Often times, many things get lumped into the bucket of CRM.  For the purpose of this post, let’s define CRM in its most traditional sense: customer relationship management that gives managers great reporting on all of the customer touch points, links all of the departments together and gives amazing high level reporting.   Without question, CRM has changed the way we do business, deepened our understanding of customer relationships and dazzled us with reporting.  But, has it made us more productive?


I think we have to say yes, but that yes comes with a caveat.  The caveat comes down to defining productivity and identifying who we want to become more productive.  Most organizations that deploy a complex CRM solution will claim great victory at the highest levels of the organization.  Why?  Because they got what they wanted and needed.  They can see the organization from the top down.  They see the multitude of customer touches and get some sense of “control” over their world of data.  But is this truly more productive?  I am not so sure we have a clear answer.  The argument can be made, and often is, that having the data and being able to make it actionable can certainly lead to an organization becoming more productive.  Fair enough.  But, for those of us that focus on Inside Sales, I think many of us would argue that CRM gives a lot of folks some snazzy reporting but does little to boost the productivity for our sales people.


We are seeing more and more distinctions in the market place between CRM and platforms that feature Inside Sales Enablers.  Such enablers are usually found in Lead Management Software, Telemarketing Software and Inside Sales Software.  They often include a form of auto dialing, next best call/lead routing, onboard scripting or messaging and integrated e-mail.  What should be jumping off of the page at you is that these features are incorporated to boost the activity and productivity of the sales person.  Often times, CRM is about management control and oversight vs. increasing the productivity of the sales team.


Today, there is no shortage of choices to be made.  You can find offerings that at their core are CRM, but have partnered to get some of the enablers deployed.  On the other end of the spectrum, you can find offerings that are focused on increasing an Inside Sales person’s productivity by deploying the best-in-class enablers and providing some CRM functionality.


If you are considering software for your Inside Sales team, here are five key questions to ask:


Q 1: What is your desired end state?  Visibility/reporting or more production from sales?

If it is a production boost you are seeking, I would shy away from traditional CRM and seek out platforms that increase the effectiveness of your sales team through enablers that power and increase their activity.  If your sales are fine and you are seeking a deeper understanding of the customer relationship, then CRM may hold the answer.


Q2:  What is your bandwidth to implement a new platform?

If you are a small or medium sized company without an IT department, then simpler is better.  CRM can be a bear to implement, especially if you are going to have several departments making multiple touches.  Find out from the service providers the “time-to-implement” related cost and be sure to ask if they have a consulting group.  If they do, they have it for a reason and it is usually not cheap.  With today’s choices, there are platforms that can do amazingly complex task and provide real selling power, including dialing,  but be up and running in hours, not weeks or days.  If you do have an IT department, then work closely with them.  Often times, if IT leads the charge you will end up with a highly integrated and complex system, but with a platform that does little for the people doing the selling.  Ensure that Sales leads the way on choice and functionality and let IT do the due diligence and implementation.


Q3:  What is your budget?

Needless to say, budget will rule the day.  The good news is that with the vast amount of offerings today, companies can pick from best-of-breed providers and power their Inside Sales people for cents per hour.  Pricing is all over the place but you can start to get some real functionality starting at $65 per month and max out around infinity.   SaaS providers can provide the best value.  Choosing a SaaS provider means you do not need to budget for IT implementation cost, and you will always have the latest and greatest.  In most cases a contract is not required.


Even if you have a big budget and an IT department to do the heavy lifting, don’t confuse more spent money and complex implementation with more productivity.   Go back to Q1.  What is your desired end state?  Simpler is better if it gets you the desired results.


Q4:  What is the cost of distractions?

Adding a new platform or changing platforms is not done in a vacuum.  There will be lost productivity as team members migrate through the change.  The most masterful implementations that I have seen always involved the selling team early in the process.  Create buzz around the value to them.  Explain how this will increase their sales, thus earning them more.  Too often CRM looks more like Big Brother riding into to town to catch the wrongdoers instead of an enhancement and new asset for the sales staff.  Although it may really be all about you or the company, make it all about them!


Q5:  What if it all goes bad?

Don’t laugh.  There are numerous white papers and case studies focusing on some of the largest companies in the word who got it wrong, spent millions trying to undo their decision only to find themselves being sucked down the vortex of bad decision/bad technology.  My gut tells me that IT led the charge on those.


With all of the vendors with great offerings, easy implementation and no contracts, there is no reason to make a bad decision that you can’t turn around very quickly.  Most service providers offer a free trial.  You don’t have to go all in.  Pick a vendor, pick a campaign and give them a try.  Most will tell you in advance if they are a good fit for your sales organization.  After all, they have a vested interest as well.  Most include service as part of the monthly service charge.  An unsatisfied and needy customer cuts into their margins.  That, my friend, is bad for everyone.


Good selling,