Todd Martin

Todd Martin

Sales Strategy

You can scroll the shelf using and keys

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Applications: Similar Features, Different Approaches

August 18, 2014

Let’s back up a little and explore the innards of CRM solutions.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “7 Questions to Ask When You’re Looking at CRM Solutions.” It occurs to me that some of you may be new to our profession, and you haven’t been properly introduced to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and websites. Others might be experienced salespeople, but you’re still using paper and pen, or a hybrid of computer software and Rolodex, file folders, paper calendars, etc.

Todd Martin 081514 imageSo I wanted to use this space to briefly talk about the elements that comprise state-of-the-art CRM applications. In 2014, there are dozens of them, and they’re all over the map:

  • Some are still desktop-based.
  • Others are desktop-based with links to the internet.
  • Many reside solely on websites.
  • Some offer only the traditional CRM features that we’ve seen since the 1990s, while others have moved beyond those basic capabilities.

All, though – at least the best of them – have similar characteristics. I’ll outline those most commonly found today.

A contact database. There’s a class of software called “contact managers,” like ACT!, GoldMine, and Maximizer. Many of these products are still available as desktop software. CRM software and websites still have this core attribute, a series of pre-defined screens with specialized fields for storing information about your business contacts. If you already have a computer-based file containing contact data, you can often import it.

A history log. Your contact database has another element that is critical in the sales process: a record of your past interaction with every individual and company. CRM software and websites have built-in fields – or entire screens – for logging phone calls, meeting notes, on-site-visits, emails, etc.

A mechanism for tracking opportunities and leads. This means more than a list of dates and meetings and other activities. Many CRM applications offer tools for visualizing the sales pipeline.

Integration with other related applications. State-of-the-art CRM solutions can be integrated with dozens of other applications, ranging from word processing to email marketing to accounting, as well as general productivity tools.

Searching and reporting capabilities. The busier you are, the more critical it is that you can find information quickly and get customized overviews of your sales status.

“Social CRM”

Today’s best CRM applications provide an easy way for you to create a much more comprehensive profile of your customers and prospects. They help you find their activity and connections, their likes and dislikes, their challenges and their needs, by seeing how they interact on social networking sites. You can actually view those “streams” of updates within your CRM application, right in the individual person or company’s profile.

Social CRM solutions fill in some of the blanks, providing insight into who your contacts are, not just how they prefer to be contacted and what they purchased from you most recently. A good social CRM application can help you know your customers and prospects to a degree never before possible.

You’ve Invested in a Social CRM Solution: Now What?

August 7, 2014

Knowing how to use a word processor doesn’t make you a good writer. Some tips on getting the most out of your social CRM application.

I’ve been watching the AMC show, Halt and Catch Fire. Set in the offices of a fictional, very ambitious computer manufacturer in 1983, it chronicles the chaotic early days of PC clone development.

It’s hard to believe in these days of the web, smartphones, tablets, and even wearable computers, but it was only 30 years ago when companies were scrambling to just get those big clunky boxes to respond to input quickly enough that users wouldn’t turn away and do something else.

I’ve read many definitions of the actual phrase “Halt and Catch Fire” (HCF) because I find the concept so intriguing. It’s a decades-old computer command that, according to one definition, “…sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once.” The “catch fire” part wasn’t literal; it simply meant that the computer wore itself out. No instruction won, and the system eventually just up and quit.

Taming the Terabytes

Using a social CRM system can have a similar effect. You can pull your contacts’ social streams into many of them, which can be a very good thing if used wisely. But there’s a temptation to keep following threads and venturing into new social networks. You’re taking in an enormous amount of information and trying to process it in a meaningful way, but eventually you hit a wall, and your prospecting/relationship-building/learning session was for naught.

I was guilty of this kind of energy-sapping exercise in the early days of the CRM-social media marriage. I’m still excited about the possibilities it offers, but I remind myself that social CRM is just one element of my comprehensive business strategy. I’m getting smarter about using my social CRM system, and have established rules for myself for the time I spend on social networking to minimize time and maximize effectiveness. Here are some of them:

I set goals for each online session. What am I trying to accomplish? Am I scoping out the competition? Looking for leads? Finding references to my company?

I create lists of related people and companies. Or Groups, or whatever a particular social network calls them. I can draw on some of these when I do a targeted campaign.

I respond quickly to the comments that I can. Or I make sure that the right person sees them. Where possible, I include links to problem-solving pages on my website, not product-ordering screens.

My tone and content match my brand. This is always in the back of my mind, wherever I go online.

I don’t particularly like the word “influencers,” but I do take note of prominent people who write frequently, intelligently, and fairly about my field.

