NZ Ag: 5 reasons why your rural sales team aren't using CRM (and how to fix it)

The best sales teams embrace CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems. The worst avoid them like the plague. I’ve worked with plenty of rural sales teams and seen most types and heard most excuses. I always tell National Sales Managers they get the teams they deserve. Sometimes the truth hurts but it needs to be said or things stay the same. What you tolerate and the standards you accept dictate the talent and results you end up with. No getting around it.

As a business, how are you able to confidently predict or forecast future income when you have no idea of the current sales pipeline and the propensity of those opportunities to convert? Looking at last year’s results helps but without manageable or stretched targets, how will you grow your rural business? And as they say, "what you can't measure you can't manage".

Some of the best advice I got was when I was told: people’s behaviour tells you all you need to know. Not what they say or promise. Where they spend their time signals their priorities.

Industrial billionaire and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie said it best: “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” Great advice we should tell our children I reckon (minus the men bit). 

So here are my top 5 reasons why your rural sales team are not using CRM and what you can do change it:

  1. Insecurity - some don’t want to be held accountable so they fear and fight it (if only they could invest this same energy in a more positive way right?). They don’t want someone looking over their shoulder checking their sales cycles. These are warning signs. The good ones go with the flow because they have nothing to fear or hide. Instead of insecurity, we need to be building confidence with our sales teams. Confidence not only in themselves but also the products they promote. Many companies fail to deliver adequate training and coaching at on-boarding stage or don’t share the front line intelligence between more and less experienced team members. Confidence always comes from competencies. If a manager or employer suggests to sales staff “fake it till you make it” they are doing you and their company a great disservice. Instead of being dismissive, invest time, patience and energy developing the specific skills and competencies your sales team need - preferably on an individual basis because each of them will have different skill sets and PD needs. A good CRM also has the very positive affect of helping employer's understand where the pressure points are or where sales reps might be over-loaded. There are many positives.

  2. Patch Protection - “these are my customers that I’ve made over years, not yours”. Ouch. They think their customers, network and relationships are their own. In most cases, companies have paid good money to access and leverage the networks of the sales teams they employ. Unless you work for yourself, as a FTE taking a salary there are your employer’s customers, not your own. Be the professional you are and work together. Go for collaboration, not protection.

  3. Complexity - usability, or UX, is key and too often companies suffer complexity bias or are persuaded by IT folk to create a fully customised CRM that becomes over-whelming for its users. You might think your company is unique but almost all companies sales processes follow a similar path: suspect-prospect-customer-referrer-advocate. Most CRM tools are tried and true with functionality that caters for most needs. CRM user interface has be as good as the other everyday tools they use like Spotify or Netflix (the latter who are masters in UX in my opinion). If they’re still having a "BMW", tell them if they can do their Internet Banking (which most will be), they can use a CRM. Just choose your CRM package carefully. There as many good as bad ones out there. Speak to qualified people who have worked with and used CRM with teams to get their opinions.

  4. Poor Management - yes you. There is not point asking your sales team to invest their valuable time recording customer interactions on a CRM and then you not using it. Same goes for time sheet systems. Reporting is the other side of recording or why bother? Like all of us, people want to know what they are providing is of value and is making a difference. Make sure you regularly communicate and connect using your CRM as the tool to your weekly sales meetings. That way you can be a better manager, or leader, by helping and supporting your rural team across the whole sales journey, not just at the end where you did or didn’t get the deal (tip: you will always learn more from your losses and don’t lose the lesson when you do - thanks Dad :).

  5. Commitment - the answer to a lack of engagement is a lack of discipline. All CRMs - big and small - take discipline and commitment to keep them updated. Just like databases and content strategy. Crap in means crap out. Watch out too for those that hide behind new shiny, software. Changing systems every year because no one’s been using them doesn’t fix the problem. Discipline and commitment does. Don’t be like that married couple you know who keep changing houses to fix a broken relationship. Work with what you’ve got, understand what's happening and make it better.

It’s not all about computers and technology either. They help but at some point you have to get out there and see the people. No one I know gets business sitting behind a desk, unless of course you have a fantastic inbound marketing strategy. See the people people!

Not using a CRM or not using one effectively means you are flying blind making assumptions or relying on guesswork at best. It’s a dangerous path representing real business risk that can give you some nasty surprises come end of financial year or quarter. If your sales team aren’t using your current CRM find out why. Don't be critical, be curious. Involve them in the selection process and train them like you and their livelihoods depend on them because they do. Your rural competitor sales teams will be using CRM and you should be too.

Make it happen.