My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTP. One of the things I really like about being an INTP is that I can never lose an argument. Even if the other person is right, I still come out a winner because I learned something.
In this article, I hope to learn something about Salesforce and CRM programs for building material companies and see which of my positive and negative experiences are correct.
I have asked Aaron Ayer, former building materials CMO and Founder of The Hunley Group, a Salesforce.com implementation firm, to help me – and you, of course – learn more about Salesforce and CRM programs for building materials companies. (Oh, and Aaron is ESTJ, by the way.)
Let me start with the reasons I tell most building material companies not to use a CRM program, and then Aaron will tell us how to do it right.
What’s Right About CRM?
The building material companies I have worked with who have a CRM program that has been correctly implemented and managed have an advantage over their competitors.
Salespeople are very expensive tools and if you’re not constantly increasing their productivity, it’s like you’re dealing with rising raw material costs but can’t increase your prices.
It’s no longer possible to make a salesperson more productive by simply having them make more sales calls. They need to call on the right customers at the right time, and they need to rely on more than their gut or intuition when making these decisions.
A CRM program also measures activities well beyond simple call reports to give you more and better information that you can use to improve the performance of your sales team.
In the near future, not having a CRM program will be like not having a website. It will be an essential part of your business. In fact, it’s already the norm in many other industries.
What’s Not Right About CRM (For Building Material Companies) ?
In my experience, here is why building material companies fail to successfully use a CRM:
1. They see it as an easy, self-fulfilling way to grow their sales. All they have to do is sign up for the CRM software and write a check. They have not thought about the time commitment it will take to implement and drive adoption of a CRM as part of their business. In a nutshell, they don’t anticipate a CRM requiring a change management program.
2. They are not ready to make the use of a CRM program a condition of employment. Many companies get a CRM program and believe that the sales team will learn to love it and use it. What they don’t realize is that some of their top salespeople are very comfortable in their jobs and have no interest in changing. These companies then worry that they’ll lose these people if they insist that they use CRM.
The only companies I have seen successfully use a CRM program are those that insist that it be used.
During the implementation, it’s easy for the salespeople to see it as just more work that generates reports that no one will read. But when a company sticks with it and works through the difficulties of implementation, the salespeople start to realize how a CRM program helps them. Before you know it, they wonder how they ever survived without it.
What Building Material Companies Need to Know About CRM
CRM gives your company a great advantage, but too few building material companies know how to implement it properly. So, I asked Aaron a few questions that would bring us up to speed on the subject.
What are the biggest reasons that a building material company should consider a CRM program?
- Productivity. CRM helps individual users do their jobs more efficiently.
- Best practices process standardization. A well-constructed CRM extends a company’s defined most-effective go-to-market practices across the organization. Users trend to the most effective processes, raising the overall average performance of the team.
- Transparency and oversight. Good dashboards reflect KPIs and make user activity visible to managers. Leaders know what their teams are doing and can coach them more effectively to succeed. Executives get real-time leading-indicator visibility to pipeline trends and market signals.
How can they tell if they are ready for a CRM program?
- They have an internal sales executive champion responsible for the program.
- Top executives are committed at the CRO level and above.
- They have defined what business objectives they intend to achieve with the CRM and what processes are appropriate for automation and incorporation to the CRM.
- They have budgetary appetite for licensing fees, implementation expenses, and ongoing maintenance and support costs.
Is there anything unique or different about CRM applications for the building materials industry?
- In spades, yes!
- Is there anything unique and unusual about the go-to-market process for the building materials business, in all its glorious complexity? Of course there is; it really is its own animal. Remembering that a CRM is process automation, it naturally follows that best practices for a CRM are unique to building materials. Out-of-the-box CRM architecture had best be customized like a bespoke suit or you’re not destined for success.
- Some examples of approaches we have refined original best practices solutions to over the years include:
For commercial applications, engagement of the specifying community (architects & engineers) and handling of projects is core. Examples include automation of lunch and learn registry, integration of databases like Dodge and Construct Connect, commercial project tracking and qualification processes, engagement of channel and distribution of leads, substitution package submittal automation. Automating these things can eliminate many hours of non-value-added administrative burden from a sales rep’s life.
For residential applications, dealer locator automation, homeowner engagement, homeowner lead distribution, and managing loyalty programs for trades and builders are usually front and center. All these can be automated. These are big databases of a fragmented audience, so bulk cleansing and management is very beneficial.
For all businesses, relationship management of the key constituents of the channel, plus influencers and partners, is virtually always core. Most building materials manufacturers rely on 1-, 2-, or 3-step distribution. Transparent visibility to sales activity down to the account level is one of the most compelling use cases we encounter here.
Can you outline a typical implementation process? What are the steps? Who needs to be involved in each step? And how long does each step take?
Typically, there are five steps in an implementation: Requirements definition, configuration, testing, data migration, and training.
- We feel that requirements definition is by far the most important part of the entire effort. It is appropriate to view this as a process automation project, not a technology project. Therefore, defining processes thoroughly and aligning the best-fit approaches to automating them in the CRM such that the CRM then fits like a well-tailored suit is a step whose importance we cannot over-emphasize.
- Configuration is the actual architecting and development of the platform to meet requirements. This requires competence and experience in execution.
- Testing is the user acceptance process to ensure that the system meets requirements – and that in practice the requirements were actually defined correctly.
- A solid CRM is a Ferrari. But a Ferrari is no fun to drive if the gas tank is empty. Data is fuel for the CRM. Therefore, well-groomed Account, Contact, Opportunity, and other data should be preloaded to the system.
