Is your Sales Department a Turkey?

Is your sales department a turkey?With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a good time to remind ourselves what we should be thankful for. If you are working in a good sales department, be grateful. But if your sales department is a turkey, you better start seeking a new job.

Should you be thankful or gobble like a turkey?

You decide. Please review the list below of what makes a good sales department –

1). Customer relationship management (CRM) software – If you are using a good CRM software program, be thankful. There are still a lot of companies that are using outdated or lousy CRMs to manage their sales, customer interactions, and record keeping.

Need some reliable sources to find a first-class CRM?

Check out –

Capterra
Software Advice
PC Magazine

2). Sales Manager – if you have a sales manager who gives a damn about you, pray he doesn’t leave your company anytime soon. If he does leave your company, pray your employer hires the right replacement. One of the major reasons why salespeople leave their jobs isn’t because of money or status, but because of poor management.

Need some advice on what makes a superior sales manager?

Check out –

“How to Become a Great Sales Manager from 10 Sales Experts,” by Russ Henneberry
“The 4 Qualities New Sales Managers Need for Success,” by Lou Carlozo
“The 6 Traits Every Sales Manager Needs to Succeed,” by Phil Harrell

beware of back stabbers3). Co-workers – every sales department has their share of backstabbers and sharks. You know who I’m talking about – the ones who steal your leads or prospects, or sabotage your work. Eventually, they are weeded out, but not before they create a toxic environment that could lead to high turnover or added stress. (As if you don’t have enough stress at work already). If you work with colleagues that you trust, be very thankful.

Need advice on how to work better with your colleagues?

Check out –

“How to Create a Team Selling Environment,” by Irene A. Blake
“How to Handle a Toxic Work Environment,” by Alan Henry
“11 Tips for Staying Sane in a Toxic Work Environment,” by Kassy Scarcia

4). Marketing – while I think the on again, off again, love/hate relationship between sales and marketing is overrated, there is no doubt that without an effective marketing department, your sales would be mediocre at best. If you have a marketing department that’s providing you with great leads and prospects, be very thankful.

Need some advice on how to build a good marketing team?

Check out –

“How to Build a High Performance Marketing Team,” by Kevin Barber
“Tips and Tools for Building a Marketing Team,” by Tiffany Black
“7 Characteristics That Make Up the Best Marketing and Sales Teams,” by Ross Simmonds

5). Customers – Let’s face it, all the best sales and marketing strategies in the world are not going to do you a bit of good without having reliable and repeat  customers. Do you want to earn and maintain a high commission? Take care of the ones who brung ya!

Need some advice on how to find and keep good customers?

Check out –

“The 80/20 Rule of Sales: How to Find your Best Customers” by Perry Marshall
“10 Ways to Make Customers Fall in Love with Your Business,” by Brian Honigman
“Four Simple Ways to Find Customers,” by Brad Sugars

But beyond business, most important of all, be thankful that you have family, friends and loves ones looking out for you. Life is too short to spend all of your time worrying about work. Enjoy the holiday and don’t eat too much turkey!

Note: If you like my post, please read my book Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

The 10 spookiest things about Selling

spooky things about sellingWhat keeps you up at night? Is it the imaginary monster you remember from your childhood that is still hiding underneath your bed? Is it the ghostly sounds that you hear outside your window while you’re trying to sleep? Is it your black cat that’s scratching your bedroom door?

With Halloween fast approaching, what are the 10 spookiest things that scare you the most about selling?

1). Not getting enough qualified sales leads

You want leads? Sure, here’s the Yellow Pages – start calling! Seriously, most salespeople complain about the lack of leads or the quality of what they receive from their marketing team. But hey, thanks to the Internet, there are tons of free and paid sources now available. So stop complaining, and don’t be afraid of doing a little research.

Need help? Here are a couple of books you should consider –

New Sales. Simplified: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development, by Mike Weinberg and S. Anthony Iannarino.

Power Prospecting: Cold Calling Strategies For Modern Day Sales People – Build a B2B Pipeline. Teleprospecting, Lead Generation, Referrals, Executive Networking. Improve Selling Skills, by Patrick Henry Hansen.

