This letter first appeared in Volume 1 Number 1 (December 1994) Sales Process Engineering & Automation Review, the official journal of the Sales Automation Association. I am republishing it here, nearly 25 years later, mostly because I am a sentimental old fart! But as you read the letter, you will see that many of the issues still exist today! With my various health issues over the last two years, I might not have badgered the CRM developers as much as I need to. So, going forward, I will be shining even brighter lights on those folks who are doing a great job. At the same time, I will be letting you all know just which apps are not making the grade. Life is too short for crappy apps!
So, stay tuned and I will help you discover the CRM solutions that will assure you have an amazing 2018!
My wife, Jean, and I have had a very good year. We don’t have much to ask for at all this year. Please give us continued good health. Things have been great, though we would both like to drop a few pounds! The business has been growing nicely, if we can keep growing as much as we did this year, that would be great. Those two things would make us both very happy.
There is one big problem that I would really appreciate your help with though. And the good news is that this would bring happiness to a lot of other people. Here is my problem. Each day I spend several hours talking to people who are trying to improve their sales and marketing operations. They aren’t always sure, but they think this thing called sales force automation (SFA) might be the answer. By the time they call me, they are generally confused and frustrated because most of the companies selling these SFA programs just don’t get it. This is the era of the customer. If a company wants to improve their sales, they must do it by taking better care of their customers. People want tools from the SFA companies that will help them take better care of their customers. Santa, if you can help me get this message out to all of these SFA companies it will create a flood of joy for millions of people in the new year. The SFA companies will be happy because they will sell more software. The sales and marketing managers at companies will be happy because they will be getting the tools they need to do their jobs better. But, most important, the customer at all of these companies will be happy because they will be getting the outstanding service they deserve. So, let’s look at a few of the points I wish SFA companies would address for the new year.
First, there are some mundane, but important, technical issues. An effective SFA program must be customizable and flexible. No two companies do business with the same customers in the same way. A program must be easily adaptable to the requirements of different companies. It is really very simple. What information would help you take better care of your customers? A good SFA program should let you easily capture, analyze and report this information. There are no good technological reasons for limited numbers of “user-defined fields” today. It is amazing how much effort is wasted by people laboring to decide the best way to allocate the 23 (or whatever number) user-defined fields provided by their SFA programs to capture the information they need about their customers. This is crazy. SFA programs must provide the customizability and flexibility people need to take care of their customer.
Sales is also about good communication. Communication between salespeople in the field and marketing staff in the office, communication among salespeople in the field, and communication sales and service people are just a few of the important communication channels that need to be present.. To facilitate this communication, SFA programs must work well with the leading email programs on the market. So that people can continue to work independently, yet still share current information, SFA programs must also provide effective database synchronization. This synchronization must be easy to use so that salespeople are able to do it while traveling across the country.
Though a few people still wish they could use the Macintosh, most people want Windows programs today. They must be “well behaved” Windows programs so that they work smoothly with any other Windows program that will help people take better care of their customers. A program must also be scalable. Almost everyone will need a local area network system to start., with convenient remote access for field salespeople. However, as a business grows, many people will want to move to a client/server architecture. On the “client” side, people still want an easy-to-use Windows program, preferably the same one they used when they got started. On the “server” side, give us Oracle, Sybase and Microsoft SQL Server. For those occasions when people will need access to data in their older mainframe or UNIX systems, let their MIS staff manage the communications with the server system.
Too many of the SFA programs on the market today are totally “passive” systems. They don’t actually help you take better care of your customers, they just keep track of a lot of information that management might use for something someday. We need to make an important paradigm shift here. When you start keeping detailed information on your customers and use this information to try to take better care of your customers, that’s database marketing. This is a proactive process where you continually reach out to your customer to learn more about their needs and how you might better serve them. This is a subtle distinction that most SFA companies miss. However, when people grasp this concept, it changes forever the way they want to use their SFA programs.
Attend any marketing conference these days and you will hear several recurring themes: relationship marketing, integrated marketing communications and frequency marketing. These all require an increased level of communication with customers. These communications should include a delicate blend of mail, telephone, and field sales (maybe even FAX and internet.) The key is to provide the most appropriate communication (from the customer’s perspective) that will help your customer advance to the next stage of your sales cycle. The software should support and simplify these activities. It is not enough to merely schedule a telephone call or letter for a future date. Good relationship marketers can map out entire communications campaigns to take better care of their customers. SFA programs must be able to manage these complex communications with thousands of customers.
The SFA programs must help people take better care of their customers – not just force salespeople to do more grunt work. Let the computers do the grunt work! To effectively implement the relationship marketing strategies that our customers are demanding, these programs must support multi-step strategies consisting of any combination of communication activities appropriate. The computer power exists to support these proactive marketing efforts. The software developers need to catch up with the marketing concepts that will carry companies into the next century!
Well, Santa, that’s about it. Please help some of the SFA software companies understand and appreciate some of these points. Then, we might start seeing more programs that will help people take better care of their customers. Look for your cookies and milk in the usual place on Christmas Eve. Get ready for a real treat! Jean has come up with a great new chocolate chip cookie recipe just for you!