I was promoted to VP of sales a few months before the pandemic hit. I feel like I have been in an industrial washing machine ever since, and am just starting to come up for air. There was a lot of training at the beginning but then our entire book of business and go-to-market strategies shifted. It has been mayhem, but things are starting to settle now.
I have an amazing team. I physically moved in order to take over a new region, so all of my people are relatively new colleagues, which is nice. About two years ago, our company changed CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems. [Note: This is the system that sales leaders and marketing use to gain visibility into prospects, contact info, opportunities/pipeline, forecasting, account plans, competitive intelligence, etc.]
The new system is fine; not any worse or better than the old one. My people have figured out how to make it work for them and comply with requirements. But there are exceptions.
One sales rep, who creates amazing relationships with his customers and crushes his quota, cannot for the life of him get his info into the system. It’s great when he suddenly brings in huge projects, but then there is a scramble to deliver on the contract. Then there’s another rep who puts everything into the system beautifully but can’t seem to get anything done other than that—and she certainly can’t close.
My boss is giving me a hard time about both of them, but very little guidance on how to get them to where they need to be. Thoughts?
Dear CRM Conundrum,
I consulted our sales leaders here at Blanchard because I thought these may be common issues that they might have some good experience with. Judd Hoekstra and Sarah Caverhill both weighed in, so I credit them for a lot of this response.
I see 3 different issues in your letter.
- One rep who crushes the numbers but won’t comply with keeping his data current in the CRM, which causes problems for you as a boss and for others downstream.
- One rep who is very good at CRM management but doesn’t seem to know how to actually sell.
- A boss who isn’t very helpful.
Today let’s deal with your sales genius who can’t/won’t comply, I will do a Part 2 later to address the other two issues.
There is an old New Yorker Cartoon of a guy in his underwear, smoking a cigarette and holding a martini at the water cooler, who says to another guy, “When you’re nailing the numbers, they don’t ask questions.” I bought a print and gave to our (then) VP of sales, but he didn’t think it was as funny as I did. I guess I have a really sick sense of humor. And until the advent of the now universally used CRM, I think it was kind of true that when sales reps would hit their goals, nobody much cared about how they did it or anything else. Your sales wiz is probably a bit of a holdover from those days. There is a progression to think through on this:
Get Clear About Development Level: What is your sales rep’s development level on using the CRM? In the language of our SLII® Model, development level is a combination of competence and commitment. There is a good chance that your rep hasn’t taken the time to get good at using the CRM because he doesn’t think he has to. The personality profile of people who are terrific at initiating and building terrific relationships that inspire buyers to commit usually does not include attention to detail and compliance with what they might consider to be annoying rules. And in today’s hypercompetitive job landscape, we are asking employees to be good at many skills. Being good at just one aspect of a job is no longer enough. So let’s be clear that you are asking a chicken to climb a tree or a squirrel to lay an egg—it won’t be natural or easy.
Gain Commitment: You are going to have to work with this rep on his willingness to commit to learning, getting good at, and using the CRM. First gain commitment, then get him the instruction and support that he will need to get skilled. How to do this? Explain how important the data is, why the organization requires it, and why you need it. Then set up small, reasonable milestones to get him where he needs to be. Sarah Caverhill shared an experience she had with a rep who refused to use our new CRM:
“I told her I understood she didn’t want to do it and asked her what was getting in her way. We identified a few things like ‘I get too busy in my day to do it’ and ‘I hate it—it’s drudgery.’ I explained that we need the data to run and grow our business. (Garbage in, garbage out—you want us to provide more resources? Then you need to do your part to help us see what’s coming down the pike. You want better project manager performance? Then you need to prepare your PMs with better info. And so forth.) I asked her if she understood the importance and she said she did. I then asked her what she could do to remove the things that were getting in her way and adjust her motivational outlook. We came up with several ideas. Eventually, she settled on one idea, which was to allocate 15 minutes each morning to updating the CRM before she started work. From that time on—and we’re talking years—I never had an issue with her opps being out of date. Sometimes the information was sort of a guess, but it was reliably input and often more accurate than I had expected.”
Be Fierce with Accountability and Enforce Consequences: If your sales rep simply refuses, you have a whole other problem. It sounds like he has gotten away with noncompliance thus far and is pretty sure that if he just ignores the situation, it will go away. If that is the case, you will have to discuss it with your boss and make a decision. There is probably a historical precedent in your organization that high performers can do whatever they want (in sales, especially, this is epidemic). So you need to choose to either perpetuate that culture or shift it—now. If you choose to perpetuate it, you will agree to let your rep not comply. Be aware that this will create issues of fairness if it hasn’t already: why do some people get away with bad behavior while others do not? All humans are hypersensitive to issues of fairness and will resent you for any preferential treatment you offer to anyone. On the flip side, you will have to come up with consequences for noncompliance, for which you are willing to hold both yourself and him accountable. This sets you up to be the compliance police, jury, judge, and parole officer, which will be a massive bummer—but that’s why managers make the big bucks. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.
Any system of requirements/consequences for noncompliance will work as long as you commit to it and take action according to plan. The final result could very well be that your rep will lose his job. This is why you need your boss to have your back. And, of course, it would hurt you to lose his numbers, so you will need to figure out how to cover your loss.
Judd Hoekstra says: “This is probably one of the more draining aspects of the sales leader role, because it’s ongoing unless there is alignment on tough consequences (like losing your job) for noncompliance.”
I will cover the other two issues next week, because this answer is already too long. I will float one more idea, though: Would it make sense to pair your sales rock star with your data tracking rock star? Pair a chicken with a squirrel? Have one show the other how it’s done? Is anyone else thinking that could be a good idea? Of course, then you would have a potentially fraught compensation formula to calculate.
Isn’t sales leadership fun? I admire all of you, honestly—I couldn’t take the heat.
More next week.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.