2). Getting little or no training

You were told by your employer that you would receive training after you were hired. Instead, you were introduced to your work area and given a prospect list – now start selling. What should you do? Start reading. That’s right – start reading sales books, blogs and articles. Start watching YouTube videos about selling. Study your company’s products and services inside and out until you know them by heart. Do what you have to do to be successful – because while your employer may not care, you better give a damn about your job. After all, what’s even scarier than little or no training is standing in the unemployment line.

Don’t know where to begin? Here’s help –

Here is a link to a guest blog post I wrote for Will Reed Jobs, an Austin based job hunting agency for young salespeople –

Ten books that New Salespeople should Read

And HubSppot has a list of the 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time.

don't panic in sales3). The “no show” prospect

I know. The prospect accepted your meeting calendar invite to view your short webinar, but he disappeared. Where did he go? Did he fall down a pit? Are you going to curse the darkness? Of course not! Don’t panic. Just pick up the phone and try to reschedule the appointment. Things happen. Prospects get busy. Don’t take it personally.

4). Competitors who lie, cheat and steal

Hate them or respect them, competitors exist in every industry. You can either be afraid of them or fight them. The choice is yours. While you may want to boil your competitors in a cauldron of oil, the better approach is to stop worrying about your competitors and just do your job. In the long run you will succeed while your competitors fail.

5). Cold calling

A cold call isn’t cold unless you make it so. Do a little research first before you call a prospect. Is he the key decision maker? Do you feel you have a solution that will help him? Or better yet, try to get a referral.

6). The mysterious marketing department

You heard about the mysterious marketing department, but you’ll be damned if you know if it really exist or not. Is it a ghost department that only comes out at night when everyone else has left work? You were told that the marketing department was going to provide you qualified leads, but you haven’t seen any for a while. Did the leads end up in the quicksand?  (See number 1 about finding your own qualified leads). And if your company’s social media efforts are still in the dark ages, start your own blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account, and become more active on social media yourself. While your marketing department may be invisible, you shouldn’t be.

salespeople pouncing on trade show attendees7). Trade Shows

So you’re afraid to stand at your exhibit booth during trade shows. Don’t be. Chances are, most of the attendees are just as scared as you are because salespeople are pouncing on them like vampires every time they near a booth. Rather than asking good qualified questions, those salespeople are sucking the life out of attendees. Don’t be like that. Act cool. Show some respect. Don’t scan and scam. Take a more consultative sales approach when meeting with attendees. Believe me, in the long run it will pay off.

Here is a good article from Jane Applegate on “How to Work a Trade Show.”

8). Conversions of your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system

You love your CRM. It helps you keep track of your sales notes, customer contact information and all of the records you need to do your job. But another salesperson came along and sold your employer on a better CRM. Now what? It’s conversion time – that long, lengthy, agonizing period of exporting all of your data into the new CRM. Scared? Hell, you should be. Because sometimes important data has a way of ending up in a dark hole that will never be found again. (I’ve gone through 5 conversions in my career. In one case, the programmers forgot to transfer our sales notes. In another case, they forgot to transfer all of our expired clients). But don’t be afraid – instead, download and save all your information or print it out. But whatever you do, protect your information or it may disappear.

Here a good article from Chuck Schaeffer on “Lessons Learned in CRM Data Conversions.”

bogeyman as a sales manager9). Bad sales managers

Yes, we’ve all been there, done that. But your sales manager may not be the bogeyman you think he is. Like you, he’s under pressure to make quota or achieve sales goals. The only difference is that he has to depend on you and the entire sales team to make it happen. That’s scary. There are a lot of books and articles on how to deal with difficult managers – here are a couple –

A Survival Guide for Working With Bad Bosses: Dealing With Bullies, Idiots, Back-stabbers, And Other Managers from Hell, by Gini Graham Scott Ph.D.

Dealing With Horrible Bosses: How To Handle Bad Managers at Work! (difficult managers,poor boss,difficult bosses,work bullies,bad bosses,bullying at workplace,bullying at work), by Damon Lundqvist.

And VorsightBP, a Northern Virginia based sales consulting firm, has an excellent webinar on “10 Tips to Transform Sales Leaders From Micromanagers into Great Coaches.” (You have to submit your contact information to watch it, but it’s worth it).

