So what can go wrong if you don’t add that human touch in implementing a CRM technology for your sales efforts? Here are the top three ways that can bring you to ruin.

Not that many years ago, I recall editing an article called “Will Sales Force Automation Replace Salespeople?” I think we all know that’s a silly statement -- akin to asking, “Will Food Processors Replace Chefs?” Just as in cooking, there are human talents to sales that technology complements but cannot replace, and while the productivity brought by automation could result in reduced head counts, talented sales pros will always survive.

That talent -- the human talent for knowing how to apply data in the right way to reach a desired outcome -- has never been as useful as it is today. There are great new tools for sales pros to put to use, but it could be really easy to take the data they produce and use it incorrectly -- and achieve the exact opposite of your objective.

Here are the top three ways to take an investment in technology -- CRM, SFA, lead management or marketing automation -- and, lacking the “soft skills” involved in being human, use it to ruin your sales efforts:

1. Creeping People Out with Data

Yes, it’s great that customers volunteer information about themselves through social media. That gives you the ability to know more about them and to tailor your sales pitch to them. But you need to use some finesse about it. For instance, if you utilize InsideView to develop a most-recent-data-based portrait of who a customer is, that’s great. However, if you open a call by saying, “So…. How are your daughter’s soccer teams doing? And has Bobby’s broken leg healed? And has your wife’s car broken down since the alternator repair in June?” you will not just seem interested in the prospect’s life. You will seem creepy.

Same goes for certain real-time alerting applications. DemandBase is a neat tool for seeing who’s on your website at any give time and then alerting sales reps about their visit; a contact within an hour has an 81 percent better chance of becoming a closed sale than one who’s contacted within two hours. However, it’s unnerving to open a website and, three minutes later, get a call from someone saying, “I saw which pages you clicked on just now...”

A smart salesman would use InsideView to understand the customer, and DemandBase to establish a good time to reach out to the customer. Then, he’d bring up soccer, or car repairs, or the topics of certain web pages -- and allow the customer to associate his words with the things he’d recently experience. Creepy factor minimized.

2. Falling in Love with Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is a useful concept in marketing automation, especially for leads that are going to take a while to become ready to buy. The idea is to assign a point value to certain activities -- for example, responding to an email, watching a webinar or video, asking questions on a discussion board about the company, or viewing certain web pages. Weighting these activities based on how often they indicate a readiness to buy can then give you a score, and if the score reaches a certain level, then the lead is flagged and passed to sales.

Learning Opportunities

It’s a great concept, except when businesses design points systems that don’t work, or when they get so into assigning scores to things that they undervalue activities that, by themselves, scream “I’m ready to buy!” A great example is a visit to a pricing page for software -- few people look at prices for business software until they’re sure of what it will do or how it will meet their needs. Another example is when, independent of other selling activity, a customer calls sales out of the blue with questions. These are events that should jump the lead-scoring turnstiles and put these prospects in front of your sales teams’ eyes immediately. Instead, these are often seen as high-value point activities that don’t reach the threshold of action -- and this represent a tragic missed opportunity.

3. Management Above All Else

In the old days, managers would use quarter-end reports to identify failed sales people and thus locate targets for coaching -- or, more often, their ire. Low performers were often moved out of the company, and that trend has only intensified; some companies eliminate the low-performing 40 percent of their sales force annually.

Today, CRM and pipeline management tools allow managers to see activity in near real time -- meaning that the once-quarterly report has been replaced by a constant flow of information about sales performance. Managers can spot weak performers and intervene to help them improve their numbers -- or subject them to verbal abuse, if they’re so inclined.

There’s only one problem with this scenario: the salespeople are the ones who enter data into the CRM system. If management is too heavy-handed, and if managers lose sight of the fact that sales improvement is the goal, not microscopic levels of management, they will fail to articulate the ways that CRM can help sales people sell more effectively and make more in commissions. In organizations where CRM has devolved into a tool for sales management, an insidious side effect begins to occur: the sales team stops using CRM. It only makes sense: if CRM is only there to track performance so my manager has something to use as a cudgel against me, why would I use the software to provide him with ammunition for his beat-downs?

The result tends to be organization-wide failure to adopt CRM, which not only robs managers of visibility into what’s happening in sales, but also keeps marketing and customer service from gaining useful visibility as well. The result is a managerial error in approach which can scuttle a multi-million dollar CRM effort and rob the business of cross-departmental information sharing that accounts for even more lost dollars.

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