Despite some good news about Europe finally starting to emerge from the depths of recession, an unprecedented productivity crisis continues to plague businesses in the UK, Europe and beyond.
A recent study found that productivity in the UK and wider Europe has remained stagnant since the height of the recession, with the Eurostat Labour Productivity Index revealing that worker output has failed to experience any real recovery since the 2008 drop that saw worker output fall 3.7% below its pre-downturn peak.
In the face of a still largely stagnant economy and challenging market conditions, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to survive – let alone thrive. Maintaining sales efficiency in these conditions has become all-important. One tool that has emerged to help businesses boost output rates in their sales teams is customer relationship management (CRM).
While governments and organisations such as the European Union have implemented measures they hope will revive productivity, it has largely fallen to individual companies to find solutions relating to output issues and revenue challenges if they hope to maintain or even build their position in a tough marketplace. Many are moving into new markets and widening their geographical scope to keep up sales and UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed that a high proportion of UK companies retained their most experienced employees to ride out the economic storm – with other research revealing that many companies have increased the number of sales and other customer-facing staff to win business and stimulate growth. A Financial Times study discovered that employment in sales and related areas grew by 2.5% in UK businesses over the two years from 2010 to 2012.
It is also evident from available research that many businesses are looking to boost the productivity of sales teams and other customer-facing staff at a relatively low cost by implementing or upgrading CRM capabilities. This trend is evidenced by spectacular growth being seen in the CRM market: a recent Gartner report highlighted that the worldwide CRM market grew by 12% on 2012, three times the average for all enterprise software categories.
For companies looking to increase productivity levels on the sales side of their business, the fast access to detailed customer data, improved lead intelligence, streamlining of operations and a comprehensive view of the sales pipeline that a CRM system can provide is invaluable. By generating in-depth customer data, automating otherwise time-consuming administrative tasks and facilitating complex business reporting, the right CRM system can free up sales reps’ time, allowing them to concentrate on the customer-facing activities that drive revenues.
When utilised to its fullest, CRM can be the ultimate catalyst for speeding up the sales cycle. By slashing the amount of time spent on administrative processes and accessing data, CRM can free up resources and enable a sales team to close more deals. Rather than spending time identifying leads and searching for details of previous interactions, sales teams can be privy to comprehensive information in an instant through CRM, leaving them to do what they do best: sell.
A CRM solution provides an overview of the sectors and firms that are interested in a company’s products and allows salespeople to view, organise and retrieve the information they need to make a positive first impression with a tailored approach. What’s more, a complete CRM solution also provides access to chronological snapshot of all relevant customer information and activity, thus improving the productivity of the sales team as well as the quality of the communications it has with potential customers. By making the background and most up-to-date and correct information on a prospect or a customer readily available, CRM gives sales reps the knowledge they need to communicate more effectively – in other words, it provides actionable business intelligence.
When it comes to leads, it is more important than ever for companies to be able to respond to prospect queries quickly and efficiently. Features of advanced CRM systems such as one-click mapping and pop-ups for appointments, tasks and alarms mean that sales reps can ensure that no opportunities slip through the cracks by nurturing leads from the outset. What’s more, salespeople can also employ CRM to multiply their opportunities with pipeline management, enabling them to identify the customers who are ripe for upsell and cross-sell. Similarly, an effective CRM platform can be used to show whether a prospect shares characteristics with an existing customer who has made multiple purchases – thus increasing the effectiveness of sales targeting.
CRM platforms can also raise sales output by automating everyday business processes. Contact organisation, order management, lead tracking, report generating and sales forecasting can all be streamlined by the automation a CRM system provides, saving sales teams huge amounts of time to focus on closing the deal. This can also be a major benefit for sales managers too, as having complete, current data to hand makes it easier for them to make decisions on the management of personnel and resources as each quarter progresses.
A CRM platform can further boost a sales teams’ productivity if it can be accessed by the team wherever they happen to be. Ensuring that a CRM system can be accessed on-the-go via smartphones and tablets for staff members who often travel, hot desk or work from home is crucial to a businesses’ productivity levels. For example, a web-enabled CRM platform allows the sales team to tap into, update and use real-time information to prepare for a last-minute meeting and respond to customer queries immediately, wherever they are.
Mobile access ensures the sales team can spend as much time as possible actually talking to prospects out in the field. Moreover, mobile functionality is critical to ensuring rapid response. A solution that is optimised for smartphones and tablets will make a huge difference by enabling employees to access and update crucial information while on the road. If the sales team can look up customer account histories, documents, contracts, or inventory information using a handheld device – and not have to go back to the office – they can track problems or answer customer queries immediately.
This ability to work more effectively during dead times can have a massive impact on productivity. Research from the Yankee Group yielded the startling statistic that salespeople spend 74% of their time on non-revenue generating activities, including 16% on preparation, 26% on administrative tasks and a whopping 32% travelling or waiting. Clearly these findings indicate that remote access could give these people a big boost. Indeed, a 2012 survey by Nucleus Research found companies saw an average productivity gain of 14.6% when they used a CRM system with mobile capabilities. With most research suggesting that the average sales person spends less than 40% of their time actually involved in face-to-face selling, vital to closing deals for many, every moment that can be freed up for direct contact can have a big impact on productivity and overall profitability.
The reach and impact of lead generation activities can also be transformed with the help of the right CRM system. Segmentation, for example is all but impossible without a good CRM platform. By presenting to users historical customer data such as purchase history and past responses to promotions, CRM allows businesses to identify which existing customers are most likely to buy a new product and when, thereby providing more efficient support for upselling and cross-selling efforts. Effective segmentation can also be used to create profiles to identify a company’s best customers, enabling sales teams to target ‘lookalike’ prospects, who are more likely to buy.
In today’s tough economic climate, building customer relationships from the outset and keeping them on a solid ground by taking an informed approach to each and every interaction is essential to success – and the right CRM solution is essential for that. CRM can also support the creation of sophisticated and targeted communications giving any business a leg up on competitors that are less prepared for the realities of today’s marketplace.
Research conducted by AMI Partners showed that companies with CRM systems generated revenues that were over 260% higher overall, and over 140% higher per employee, than those without. In short, CRM vastly improves the resources a sales team has to work with and keeps the customer on side by facilitating the building of relationships that acknowledge and respond to that consumer’s wants, needs and preferences.
Staying one step ahead of the game is crucial at a time of stagnating growth and heightened competition. With productivity remaining an issue for many businesses, firms that find ways to increase productivity, especially within the sales department, will have a distinct advantage over their competitors and will be much better placed to capitalise on opportunities as the economy improves.