10). Slow sales periods

Every industry has its slow periods. You know, that time when most clients are not buying because it’s the holidays, or it’s the summer, or whatever lame excuse you are given. So does that mean you slow down? Hell no. Find other prospects to contact. When I once worked in the accounting industry, tax season was considered a slow time to call on CPAs, accountants and tax preparers. Unless you loved getting chewed out by stressed out accountants facing the April 15th tax deadline, you pretty much left them alone. While that made sense, we didn’t sit around and feel sorry for ourselves – instead, we contacted libraries, nonprofit organizations and financial institutions that we thought would be good candidates for our tax research program. You do what you have to do to hit your quota.

What scares you about selling? Please send me a comment.

10 Things Start-up Owners need to know about Selling

start-ups and sellingYou’ve done it. The months or years of toiling in your basement, garage, dorm room or tiny apartment have finally paid off. No more eating dry cereal or soup for dinner. No more working late in the evenings or weekends.

You have successfully created your first new product or service that you want to launch into the market. Your loyal employees who stuck by you are also thrilled. Your ship has finally arrived.

But wait a minute? You don’t know how to sell!

All those courses in computer science, coding, engineering or business never taught you the fundamentals of selling. Sure, maybe you watched a video or two of Zig Ziglar, or some other great salesperson. Or you cracked open a sales book once or twice, or read some articles online. You may have even taken a workshop or two about selling. But beyond that, your knowledge of selling is weak.

You admit it. So now what?

Well, like most start-up owners, you decide it’s time to hire your first salesperson or two. But before you place employment ads, there are some things you need to know.

1). Do you really need a salesperson? Is your product really ready for the marketplace or do you still have some more beta testing to do? While no product is perfect, no salesperson wants to spend hours over the phone dealing with a constant stream of technical issues or complaints about bugs. Unless you are paying that salesperson well to be a glorified technical support person, you may need to go back to the drawing board.

For example, I recently spoke to a new business development manager at a Maryland start-up who complained to me that his company was having a high turnover of salespeople. Some would stay for only a few weeks or a couple of months, and then leave. When I probed further, I discovered that his product was still being beta tested for the enterprise market. However, the good news is that his product was actually doing well in the consumer market, which didn’t require the same heavy technical demands as the enterprise clients. In fact, the product was receiving high ratings on Amazon and positive reviews from independent tech bloggers. I suggested to him that he immediately stop hiring sales people until his product was more ready for the enterprise market. I also suggested that his company switch gears, and focus more on the consumer market since he was having greater success. Sure, maybe he wouldn’t generate as much revenue in the consumer market, but at least he would be receiving some cash flow and generating positive buzz.

By using public relations, partnerships, and affiliated marketing, I suggested his company could do quite well in the consumer market. Hopefully, that good well in the consumer market would spill over into the enterprise market once his market was ready.

2). Amateur or Pro, does it matter?  There is a running debate within the start-up community about whether your first couple of salespeople should be amateurs or pros. Some argue that hiring inexperienced salespeople are better because they are hungrier and will hustle more. The argument goes that if you hire an experienced salesperson, he will not be very motivated to sale; instead, he would only rely on his contacts rather than making a lot of cold or warm calls. However, others argue that your first couple of salespeople should be more experienced because they can quickly increase your sales by their expertise and knowledge. In addition, they can also establish a sales process that can be used later when more inexperienced salespeople are hired.

My response – unless you are selling a highly technical product or service that requires advanced training and education, trust your gut and hire the salesperson who will help you generate a lot of sales. Young or old, if they know how to sell, if they are willing to learn about your product and market, and if they are trainable or coachable, hire them and get them prepared to hit the ground running.

Having a diversity of salespeople from different ages and backgrounds can offer your company different perspectives on how to grow your sales.

You can’t always judge a salesperson by his age, the length of his resume or his previous sales results. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut.

3). True believers, are they the best? Some start-up owners feel that only true believers, the ones who really understand their mission or see their vision, should be your first hires. Really? Chances are you may be hiring a wolf in sheep’s clothing – a con artist who pretends to believe in the “cause” but will quickly bail out as soon as your company hits rough water.