- Training of users is critical to their embrace and effective use of the system, particularly if they’ve never used a CRM before. We recommend training be done simultaneously with the system launch – CRMs are best learned by doing, so users should be expected to use the system live immediately following training.
The CRM champion should select a committed group of stakeholders internally to support the effort.
Each involved functional department should be involved. The team should include a mix of managers and front-line users. Ideally, you would select experienced people with the most critical-thinking approach who are most motivated to embrace the new. Stakeholders are most heavily involved in requirements definition and testing.
Do not forget to assign an internal project manager. One person with the skills to herd the cats and the authority (even if delegated) to kick butts will make a strong impact on the success of the outcome, plus help you keep costs lower and timelines tighter.
The overall project typically takes between three to six months.
That number can go down to a few weeks or up to a year or more. It’s highly dependent upon the complexity and scale of your implementation.
Let’s note that highly flexible, feature-rich platforms like Salesforce.com are excellent tools for “incrementalism” – take functionality live in a stream of small releases. For example, we recently went live in 7 weeks for a client with 300 users; however, that go-live was only for call tracking and lead handoffs, while the ERP integration of sales data and other features followed weeks later.
What is the best way to gain acceptance from your sales team? Do you have to make it a condition of employment or have another incentive? One of my clients pays a bonus for new projects, but if the project has not been entered into Salesforce there is no bonus.
Carrots and sticks.
First, the carrots. Remember “productivity” as a key benefit of the system? If you have not built a CRM from the start with the intent of automating processes to make sales jobs easier and their execution demonstrably more effective, you have failed before you have started. Bring value to them first and management reporting benefits second. Ignore this principle at your own peril. Once the system is live, you’d best be following up to ensure those automations actually are working for the team – if not, be ready to adjust and fix them so they are.
Second, the stick. It’s a well-worn bromide – but an entirely appropriate one – to embrace a philosophy of “if it isn’t in the CRM, it doesn’t exist.” Meaning, rep activity, results, and performance should be measured from CRM data. No data = you didn’t do it as far as the manager is concerned. KPIs should be measured in the CRM, and compensation programs should be drawn from CRM data as exclusively as possible. The CRM is by definition a core part of your business; what core parts of your business do you make voluntary for your team?
Let’s not forget that sticks apply to management, as well. The expectation of everyone up the corporate ladder should be that measures are drawn from CRM dashboards, meetings are run from them, and your team knows you’re looking at them. Managers, we hold you accountable for CRM success in this fashion: if we don’t hear from you multiple times a year making asks for new reports or implementing new measurements or complaining about how the data looks wrong, we know you aren’t watching! Don’t be that leader.
How do you deal with the rockstar salesperson who refuses or resists using a new CRM program?
Sorry, Charlie. No commission check for you.
Seriously. Look, managers must have transparency to their business if they’re going to manage it. And partial data in the system means that the entire data set is not usable – it doesn’t reflect truth. You cannot get half-pregnant with a CRM system and expect it to work.
Therefore, KPIs that fold into the commission calculations are measured directly from the CRM.
How do you define the difference between a CRM and a marketing automation program?
First of all, frankly, “CRM” is an antiquated acronym. Collaboration across departments has become so prevalent – sales, marketing, service, finance, etc. – and the range of functionality so broad that “customer relationship” is just one element of the solution. Most of us in the industry now refer to the platforms as sales and marketing automation, or sales-marketing-and-service automation.
But let’s answer the question. Oversimplified, a CRM is Sales Automation, and MAS is Marketing Automation. Functions of each align to those departments. But they certainly overlap and complement each other; we’re very fond of pointing out that Sales & Marketing Automation done right forces the silos of sales and marketing to become a Venn diagram with substantial overlap – you simply cannot make it work if you don’t.
- Marketing automation software as distinct functionality is the part of the solution that enables automated engagement of your audience, and incorporates automated detection and action based upon their reaction to that outreach. For example, MAS can send a series of personalized emails to a prospective customer, then alert sales to take action if that prospect is detected exhibiting “sales ready behavior.”
- Sales automation at the start is the receiving end of MAS – lead handoff. It’s then the automation of the rest of the sales cycle: relationship management, pipeline management, new customer onboarding, existing customer engagement, and reporting and measurement.
We should probably include Service Automation in this context, since it’s pretty much out of the box with these platforms, as well. Here we add in trouble ticket capture and management, knowledge base extension, customer login portals, and integrated measurement of customer satisfaction.
Fold all three together in a fully integrated and holistic way, then include integration to your ERP / Accounting system to pull in sales data, and you are on the threshold of the Holy Grail of a 360 degree view of the customer.
Are You Ready to Automate?
One thing is clear: a CRM is a powerful tool. But if you don’t put the right kind of commitment behind it, it will be weak (like a Ferrari without fuel, to borrow Aaron’s analogy).
Salesforce and other CRM software will soon be the new normal, the way every building material sales department is expected to operate. For now, using it can give you an edge over the competition.
Automating your sales and marketing involves more than just writing a check. Are you ready to do what it takes to implement CRM effectively?
And thanks again to Aaron Ayer, Founder of The Hunley Group, for answering my questions about CRM in building materials.
What Others Are Saying
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“Just wanted to say that this article was 100% on point with our experience with CRM.” Kyle Ryerson, Marketing Production Manager, Hunter Panels
“Nice work here. Timely, informative and actionable.” Kevin Harris, Director of Sales and Marketing, AGS Stainless
“Spot on article. It is the same thing we preach to existing clients and prospective clients who are interested in our ERP software.” Jeff Olson, National Sales Manager, PATH-ERP
“This is a great article Mark”
Shannon Riley Perry
Regional Sales Manager
“Good one. I’ve been saying this for years”