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Experience TV Episode 5: The Problem with CRM for Digital Sellers Featuring Denis Pombriant of Beagle Research

Katie Martell
January 11, 2021

12 minute read

Welcome to Experience TV, a LIVE show on social channels about the economic revolution we’re living through, the Experience Economy, where brands compete on the quality of their customer experiences.

Here on SmarterCX, you’ll find the replay of each episode and all resources mentioned within. Follow me, Katie Martell, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or the show’s Facebook page to catch future episodes.

Episode 5 is about how sales can best support the customer experience (CX) and how organizations can best support their sellers, in particular inside or digital sales reps.

We also dig into something that’s either the Achilles heel or competitive advantage for sales teams: CRM. The special guest this week is the founder and managing principal of Beagle Research, Denis Pombriant.

He’s been writing about the world of CRM and sales for nearly two decades, including new research featured in this episode. Download the report here.

Bringing 2020 to a close

This was our last episode of 2020, a very long year and one that challenged and tested all of us in many ways. Across the US, a quarter of households have had someone laid off.

Many are anxious about losing their livelihoods. My heart goes out to the hundreds of thousands of families that are grieving the loss of loved ones this year due to the pandemic.

Stress, anxiety, and fatigue are shared experiences and the universal state of “normal” in 2020.

Just as universal has become the problem of burnout. It’s my trend of the week.

Trend of the week: Burnout

A recent survey of 330 HR leaders finds that professionals in the US are spending more time in meetings and exhausted by back-to-back video calls.

We’re working longer hours and actually seeing an increase in productivity. But, because the lines between work and home are blurred, businesses are seeing a 46% decrease in work-life balance. Since the pandemic broke out, employee burnouts are up 42%.

This isn’t sustainable.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, journalist Rachel Feintzeig said, “We’re getting our work done, but we feel pretty miserable.”

This time of year tends to see a lot of burning the candle at both ends, managing home and family demands with that of work and increasing demands to be always-on and connected to our professional lives.

This is particularly important for sales—and inside sales—one of the most demanding, constant roles in the business world with turnover rates as high as 30%+.

What does burnout at work look like?

Burnout is common. So, why does it happen, and how can you help your team?

I recommend the work of Christina Maslach, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been studying burnout for decades, and her advice can be heard on a recent episode of the HBR IdeaCast – Episode 771.

Burnout comes in three parts:

  1. Chronic exhaustion
  2. Feelings of cynicism and alienation
  3. A sense of personal/professional ineffectiveness

Maslach says burnout is a normal response to a stressful situation. In fact, the World Health Organization describes it as an occupational phenomenon, not a medical condition.

That begs the question—what situation are we putting our teams in?

The six causes of burnout

Maslach found that burnout is caused by six key parts of the relationship that people have with their workplace.

  1. Workload – Perhaps demands are too high, and your team doesn’t have the resources needed to do the job.
  2. Control – Lacking autonomy, choice, or the ability to improvise or improve can contribute to burnout.
  3. Positive feedback – This isn’t just about salary or benefits, but recognition, such as when colleagues notice, care, and let employees know when they’re doing a great job.
  4. Community – In the workplace, how is the relationship between colleagues? Competitiveness, lack of support, or a lack of trust all leads to stress.
  5. Fairness – Impartial practices and policies are key. If teams are treated unfairly, it leads to cynicism and anger.
  6. Values – Teams need meaning and importance behind the work they’re doing. They need to know they’re making a difference in a positive way, whether it’s social good or contributing to the pipeline.

These are the six contributing factors to burnout, and the six paths to begin to think about improving things in the workplace.

Fix the workplace, and prevent burnout

If you suspect burnout on your team, here are three quick tips:

  1. Check-in. It may be burnout, but it could be due to something else going on in their life. It’s important not to grill your employees, but rather, check-in.
  2. Don’t blame the individual. Many will try to hide burnout because they feel it’s a weakness. But, Maslach notes, burnout comes from the dynamics of the workplace.
  3. Look at the root cause. It’s not enough to say to an employee, “unplug, take a vacation, meditate, or delegate” (though, these are certainly part of self-care).