I set time limits. It’s easy to get caught up on conversations and interesting threads. I schedule my social networking time like I would an appointment.

Turning the Tables

Before social CRM applications became available, I spent a lot of time scribbling notes and sending faxes and emailing other departments. And manually updating my traditional CRM system.

Once I settled on a solution, I spent whatever time I could free up really learning it. And I use every feature that makes sense for me, including:

  • The collaboration tools (keeps co-workers in the loop)
  • The data import and consolidation (helps me maintain comprehensive contact records)
  • The search tools (to discover relationships), and
  • The reports (to understand my sales and activity history, identify potential sales, and adjust my workflow).

Without a social CRM solution, the rules that I set for myself would occasionally produce leads. But by using all of the tools this application offers, I can blend what I discover in the wild world of the web with my existing customer and sales data.

The internet, with all of the information and opinions it publishes to the world about my company’s products, has given more control to prospects and customers in the sales relationship. Social CRM can help salespeople even out that new balance of power.

Changes in Attitude: 7 Habits That Can Boost Confidence — and Sales

July 29, 2014

The word “habit” often conjures up thoughts of bad ones. Here are seven good habits that I’ve found to be effective.

Habits. We all have ‘em, both good and bad.

I wrote about turning New Year’s Resolutions into habits last January, and I’ve been thinking about them more since then. As salespeople, our lives tend to be somewhat fragmented as we rush back and forth to meet with prospects and customers, while trying to keep up with the organizational and planning elements of our work. So it’s especially important for us to develop the habits that not only help keep us on track, but which can ultimately lead to a better sales performance overall.

Todd Martin 072814 image 2I’ve also realized that the positive habits that I work on at home also translate well to my professional activities. Start them at home or start them at work, but the same good habits can improve our lives and our successes in both settings.

Adjusting Attitudes

Here are some habits that I’ve worked on incorporating. They have as much to do with your attitude as they do any particular sales “techniques.”

  • Try to be as proactive as you are reactive. I’m starting out here with one of the more challenging habits. It’s easy to just go through your deal dealing with the tasks that come your way (emails, expense reports, managing staff, etc.). Those things must be done, but try to schedule even 15 minutes of every day just thinking about how you’re going to move forward. Are there training needs? Should you consider implementing a CRM system (or switching to a new one)? Can you hone your hiring process to improve it for the next time?
  • Focus, focus, focus. You probably have a dozen things that need your immediate attention. When you work on one, you hear the others calling. Again, take time early in your day to prioritize.
  • Evaluate your progress in big and small ways. You can’t know what needs fixing until you know what’s not going well. Be conscientious about applying the standard metrics provided for you, but find ways to measure your performance and claim small victories.
  • Stay positive and confident by reminding yourself of other opportunities that exist. I always try to keep my other prospects in the back of my mind, especially when it looks like a sale is not going to close. It keeps the desperation out of your interaction with customers, which most of them can sense.
  • Think of yourself as a business consultant, not just a salesperson. How can you help this prospect? Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. Sell solutions, not just products. If there isn’t a good fit, acknowledge that.
  • Be discriminating. You know that little voice in your head that sometimes tell you that you’re barking up the wrong tree but you don’t want to admit because you really, really need this sale to make quota? Listen to it.
  • Cut to the chase sooner sometimes. One of your skills that led you to this profession is the ability to read people. You don’t always have to lead up to your primary pitch with small talk. If your prospects seem fidgety, at least encourage them to talk about their business needs in detail.

Practice Makes Perfect

Act as if. You’ve probably encountered this concept. It simply means going through the motions even if an activity or thought process feels foreign to you. Do it enough times, and it becomes a confidence-builder – and a good habit.

Do You Need a CRM Solution? 5 Clues

July 9, 2014

A Customer Relationship Management system may solve problems that you didn’t even know you had.

“Workaround” is a word often used by companies and individuals that develop and support software and websites. When they use it, they generally mean that the features you’re looking for aren’t available, but there are alternate routes to accomplishing – at least in part – what you’re trying to do.

Do you find yourself applying the same concept to your sales-related customer relationship management tasks? You’ve cobbled together an elaborate system of email folders and extensions and add-ons, used Outlook’s tools to the max, and you maintain your contact database in an Excel spreadsheet.

Todd Martin 070914Most of your competition, on the other hand, is using at least a basic Customer Relationship Management solution. Why? Because they saw the same signs that you have and found a more elegant, centralized, collaborative way to deal with it.

