Leaders in charge of B2B sales teams have almost certainly reached their senior positions by being good at explaining to others why they should buy a certain product or service. But once you reach a senior management position, you require a host of other skills as well.
For sales leaders, one of these — somewhat counterintuitively — is to become good at buying other companies’ products, especially those that are CRM-related. CRM systems are at the heart of the modern sales process that depends so much on capturing, analyzing and using data to make decisions. The number of CRM products and services on offer is now vast, especially for those sales executives who are on CRM technology steering committees and so must understand the full landscape.
“Gartner categorizes CRM applications — at the finest level of detail — into 190 subcategories,” says Ed Thompson, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
Time to focus
This means that sales leaders involved in CRM and customer engagement projects should prioritize where they direct their time and attention. They should focus first on understanding how a CRM system can help them achieve their business strategy. Next, it’s important to avoid dogmatically selecting a vendor and struggling to improvise to satisfy business needs or compromising the entire CRM initiative to accommodate the vendor.
They should also expect to engage more than one CRM vendor to meet their goals and shouldn’t focus solely on a CRM system's functionality. Instead, sales leaders should use these top-line criteria to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of CRM application vendors:
- The functionality of the application
- Its usability
- The overall architecture and the underlying technology
- The vision for how that technology will be used
- The vendor's viability
- The services the vendor and its partners provide
- The solution's total cost of ownership
How to categorize CRM application functionality
As sales teams think about how to get the most from their CRM systems, and how to deploy the functionality those systems offer, it helps to think about the five top-level CRM application functionality categories:
- Customer service
- Digital commerce
- Field service
It is also worth bearing in mind that many applications cut across departments, including analytics, voice of the customer and master data management. More than 70% of spend and more than two-thirds of Gartner inquiries are related to just four of the 40 subcategories under these major areas:
- Marketing: Multichannel campaign management
- Sales: Sales force automation
- Customer service: Customer engagement center
- Digital commerce: Commerce platform
The remaining 30% of spend is spread across the other 36 subcategories. The majority of buying organizations overlook the smaller categories of CRM applications that sit outside the "big four." Ironically, these smaller categories often deliver higher levels of ROI. For example, it is common to see a significant return from a pricing management implementation or a better knowledge management tool in a customer service environment.
What to watch out for
Overall, Gartner research on the CRM landscape shows that sales leaders should be aware of four important conclusions.
- Most organizations underestimate the number and types of CRM applications available, and few use the maximum number.
- No individual in the sales, marketing and customer service, or IT department can hope to know all the processes and functionality that can be adopted as part of a CRM project — external help from consultants, analysts or other sources will be needed to learn about the different types in depth.
- No large organization will achieve its sales, marketing, customer service, field service and digital commerce business objectives with just one CRM technology vendor — this requires multiple technologies from multiple vendors. The rise of CRM marketplaces (such as Adobe Marketing Cloud Exchange, Microsoft AppSource, the Oracle Cloud Marketplace, salesforce's AppExchange, SAP's Hybris Extend Marketplace and SugarCRM's SugarExchange) are testimony to the variety of applications that can be used.
- CRM technologies don't stand still; although one area of CRM may be ripe for standardizing and consolidating processes, other areas of new functionality are appearing. To keep pace, organizations need to continually manage a portfolio of different CRM applications with differing levels of maturity.