I believe the most poignant part of the podcast is this idea:

It’s sort of ironic in a way that one of the leading recommendations for what to do when you’re stressed out by work is get away from work. Don’t go to work. Take time off, be absent, take a vacation. Do all those kinds of things. Which begs the question, what’s the problem with the workplace that the best solution is to get away from it? At some point, how can I say that? You’ve probably heard this phrase, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Which doesn’t also ask the question and what’s wrong with the kitchen? Why is it so hot?

Why is it so hot? What can we do to help our teams?

Especially our inside sales teams. Many inside sales roles come with incredible stress, constant demands, and changing expectations.

Quote of the week: Survivors

My quote of the week comes from Samantha Mohr, VP of Inside Selling at Tokyo-based, global brand Ricoh.

“Salespeople are like water, they’re survivors, they’re going to find a way,” says Mohr.

The quote comes from a conversation Mohr had with Katrina Gosek from Oracle in the recent CX Virtual Summit.

Gosek asked, “Are conventional CRM systems keeping up with today’s digital selling?”

Here’s Mohr’s full response:

“The job has gotten more complicated, and that’s good. The tools haven’t kept up. Inside sales reps live in that CRM whether managing a territory or incoming transactions, they live in that CRM and in those tools, so it’s so critical.

We’re asking more and more of them but we don’t always provide the tools to keep up. It’s so easy as a leader to minimize/ignore some of the complaints that reps have. But salespeople are like water, they’re survivors, they’re going to find a way.

Just because your good people have found a way with bubble gum and duct tape to do their job effectively, don’t let that mask the very real challenges/struggles/lack of efficiency.”

Research of the week

Those challenges were brought to light in a new report which is our research of the week, titled Getting Past the Breaking Point of Yesterday’s CRM.

A survey was conducted by the CRM analyst firm, Beagle Research Group, in partnership with Oracle, and finds that sellers are working harder than ever, but their CRM systems might be holding them back.

CRM tools may have digitized what used to be manual processes, back in the day, but are they enough for an age of digital selling?

500 sellers in the US were surveyed with a primary responsibility of selling to new accounts in B2B.

Here are some key findings:

  • 90% of sellers complain that aspects of their job take longer than they should.
  • The top 5 complaints:
    1. Repetitive administrative tasks that could be automated
    2. Updating multiple systems that ought to be connected
    3. Follow up with a prospect they know isn’t interested
    4. Re-entering email data into a CRM
    5. Entering notes into a CRM
  • 72% need to have at least three screens or windows open at once to coordinate a sales process, many including their mobile phones.
  • Sellers use an average of eight tools, the top five being:
    1. Email
    2. The internet
    3. Smartphones
    4. Video conferencing
    5. World documents
  • Shockingly, CRM was not in the top five, and none of these are specific to selling or customer management. Sellers are forced to fill the gaps in processes left by inadequate technology and tools.
  • 66% of sellers would rather stand in line at the DMV, get stuck in traffic, do jury duty, clean the bathroom, or even make a trip to the dentist than update their CRM system.

Download the full report here.

Interview with Denis Pombriant

I had the opportunity to interview Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of Beagle Research, and author of this important (and entertaining) report.

Read Denis’ research at BeagleResearch.com, and learn more about his books on customer loyalty, sustainability, and more.

Some takeaways from our conversation:

Q: You’ve been tracking the evolution of the CRM for two decades now. Where are we in 2020 in the story of the CRM?

A: With CRM, believe it or not, we’re still at the very beginning. Because every time we make a few advances, the business world changes and we all go, “Oh, we need to include something else.”

We’re right at the beginning, but we’re at a very auspicious beginning point in that good CRM today is based on a platform technology that integrates a lot of other technologies that make CRM work, and that makes customer interaction work.