Here are some of those signs that you may recognize in your own professional life:

  • There’s no one computer screen you can visit that incorporates all of the related details about your customers. This is especially problematic if multiple employees at your company interact with customers. Do you want to call a customer who was just mistakenly called by another salesperson who gave him or her the same pitch? Launch into a friendly conversation when a customer has reported a serious service problem earlier in the day?
  • You have to add minutes or hours to your schedule when you return from working out of the office – just to update your multiple contact-tracking sources. Worse, you don’t remember where you’ve been tracking a particular lead or project.
  • Making decisions and managing your time are ridiculously difficult exercises. With all of your sales and relationship data scattered, you don’t know where to turn first every day. Or second or third. It’s difficult to prioritize your work, and you have to pull information from numerous people and other sources as you prepare to make management decisions.
  • You’re communicating with your team and your customers through email, but you often miss critical communications. Email has changed our personal and professional lives in a big way. But considering the volume you probably receive, it’s inevitable that you inadvertently delete one from time to time. This could cost you a sale.
  • Determining where you are in the sales cycle with your customers takes too much time. Plus, you have to consult numerous applications, or even paper files. Even if you have an email folder devoted to each customer and/or a separate document of some sort (or a paper file), there’s no timeline. You have to reconstruct the sales trail every time you want to interact. You may be even failing to record sales properly.

There are numerous other signs, but you get the idea. CRM software and websites help you conquer the three Cs: communication, collaboration, and clarity. They save time and help you avoid duplicate data entry. They can travel with you wherever you go, and you can graduate to more sophisticated functionality when you need it. They’re designed for the sales profession.

So there’s a good reason for that nagging feeling you have that says There has to be a better way. There is. CRM solutions are as necessary for salespeople as a phone, a firm handshake and a friendly smile.


Manage Relationships with Your Star Customers Using These 7 Tips

June 26, 2014

CRM solutions can be tremendous sales tools, but the old rules about customer relationships still apply – and still contribute to successful sales.

Todd Martin 062514 image 1Although I survived – and often thrived – as a salesperson before I started using CRM software, I can’t imagine going back to a bulging Rolodex and file folders and paper scheduler. I still spend my days chasing leads and talking to people and continuing to school myself about the myriad ways that people can benefit from using my company’s products and services.

My CRM solution does a lot of the heavy lifting now. I’m not as mired in tedious administrative details, and my workflow is much more economical. I’m more productive both in the office and on the road, thanks to mobile technology. And I’m able to make more – and better targeted – connections through email and social media.


7 Questions to Ask When You’re Looking at CRM Solutions

June 18, 2014

Choose your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution carefully.

Todd Martin 061714 image 1What’s the most popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application in use today? If you said “email,” you’d be right. Many businesspeople live in Outlook or Gmail or whatever their preferred email client is. By taking advantage of their integrated apps, extensions, portability and customizability, you can cobble together a reasonably effective CRM solution for your team.

The operative word there is “cobble.” It makes more sense to me to implement an application that was built from the ground up to accommodate very specific customer service and sales needs.


Redefining Social Selling, Part 3

June 9, 2014

Has social media redefined the concepts of sales and marketing? Not in the all-encompassing way that some will tell you, I don’t believe.

You can spend an enormous amount of money these days flying off to conferences, reading books and hiring consultants all focused on how social networks have fundamentally changed the role of salespeople and marketing professionals.

I only know of four ways that things have really changed for me:

  • Customers have a lot more information – and opinions — about my products and services when we first connect.
  • I’ve saved time and money using the internet for some tasks I used to do manually.
  • It’s good to have multiple ways to reach prospect and customers, and
  • I have felt enormous pressure to invest resources in social selling and marketing, and found that what some of the “experts” claim will improve my sales sound good, but don’t translate well into practice.

That’s just me, and I’d love to hear if your experience has been different.

But on to B.J. Mendelson’s Social Media is Bull***, a book you can pick up for the Kindle and in hardback at Amazon for a few bucks. It’s a good read, and like I said earlier, I agreed with much of it, though I believe that there’s more gray area – more exceptions and possibilities — than he does.