Look, forget about hiring true believers. You are running a business, not a religion. Just hire good salespeople. Once they start selling, if your product or service is good as you think, they will eventually become true believers.

I once worked for a small tax research publishing company where I didn’t know anything about accounting. However, over time, I became impressed with our products because our clients really loved what we were selling. Then and only then, did I become a true believer.

4). Should you learn how to sell? Let’s face it – popular culture has not been kind to salespeople. The Glengarry Glen Ross movie and the Death of a Salesman play have done little to enhance the image of salespeople by depicting them as losers or con artists. I actually know people who don’t admit they sell for a living.

So what do you do for a living?

“I, well, you know, I’m a new development person. I mean, I’m a new business opportunity person…I mean I develop new business.”

Whatever.

As a start-up owner, you may feel it’s better to hire a sales expert, so that you can tend to other matters, like product development.

But if you don’t learn about sales, your run the risk of either hiring lazy salespeople, or worst, con artists who will take advantage of your naïve. Either way, you could lose a lot of money, time and prestige.

I once knew a small publishing company owner who admittedly knew nothing about sales or marketing. He never held a sales meeting. Never cracked open a book about selling. His marketing campaigns were from the Dark Ages. Instead, he hired a saleswoman who literally sat by the phone all day waiting for it to ring. She spent her three-year tenure at the company reading books. When a prospect did contact her, she went through the motions of qualifying him, scheduling a short demo, and offering a trial. Sometimes she would follow-up and sometimes she didn’t. With a large base salary, she had no incentive to work hard. Then one day, she quit. A more proactive and assertive salesman was hired. He ended up generating more new sales in 4 or 5 months than the previous saleswoman did in an entire year.

Why? Because he made cold and warm calls. Because he followed-up. Because a true salesperson can’t live on his base salary. In short, he knew how to sell.

The owner, realizing his mistake, now regretted not hiring a more proactive salesperson in the first place. All those potential sales slipped through his fingers because he didn’t take the time to understand the sales process and hire the right salesperson.

On the other hand, I knew another owner who not only took the time to understand sales, but provided a small library of sales, marketing and business books for his sales team to read. He even watched videos about not only how to sell, but how to hire good salespeople.

But let’s say you are an extremely busy start-up owner, and have little time to read about selling. Have no fear.

I would like to suggest two books you should read to get you quickly up to speed –

The Big Book of Sales, by Alan Gordon
The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies, by Chet Holmes

If you are ambitious, and want to read more, HubSpot has created a list of the 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time.

Also, there are several excellent YouTube videos about selling that you can also watch.

And BTW, I know there is a lot of debate about which is the best sales process. Is it The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, or could it be SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackman? Maybe you believe in Relationship Selling: The eight competencies of top sales producers, by Jim Cathcart.

Look, all three are good books. Read them. Consider their arguments. But at the end of the day, you will have to decide which sales process really works best for your sales team and your company.

*****************************************************************************************
Speaking of books, if you like this post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career for help.
*****************************************************************************************

5). Should you create a Quota system? As a start-up company, I wouldn’t worry too much about setting quotas for the one or two salespeople you have on staff. In the beginning, you are going to spend most of your time testing the market and seeing who is actually is buying your product or service – if in fact, there is a real market. Sure, you can guess. Create a client profile of who you think will be a good customer. You can make some cold calls, send out some emails, and maybe send out some direct marketing pieces. But I would avoid creating any hard quotas for sales until you have a better feel of your market.

Rather than creating sales quotas, you may consider doing activity quotas. Activity quotas are when you expect salespeople to make x-number of phone calls per week, or schedule x-number of demos or trials per week. On paper, this sounds like a great idea. However, be carefully that you are not forcing salespeople to do a lot of “make or busy work” – you want them to focus on selling, not dialing for bogus dollars.

carving up sales territories6). Should you carve up and create sales territories? If you had three or more salespeople, my answer would be yes. But if you only have two salespeople, and the entire country (if not the world) to cover, I would say no. However, as your sales team grows, in order to avoid duplication and hard feelings, setting up sales territories by geography or market segmentation may not be a bad idea.