For example, workflow technology. We don’t think about it very much, but there’s got to be something that gets a quote from your desk to your manager’s desk for approval and back really quickly. That’s workflow. There’s analytics and there’s machine learning. There’s a ton of stuff that goes into CRM today, and that what’s making CRM today different.

Q: It’s truly the era of tomorrow’s CRM, not just a Rolodex that’s been digitized. Throughout this report, there’s a bit of a war between the seller and the software. One stat is that 66% of sellers believe CRM is important to get the job done, but less than half use it daily, shockingly again, not in the top five tools. What’s causing this less than harmonious relationship?

A: What’s going on is that people understand that the CRM system has their data but it’s just too much to wrestle with and update it all the time. You kind of use CRM in batch mode where it should be interactive.

Q: What’s going to make a seller want to use a CRM tool?

A: Better CRM tools. I think what’s happened is especially in the last year where we’re all working at home and we’re buying and selling remotely, old systems that captured records of customers and what they bought and our interactions were all good and useful. But, we need to have the information in those systems rendered immediately. And you can only do that with analytics and algorithms that pop up the next best offer, the next best solution, or things like that.

Business has changed, and CRM has got some catching up to do. The good news is there are products on the market that do that catching up.

Q: It sounds like the tools that we’re moving to are more prescriptive, more actionable with workflows, and more. It sounds like it’s all on one screen, all in one place.

A: That’s one of the real beauties of the new technology. You don’t need to have something on your phone and two or three other screens. Things can get plopped up in front of you as you need them, which is a real advantage if you’re trying to be in the moment with a customer.

Q: Let’s talk more about that because the experience from the seller perspective, I think is really what this comes down to. I talked a lot about burnout at the top of the show for a reason. I think that the cost of a poor CRM experience for the seller is that work-life imbalance, leading to that awful stage of burnout.

Your research found that 90% of sellers feel they’re able to meet expectations, but a majority work long hours, such as taking early morning phone calls while the rest of the company sleeps. And, they conduct business in some really unusual places.

60% say they work in their car, 14% at the movies, 50% on vacation, 11% said they work in the shower, 24% at the gym, 30% in the bathroom. That’s just gross.

Tell me more about this dynamic, what’s the impact of a more efficient CRM?

A: Earlier you talked about productivity, and I would debate if working 12 hours a day makes you more productive than working eight. If you’re measuring things by the day, then yes, that’s true. But if you’re measuring things by the hour, that’s not true. And if you’re paying attention to burnout, that’s definitely not true.

According to the research that we did, CRM today is sort of a prescription for burnout.

If you have to do work while you’re in the bathroom, at your kids’ functions, or in your free time, you’ve got a problem. The technology and the business processes aren’t supporting you the way you need to be supported.

Q: Your report found that 39% of sellers were actually considering a career change outside of inside sales. We’re going to see turnover if we continue to burn out our employees by giving them ineffective tools. What’s happening in the world of CPQ?

85% of sellers admit that they’ve made embarrassing mistakes because of bad CRM data and many (58%) are also frustrated with the CPQ process. How are those processes keeping up or what has to change there in your opinion?

A: 40 odd percent say they’d been ghosted, meaning they can’t get a customer back on the phone after they said, yeah, I’ll get you a quote. About the same number of sellers say, yeah, they probably got a better offer from another vendor. They were talking to several vendors.

This is not a hard problem to fix. It’s not a problem with your product. It’s not a problem with your price. It’s a problem with being timely. If you can hook up CPQ with your CRM system, which it should already be happening, then only the exceptional orders should go to your manager for approval.

The CPQ system ought to look at what you’ve put together and tell you, oh, geez, you know, you forgot the rubber feet or you forgot the cables. If you could do those things more in real time, then you can give back to the customer with a competitive offer and you won’t get ghosted as much. That’s just a very clear example of how we’re leaving money on the table.

Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of being in inside sales today?

The fundamental problem is always getting a “maybe.” I used to love getting “no,” because “no,” meant, I’m not going to call you anymore, I’m not going to visit you, but I’m going to go do something else that can be productive.