Here are Mendelson’s main points:

  • Offline matters more than online. Your location, your circumstances, your audience – that determines everything.
  • 99 percent of the things that are often referred to as “viral” are driven by offline forces: real-world connections, traditional media, legitimate celebrities, corporate spending. Right place, right time explains the rest.
  • The concept that if you put something online “people will see it” is not true. Most YouTube videos go unwatched and most Web sites go unvisited.
  • Momentum is everything on the Web. And that is built by using the connections you’ve already established the old-fashioned way to help get the word out.
  • Be skeptical of metrics like “awareness” and “engagement.” The only metric that matters for small businesses is sales. If you’re not making money, you can’t keep doing what you’re doing (and as far as the Web goes, the only metric that matters is unique visitors coupled with how much time they spend with you and what they click on. The number of unique visitors on its own — like page views, users, free app downloads, followers, fans, likes and YouTube views – is meaningless).
  • Do not hire someone until you’ve exhausted all of your free options. Candidates must be able to give you actual facts and figures, testimonials, case studies and other data. The hype that “You’re just leaving money on the table if you don’t use social media” is just that – hype.
  • The only thing you need is a Web site. One that’s clean, simple, easy to navigate, fast to load, and fun. A Web site won’t cost you a fortune, either. You should also consider having a self-hosted WordPress blog because you control it. All traffic that you get should go to your Web site.
  • Social media is bull****. Search engine optimization (SEO) is not…Build inbound links to your Web site that use keywords associated with whatever you’re doing, and post frequently. The more content (posts, pictures and video) appropriately tagged, the better.

You’ve probably been in the sales profession for years, and you know what’s worked and what hasn’t. I continue to explore how social media might help me build relationships and make sales, but I listen to my gut and only do what I think makes sense for my unique situation, products, target market, resources, etc. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to social media, and you should be wary of anyone who preaches otherwise.



Rethinking Social Selling, Part 2

June 3, 2014

Last week, I introduced some cautionary thinking about the use of social media in sales. Here are some specifics.

“Too many brands today see the ‘bright and shiny’ object called social media and jump right in whenever a new network launches.”

That’s a quote from Michael Brito, one of the contributors quoted in Hazardous to Your Social Media Health: 50 Previously Condoned Behaviors We No Longer Recommend, a free e-book compiled by David Sparks of Sparks Media Solutions, available here.

I have to reiterate what I said in last week’s post before I go on. I am not trashing the concept of using social media as a sales tool. But now that we have a few years under our collective belts using these sites, it’s a good time to step back and evaluate our approach. And listen to some of the voices that aren’t just trying to sell a book or a subscription or attendance at a conference.

That said, here’s more of the advice tendered in the e-book:

Stop “getting your feet wet.” “Stop doing social for the sake of doing social. If you’re pinning to Pinterest just because you’re supposed to, but aren’t getting any traction, stop it right now.”

Stop focusing on your non-existent “community.” “The only thing that matters, and arguably ever mattered, was generating good material and then using the media to get it in front of the right people. At that point, it’ll either fly or die on its own merits.”

Stop endorsing people on LinkedIn. It’s become meaningless.

Stop talking about social media. “What you’re looking to uncover is the story social media is trying to tell. For example, can conversations on Twitter predict future sales?”

Stop following everyone who follows you. Another meaningless gesture when done automatically.

Stop spreading yourself too thin. “Stop thinking your message needs to be everywhere — you can’t engage everywhere so invest in spaces where your clients/customers are, instead of spraying and praying.”

Stop collecting friends. “This giant land grab of users was actually valuable when we weren’t so overwhelmed by social messaging. Now the influx is so overwhelming that we’re reliant on filters to manage the noise.”

Stop engaging in “conversation.” “We need to be focusing on things that are more about action than conversation. Social technology has evolved in a way that enables people to do more, not just talk more.”

Stop responding to everyone. This used to be good advice. But in 2014? “That would be true if everyone deserved a response.”

Stop relying on other social media channels to build your brand. If they pull the plug on a feature, like LinkedIn Answers, there goes part of your online reputation. “Brands should now focus their efforts and resources on driving traffic to owned digital platforms, like self-hosted communities and opt-in email lists. The strategy must be to draw engaged customers and prospects from those third-party outposts back to owned digital assets.”

This post is getting long, and I don’t want to cut short the excerpts from Social Media is Bull**** that I wanted to include. Looks like this will be a three-part post.

Let me say, though, that reading this e-book filled with advice from professionals who have been in social media from the beginning – and practice what they preach — gave me permission to follow that nagging little voice in my head that questioned whether all of the gee-whiz advice online was a little overblown.

It’s time to work smarter on our social selling skills. We’ll call it Social Selling 2.0.


Rethinking Social Selling, Part 1

May 24, 2014

Still skeptical about the effectiveness of social media in sales? You’re not alone. Here’s a look at some contrarian thinking on the issue.

I’ve talked a lot about “social selling” in this blog. And I do believe that social media can play a role in your overall sales and marketing strategy.

But I hope I haven’t – and I don’t think I have – encouraged you to plunge an excessive amount of time and other resources into it. I think it’s a useful tool. Online communications, done well, can clearly help you generate leads, nurture relationships with customers,publish useful information about products and services, and process sales transactions.