Some companies prefer using the Round Robin method of distributing leads – where inbound leads are dole out on a rotating basis among the sales team.

Experiment. See what works. But no matter how you distribute leads, always focus on the end game – obtaining sales.

7). Should you use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool? My answer is yes. Using Excel spreadsheets or Post-it Notes isn’t going to cut it for you. While Salesforce.com is considered the dominate CRM in the market, as a start-up, you may not afford to purchase it. There are other CRMs that do cater to start-ups and small businesses for free or at a reasonable price, including –

Close.io
Contactually
Act!
Insightly
Pipedrive
PipelineDeals

To get a full listing of CRMs and obtain independent reviews, please check out Capterra, a Northern Virginia based company that helps businesses and nonprofit organizations find software.  Not only does Capterra provide reviews, but you also receive product details, deployment, vendor contact information, and features checklist. You can even request a free consultation from a Capterra customer service rep to find the right match for you. They also publish interesting blogs and infographics that you can download.

My final advice is this – buy the best CRM you can afford. In the long run, a good CRM will save your sales team a lot of time and money. Take your time. Do your research. I recommend that you consider at least three CRMs before making a final buying decision. You may want to contact other start-up owners and compare notes with them.

8). Are the Yellow Pages a good source for sales leads? Unless you’re living in the 1980s, my answer is No. As a start-up, you are probably under a tight budget. However, there are several inexpensive or free lead generation sources you can use including –

Data.com (formerly Jigsaw)
LinkedIn
Twitter
Industry newsletters and blogs
Business websites
List of clients from your competitor’s website (yes, I know this is sneaky, but if your competitors are going to publish their clients, you might as well call them. Who knows, some of them may be upset with their existing vendor).
Google Alerts
Networking events
ZoomInfo

RedJester created a list of 23 lead generation tools you may want to consider.

Also, check out Neha Jewalikar’s article on the “7 Must-Have Lead Generation Tools for Marketers” in Radius.

As you grow, don’t forget to take advantage of inbound phone calls or emails, referrals, and trade shows.

No lead generation tool is perfect. You will always have bad contact information. When I receive a new lead, one of the first things I do is check the contact on LinkedIn. While not everyone keeps their LinkedIn profile up-to-date, it’s usually a good way to verify if you have a good lead.

sales pipeline9). What are your expectations? You really need to keep your expectations within reason. For example, in most cases, it takes a good salesperson at least three months to build a pipeline from scratch – that means straight cold calling with no referrals or no inbound leads. And even if a salesperson is lucky enough to receive some inbound leads from your website or word of mouth, converting that lead into a customer can take weeks or months. I’ve worked at sales jobs where the sales cycle can last anywhere from a few months to two years. I know of some salespeople who spent five years closing a sale.

It really depends on what you are selling and the type of industry you are in.

And when it comes to cold calling, it’s not unusual to make at least 6 to 8 attempts before you reach the decision maker. I know some sales people who have told me it will take them at least 12 attempts before they reach the key person at a company or organization.

And yes, there are ways you can help shorten the sales cycle, like providing a good CRM, generating good qualified sales leads, and offering great marketing solutions. Remember – your salespeople are serving on the front lines. Like any good soldier, they need your support.

10). Are Salespeople miracle workers? Do you still believe in the tooth fairy? If your product or service is crap, the best salespeople in the world aren’t going to help you.  While it’s expected that any new product or service will be shaky during the first couple of years, if what you are offering is completely bad, salespeople are not going to save you. Sure, they may use hard sell or strong-arm tactics in the beginning to generate sales, but in the long run you are going to fall flat on your face. Selling is a team effort – the product, development, shipping, marketing and administrative teams all have to work together with the sales team to ensure success. In today’s economy, and this is especially true for a start-up, all employees are salespeople.

Summary:

Selling is tough. But for a start-up it’s even more difficult because you are facing several obstacles – tight cash flow, little brand or no name recognition, shoestring budget, and an ever evolving change of plans or directions. You have to be agile, smart and focused.

You have to face the fact that some salespeople you hire won’t cut it or just don’t like working for a start-up. It’s nothing personal. It happens to the best of us.