You can’t take it personally. Technology that helps you get to one of those answers quickly is what you really want, what you really crave.

And it’s not really the technology. It’s the information that pops out of it. The “no” is information. This is really about the difference between systems of record and systems of information.

The old CRM is basically a system of record. It’s a database full of names and numbers. In this era, what we need is a layer that takes that data, scrunches it up, and puts it out as real information that you can work with in real time. That’s what today’s CRM is about.

Q: I love how you describe it in the report, “intelligent and interconnected digital tools.”

That’s one of the big bugaboos that people had in the survey that the systems aren’t connected. A lot of the reasons for that is that a company buys individual systems or 10 years ago bought best-of-breed systems. Then they discovered that they weren’t connected and then maybe they’ve tried to connect them. They bought other tools like integration tools. And what we’ve got is, in a lot of organizations, this very rickety, brutal system of interconnected stuff. And we can’t update any versions without understanding if it’s going to clobber another version and put us down for half a day. It’s a mess.

Q: You say in this report that early adopters are going to be the ones that garner the easy, early wins. Tech can be a competitive advantage. What’s going to give companies an advantage? How do they find that tool that’s going to help them, as you say, garner these early easy wins?

A: This is another one of those things that travels through time kind of well.

20 years ago about, I did a research study for a very large and successful CRM company to find out if its recent customers had done a pre-purchase business analysis basically to find out what they needed to buy.

Only 51% said that they had. The other half, just about half of the customers said, “We just bought the market leader, and we threw money at it and made it work.” Well, the problem is when you do that, you don’t know if you’re successful because you’ve got nothing to compare it to, right? How do you do an ROI?

It’s so easy to take a few minutes or a few weeks and ask your business, “What do we need to improve?” For example, improve customer retention. If you’re a cloud company and you’ve got a greater than 10% attrition on an annual basis, I would say, you need to reduce the attrition. You need to hang on to your customers.

How do you do that? There are a lot of different tools, whether it’s in marketing, social media, or customer service, depending on your orientation. But once you’ve got that figured out you now have a shopping list to go to the marketplace with. You’re not just going out to buy the CRM leader. You’re not just going out to buy CRM because somebody told you to.

You’re going out there to buy a solution to customer attrition. And when you do that, all of a sudden you’re not a neophyte, you know as much as the salesperson and the salesperson has to prove to you that their product is what you need.

Q: Right. And it’s changing the whole perimeters of what you’re looking for. You’re a much more empowered buyer in that mindset. I love that advice. My last question—you have the fortune, or maybe misfortune, of speaking with hundreds of organizations now who have gone through this CRM purchase process. What have you seen in terms of culture? We know tech without strategy isn’t effective, but what have you seen from the best companies in terms of their culture?

A: That’s a really insightful question. There are two ways to run a company. You can run it like a fiefdom or you can run it as a collaborative enterprise, not in all aspects, but in the cultural aspect of running a culture of continuous improvement.

By doing that you transform your business into a practice. You’re always asking the question, “How do I get better?” And sometimes the answer to that is, “I need new software. I need new tools. I need to train my people better.” There’s a variety of things that you can do, but it all starts with asking basic questions and committing yourself to be a culture of continuous improvement.

Q: Bonus question, what do you want for Christmas?

How about world peace, economic stability, and an end to COVID.

Sounds good to me. Thank you to Denis Pombriant for such a compelling interview. You can download his new research report here.

This transcript may be edited for readability.

Katie Martell
Katie Martell is the host of Experience TV, a show about the economic revolution we’re living through, the Experience Economy. She is known as an “unapologetic marketing truth-teller” a LinkedIn Top Voice in Marketing, and "one of the most interesting people in B2B marketing.” Her forthcoming documentary and book, Woke-Washed, examines the collision of social movements and marketing, and she is the author of Trust Me, B2B, a short book about building long-term trust. Follow her on Twitter @KatieMartell and subscribe to The World’s Best Newsletter at Katie-Martell.com.
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