But my title is not VP Social Selling. I’ve been a sales manager for over two decades, and in that time, I’ve used a wide variety of tools. Social media is the latest one, and it’s become a highly-visible part of our society.

Not a Panacea

But it’s not the answer to all of our professional challenges. To see it as even a significant part of your sales strategy means that you’re not using your other skills and resources diligently enough. You still need to work your CRM software religiously. Get out and meet prospects and customers in person. Use email in a smart, focused fashion. Make phone calls, send handwritten notes, search for leads using any of numerous methods – you know the drill.

ImageI started thinking about all of this for two reasons. First, I always get a little uneasy when I hear intelligent people promoting the view that a massive network of computer servers connected to desktop PCs and mobile devices has changed anything about the nature of human relationships and the core philosophies that we embrace as salespeople.

Over 15 million copies of How to Win Friends and Influence People have been sold since it was published in 1937. Go to a sales seminar or read a sales how-to book in 2014 and you’ll often see echoes of Dale Carnegie presented as some kind of revolutionary new theory.

The Other Side

Second, two books I read recently both affirmed some things I’ve always thought and made me re-think other elements of my own social selling strategy. I wanted to share some of the thinking from both of them with you to balance the posts I’ve written promoting the use of social media in your sales and marketing efforts.

I still think that you should use social media. We can’t ignore the potential of blogs and Twitter and LinkedIn. But if you’ve hesitated to invest a lot of time and resources in social media, or if you feel like you’re doing too much with too little return, I want to introduce some of the other, just-as-credible voices that are providing commentary on the effectiveness of social media in business.

Here they are. One is an e-book called Hazardous to Your Social Media Health: 50 Previously Condoned Behaviors We No Longer Recommend that you can download free of charge here. It was written by David Sparks of Spark Media Solutions; it’s based on the wisdom of 56 industry “influencers” (more on that word in my next column).

The other is available for a few dollars on Amazon. Its title is Social Media is Bu****it, and its content isn’t as one-sided as it sounds. I agreed with some points and felt that others were not as black-and-white as the author contended.

I’ll highlight some of the thinking in these two books next week. And I’ll be very interested to hear what you think.


Are You Leading Your Sales Team? Or Just Managing It?

May 12, 2014

There’s a big difference. Here are 5 qualities shared by the best sales team leaders.

Salespeople are mavericks. To be effective, they know they can’t always color inside the lines, because there’s more than one way to make a sale. They have to be ready to change directions without any notice sometimes. They have to be creative. Intuitive. Driven. Flexible. High-energy with one prospect and laid-back with another.

ImageNo wonder managing a sales team is like herding cats.

Your title may be “Sales Manager” or “VP of Sales,” but what you really need to be in order to effectively do your job is a leader. Certainly, you have management responsibilities. But the most successful sales managers have in common many of the same leadership traits.

I’ve observed numerous individuals at the top of the sales food chain in my 20+ years of sales management. The best of them were:

  • Trustworthy. Relationships don’t flourish without trust. This is true in friendships, but it must also be earned by leaders. Are you honest? Do you always follow through when you say you’re going to do something?
  • Constantly giving feedback. It’s hard for your sales team members to improve if they aren’t clear on what they’re doing badly – and well. Setting goals and reviewing their progress is one way to do this, as are quarterly or annual reviews. But try to catch things on the fly, as they occur; this will increase the chances that your feedback will be internalized and heeded.
  • Stressing the importance of fast responses. The best leaders model this behavior so that their salespeople know that they walk the walk. If a customer complains to you about a product or service – or about a salesperson’s words or actions – respond as quickly as you can. This may mean staying late or coming in to the office very early some days. How do you feel when you report a problem to a company and your complaint isn’t addressed for several days, if at all? It changes your perception of the business, and it certainly doesn’t make you feel like a valued customer.
  • Supportive of ongoing learning. Your salespeople should be increasing their knowledge and stretching themselves constantly. This doesn’t mean doing an occasional session on cold-calling or dealing with rejection, though sales-related training should be offered as frequently as it makes sense for you. Stress the importance of self-growth, of your salespeople taking the initiative and working on areas of personal weakness on their own time, whether that’s done by reading books or joining organizations or taking classes. And encourage them to learn as much about their customers as they can. That’s one of the tenets of social selling.
  • Accessible. Good leaders make themselves available, even if that means you shift some of your administrative tasks to hours when your staff isn’t likely to be looking for you. Let your team know that you’re available to go out on sales calls with them occasionally, or just to go to lunch and talk through a stumbling block.

When you lead capably, your salespeople are likely to improve their own attitudes, work ethic, sense of company loyalty, and, ultimately, their sales.





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,844 other followers