June 8, 2013

Turn Off the CRM AutoPilot and Get Strategic About Where to Spend Your Time

I love to fly. If you’re a regular here, you know about my loyalty to and friendship with my personal Sales Force One – Southwest Airlines, and why I think Southwest is the Sales Airline. But as highly as I think of Southwest for a commercial flight, nothing compares to flying in a private business jet.

Early in my career I was blessed with the crazy opportunity to serve as the assistant to the CEO and founder of Slim-Fast when the company was one of the hottest brands in the country. I got the cherry assignment of purchasing our first jet (which ended up being Gulfstream III S/N 351 for you fellow aviation nuts), and overseeing the flight department. To this day, it’s still the most fun I’ve had in business. Beyond the mind-blowing convenience and flexibility of having a jet at your disposal, my favorite part was spending time in the jump seat right behind the pilots. And while those guys were great sticks and masters at hand-flying the plane, the truth is that about 80 percent of the time you’re in the air the plane is flying on autopilot.

Autopilot is just easier. You enter the flight plan and when you’re ready, flip the switch, and the autopilot takes you to your destination. Along the way, you enter slight deviations based on instructions from Air Traffic Control. But, for the most part, barring a red flashing light on the instrument panel or some other unforeseen situation, the strategy and control aspect of the flight is over until you disengage the autopilot.

Salespeople have their own version of “autopilot.” It’s their CRM system. Now before you start calling me a dinosaur and hurling rocks my direction, hear me out. I love helpful tools and toys as much as the next guy, But recently, I am observing way too many supposed sales hunters who’ve completely turned off their brains; they’ve abdicated all thinking about how they spend their days to the CRM task list.

I see it in company after company. I’ll ask a salesperson which target prospects they’re proactively pursuing right now/this week/this month, and many, without even pausing will say, “whichever accounts pop up on my screen.”  Or I’ll be visiting a client and stop at an under-performer’s desk to see if/how they’re implementing the coaching I’ve provided. When I inquire as to how they’re doing and what they’re working on, typically I get a loud, tired sigh as they point to a list of tasks in their CRM that have turned red. They’ll tell me that they’re really behind and need to get caught up — of course, with no thought as to whether “catching up” on overdue sales tasks will produce any meaningful opportunities in the pipeline.

This malady affects good salespeople, too. I had a 1:1 earlier this week with one of my favorite, highly talented reps at a smaller local company I consult. In our last session we agreed that to be more effective moving prospects from what I call the “Targeted” stage to the “Active” stage of her funnel, she needed to pare down her list. It was simply too big, and she wasn’t able to gain traction because her efforts were spread across too many prospects. When I followed-up to see how the strategic paring down exercise turned out, I was disappointed with her answer. The rep said that it was just too much work and she didn’t think she should take the time to narrow down her list. So instead, she was deciding on the fly which accounts to pursue and which to put to the side when they came due on her CRM’s daily task list. Wow. That’s neither the answer I was looking for nor a strategy I can endorse.

Salespeople, please listen to me. Turn off the blasted autopilot!  Look up and look around. Turn your brain back on. Time is your most precious asset. Shouldn’t you be deciding how to spend it to drive the most revenue? Contrary to how so many reps behave today, we are not paid to check off tasks in the CRM; we are paid to grow the business, to bring in New Sales.

Sales managers: Maybe, just maybe, you are the one causing your reps to be more obsessed with not completing their CRM tasks than whether they’re actually selling anything because that’s where you’re focusing your attention.

In my next post, I’l tackle the “Milk Run,” which is a close cousin of the Autopilot issue, except that it happens to salespeople who manage territories of existing customers.

I just want to take one minute to express my appreciation to Jonathan Farrington and the team at Top Sales World. Yesterday they published their Top Sales & Marketing Influencers for 2013, and I am humbled and honored to be included again this year. So, thanks to Jonathan and Top Sales World, and thanks to my wonderful clients, all of you who follow and support this blog, read or reviewed my book, and keep up with me online – Mike.