angry with you calling him at work. He knows that comes with the territory.

But when you call a prospect on his mobile phone, you are opening yourself up to all kinds of trouble.

The only time that I’ve called prospects on their mobile phone is if they have given me permission to do so, or if we have a good relationship and I need to reach him because of an emergency. For example, the prospect has given me his mobile phone number and wants me to contact him ASAP when his company has approved a P.O. for an order. Or, maybe I need to quickly contact him because there’s a problem with his order, and I know from experience, that the prospect would want me to notify him.

In some rare cases, I’ve had receptionists tell me that the “only way” I can reach a prospect is on his mobile phone. Even under those circumstances, I would confirm with her that it’s OK for me to call him. If she gives me the OK, then I will call.

But calling a prospect on his mobile phone when you haven’t even spoken to him yet, is a nonstarter for me. That screams desperation, which is a major turnoff. Take your time. Be persistent. Be patient. You can always focus on other prospects and circle back later.

 

Customer Service is not Inside Sales

Ian Heller in the video below makes a very good argument that Customer Services Reps are not Inside Sales people. He argues that for a company to grow you need to create two separate teams – one for customer service and one for inside sales.

While Customer Service Reps are great at answering questions and solving problems, they tend to shy away from making sales calls or up selling. Inside Sales people, on the other hand, love making sales calls because they earning commissions and bonuses, and have a greater incentive to be more assertive than Customer Service reps.

I once worked for a company that tried to encourage their customer service team to do sales. The results were dismal. The company eventually created a separate sales team.

Now with that said, that doesn’t mean you should discourage Customer Service Reps from not selling. On the contrary, by all means encourage it because some Customer Service Reps may develop a knack for selling, and decide to switch teams. I’ve actually seen Customer Service Reps transfer to an Inside Sales Team because they discover they had the talent and skills to sell. They also loved the potential of earning more money.

On the flip side, don’t discourage your Inside Sales people from doing customer service work either. Nothing makes a customer more angry than being told that “it’s not my job, let me switch you over to customer service.” Bad move. If a sales person can solve a customer service problem, let him do it. If the issue is too complex, the sales person should admit it, and then transfer the call to customer service.

My point is this – while I agree with Mr. Heller that there should be two separate teams, each team needs to work together.

Here is his video below –

Benefits of sending out Thank you cards, Part 2

In part 1 of this post, I explained why I send out thank you cards to my clients. In part 2, I’m going to provide you with tips on preparing thank you cards.

1). Keep your thank you note short and to the point. This is not the time to make another sales pitch or close the customer. You are just one human being thanking another human being for being nice to you. There are plenty websites where you can find sample thank you notes. However, I would encourage you to try to be a little creative and use your own words.

But if you do need help writing thank you cards, please check out the list below –

Examples.yourdictionary.com
Hallmark.com, how to write a thank you note
Thesimpledolloar.com, how to write an effective thank you note
Southernliving.com, thank you note

2). Use high quality cards with super thick gloss or recycled matte cover.  It goes a long way of telling that customer he’s important.

3). Attach a real stamp. I know postage is expensive and it’s tempting just to use the company’s postage meter, but I believe using a real stamp (especially one that is unique), will send a clear message that you took a little extra time preparing and sending out the card. (For example, President Truman was known for using real stamps when he personally corresponded to people).

4). Send out the card within 24 to 48 hours after an order or speaking with the client. Immediacy is important here. You want to be front and center of your customer’s mind, and be ahead of the competition. The longer you wait, the less impact your card will have on a client.

5). If you are lucky to work for a company that can afford swag, I would encourage you to send it with your card. For example, you could send a magnet. Or better yet, a mouse pad that will stay on someone’s desk for a while. Everyone wants to receive a gift. Sending out a gift with a funny slogan or picture can brighten up your clients’ days and make you appear more human. This is especially helpful when you are an inside sales person competing against field reps who can meet clients face-to-face.