May 3, 2012
Customer relationship management, or CRM, software has a bad reputation. Many consider CRM to be simply a burden on salespeople. Nex Solutions’ CRM doesn’t fit the software implementation stereotype. The platform isn’t all-encompassing; for example, it doesn’t link sales reports to quoting systems, accounting, scheduling, or other modules that might go into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) or manufacturing execution system (MES). Instead, it simply helps salespeople be more responsive and build relationships with existing and potential customers.
Customer relationship management, or CRM, software has a bad reputation. Many consider CRM to be simply a burden on salespeople. The software means they now must click here to file reports, click there to access the quoting system, click here to log a call. Managers often buy CRM software to help measure the sales process. In manufacturing, if it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved upon, right? Isn’t the same true for sales, arguably the most important process in any business? After all, without sales, a shop floor stops working.
Joe Chase, sales and marketing manager at Litch– field, Mich.-based fabricator Nex Solutions, said that sales, though the primary driver of any business, is a process that doesn’t necessarily require exhaustive analysis at all times. Most metal fabricators don’t employ a sales team of hundreds. An extremely large shop may have as many as a dozen, but most fabricators could count the number of salespeople on one hand.
Still, Nex Solutions implemented a CRM package all the same, with great success. How, exactly? As Chase explained, the fabricator kept it simple. Managers chose a software-as-a-service CRM provider (that is, a Web-based platform) that allows them to choose certain elements and leave out others.
Nex Solutions’ CRM doesn’t fit the software implementation stereotype. The platform isn’t all-encompassing; for example, it doesn’t link sales reports to quoting systems, accounting, scheduling, or other modules that might go into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) or manufacturing execution system (MES). Instead, Chase said, it simply helps salespeople be more responsive and build relationships with existing and potential customers.
The FABRICATOR: What’s your experience with implementing customer relationship management (CRM) systems?
Joe Chase: Before joining Nex Solutions, I worked in the telecommunications and local TV advertising sectors, and I’ve implemented CRM platforms in both. These weren’t massive companies with huge sales forces, either. Like fabrication job shops, they were small companies with small sales teams that worked with perhaps dozens of accounts, but certainly not hundreds.
For my first CRM implementation, we went the whole nine yards. We spent six months customizing before we ever implemented anything. Customer service functions were in there. So were a parts inventory system, an ordering system, quoting, and invoicing. It began to look like a full-blown ERP system.
We tried to get too much out of the system, which is why we got some pushback from the salespeople. That’s when I learned. The problem was that we tried to add other functionality besides just helping salespeople do their jobs.
The FABRICATOR: As a contract metal fabricator, how did you implement CRM? What did you choose to avoid?
Chase: We looked at CRM as a simple tool to do a few things that can help salespeople. We didn’t implement a platform that was all-encompassing. If salespeople need to start entering data and generating reports, that plays into a larger problem: They feel Big Brother is watching them.
People in other capacities—perhaps engineers and production managers—might not consider all those reports as Big Brother. They might just look at them as a way to measure and improve the manufacturing process. But salespeople are different, and so is their job. Good salespeople are independent thinkers. All those reports may make that person feel management doesn’t trust them.
There’s a good reason for this. I’d argue that sales managers should use only bottom-line measurements, not process measurements. In other words, how much are their salespeople selling? Salespeople can’t argue with that metric. If the person isn’t bringing in results, there’s a problem. And at job shops, sales teams aren’t big. The salesperson’s problems probably can be handled by simply walking over to his or her desk, or picking up the phone.
That said, there is a place for such tracking. For instance, we outsourced some research to a telemarketing firm, which would call companies and ask a few brief questions to prequalify prospects. People at the firm told us that their employees could make so many calls within a certain time frame, and they allowed us to use our Web-based CRM platform to track the callers’ performance. Because we saw how many calls they were making, we knew they weren’t even getting close to the number of calls they promised. Because our CRM tracked those calls, we were able to measure their performance and get extra time on the contract—to make sure we got what we paid for.
But for experienced, in-house sales teams—with people who nurture high-dollar accounts—it’s different. Say a CRM program requires successful salespeople to record the number of calls made in a day. As a job shop sales manager, why should you care how many calls they make if they’re selling? It comes down to knowing the personalities of your reps. I’m not going to try some customization to the CRM and make everybody use it in a certain way.
The FABRICATOR: What elements of CRM did you implement, and why?
Chase: We don’t run sales reports from our CRM. All reports come from our accounting system. That accounting system gives us the bottom-line metrics we need to measure our sales performance.
Overall, we didn’t concentrate on the sales proc–ess itself. Each salesperson can have his or her way of making a sale. Instead, we looked at a few elements that actually help sales reps with their day-to-day job. For instance, our CRM sends reminders. No sales rep can say he remembers every phone call and every follow-up he’s supposed to make, and when he’s supposed to make it.
We also coordinate our touches—that is, the timing and specific method of contact for prospects. We may send an automatically generated e-mail, then several weeks later a postcard, then another e-mail—often to various individuals within an organization. This will include the purchasing department, of course, but it may also include engineering and production management. We customize each letter, e-mail, and postcard for specific industries and, if the prospect is large enough, for a specific customer as well. This may include anything, from verbiage about the prospect’s company to photos of an OEM’s products on a postcard.
We’re speaking directly to them, and this warms up that first phone call. I’ve even had prospects chuckle the moment after I introduce myself on the phone. “Oh, we were expecting to hear from you!” All this shows a prospect that we’re not marketing to the masses. Instead, we’ve identified the prospect as a good fit for the fabrication services we offer.
Salespeople then can use the CRM to take notes—when a prospect is best to reach, a bit about their personality, or a bit of personal information. If the prospect mentions a spouse’s name, the salesperson can write that name in the CRM for future reference. Does the prospect have kids who are into a certain sport? If a prospect volunteers that information, we put it in the CRM.
At the same time, we don’t use the CRM as a script. I sometimes receive calls from vendors, and the person on the other end dictates a laundry list of discussion points: We said this, this, and this on such-and-such a date. It’s amazing they remember such detail from a five-minute phone call three years ago, right? Of course, I know they’re reading notes on a screen, and they’re probably using a CRM program. Does it really help build any kind of working relationship if they’re just reading notes from the last phone call they made? Not really.
The FABRICATOR: If you’re using the software for reminders and note-taking, is a CRM package necessary, or can you use an e-mail client or other generic business software package?
Chase: It’s not just about taking notes and sending reminders. It’s also about ease of use and accessibility of information. With CRM, you can pull up an entire contact history with a prospect or current customer. The CRM syncs with our e-mail program, so we can pull up both inbound and outbound e-mails, including attachments.
If I’m sending a quote, I can go to that contact, pull up the e-mails, and in a separate box also see every e-mail attachment I’ve ever sent to that customer or prospect. It’s all listed right there. I don’t have to sift through e-mails to find what I need.
From a management perspective, the CRM gives us a central repository for all of our contact information and history. What if a salesperson leaves, or a customer service person needs to see a contact history with a company, but the sales rep is out on the road and out of pocket? The software platform helps us share information, and that was a big reason we brought in a CRM program.
The FABRICATOR: If you had one piece of advice to give other fabricators thinking about implementing a CRM system, what would it be?
Chase: Try going with a simple CRM system. Don’t make it too complex. Just concentrate on two or three elements you really want—be it reminders, note- taking, sharing sales information, or anything else—to help augment what your salespeople are already doing. Give broad guidelines, but try to give salespeople the flexibility to use the software to fit their work habits.
In short, try to use CRM to help the sales team, not to measure or judge their performance.
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