When it comes to hiring salespeople for a start-up, you need to be brutally honest. If the hours are long, tell them. If the compensation package is low, tell them. If your resources are limited, tell them.

But also tell them this – that you worked your ass off for months, if not years, to create a product or service that will benefit thousands of people. That you truly believe in what you are doing is not a pipe dream. That you really believe your product or service could change the world for the better. That you are committed to improving your company. And if they hang on, the ride will get rough, but the rewards may be great.

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career for more help.

CRMs, should you switch?

I recently wrote a three-part series about Customer Relationship Management (CRM). I came across this great article written by Gene Marks in Forbes called “11 Terrible CRM systems for your Company.” I would encourage you to read it.

Among other things, he makes a valid point that CRMs are great tools to use, but you need to ensure that your sales team is properly trained to learn how to use the systems.  I would take it a step further and add that you also need to find a CRM that your sales team likes to use.

I once worked for a division that was required to convert from its existing CRM to the main company’s CRM. However, there was a problem – people in my division didn’t like the main company’s CRM because they found it to be too cumbersome to use. In addition, it was difficult to generate accurate reports. Within a matter of a few months, my division switched back to their old CRM, and essentially told the main company this – “once you improve your CRM, let us know and we will consider using it again.”

Some employers don’t realize that a CRM can make or break you if you don’t select the right one. All CRMs have strong and weak points. While I personally like salesforce.com, there are certainly other tools you can use. Each tool has its strengths and weaknesses.

When selecting a new CRM, what are some factors that you need to consider?

1). Why are you switching to a new CRM? Write down a list of all the problems you are having with your existing CRM. Can you fix those problems yourself or have the vendor fix them for you? Weigh the pros and cons of fixing those problems yourself or with a vendor versus buying a new CRM. Remember, buying a CRM is not like buying a new laptop computer. You have to consider investing time and money in converting your data from one CRM to another. You have to weigh the pros and cons of perhaps losing data during the conversion, and then having to still rely on your old CRM for archival information (this actually has happened to me twice in my career). You have to consider the expense of training your sales, administrative and other staff members in learning how to use the new CRM. You also have to pay a license fee to the new vendor. You have to ensure that your data will be secure in the new CRM.

2). Should you create your own Homegrown CRM? I once worked with a company that was using salesforce.com. While everyone liked the tool, the biggest problem was that the company couldn’t integrate salesforce.com with their order entry system. The order entry process would take between 20 to 30 minutes – a lifetime in sales. To make both the account management and order entry process go a lot smoother and faster, the company decided to create its own CRM. The obvious advantages of having your own Homegrown CRM is that it is tailored to your company’s needs. You can also upgrade the system on your schedule and you don’t have to pay a license fee.

3). Will your employees like the new CRM? It doesn’t make any sense to go through the time and expense of buying a new CRM if your employees don’t like it. I’ve actually heard of salespeople quit their jobs because they found the new CRMs to be too difficult and time-consuming to use, and thus, was hurting their abilities to generate more sales. I’ve gone through CRM Model T, CRMconversions where one day I felt I was driving a Porsche and the next day I felt like I was driving a Model T. While I didn’t quit my job because I was now using a lousy CRM, it certainly made my work more difficult and definitely slowed down my selling process. So before selecting a new CRM, bring your sales team and other employees into the decision-making process. Get their input and advice. If they can trial a new CRM, please have them do a test run before you make a huge investment.

At a bare minimum, the CRM needs to be user-friendly. As a general rule, if it takes more than two days to train your staff, and they still find the new CRM cumbersome to use, you will have a serious problem on your hands. You may have bought yourself a lemon. That applies not just to off the shelf CRMs, but also Homegrown versions too. For example, I once used a Homegrown CRM where it literary took 15 minutes to enter call backs. Everyone on the sales team became so frustrated with the call back feature, they finally gave up and started using Post-it Notes and Outlook calendar to schedule their calls.

Finding the right CRM for your company is tough. Take your time. Do it right. It will save you an enormous amount of time and money down the road.

photo credit for Model T: Don J Schulte via photopin cc

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.