Everyone knows that it is much easier to keep an existing customer than it is to gain a new one. Thus, an emerging trend among many pro dealers is to focus on developing customer relationship management programs. In this quest to strengthen customer relationships, many people believe the most important step is establishing deeper personal contact. An important key to building long-term business relationships is your company's ability to implement sound database management strategies behind the scenes.
Amazingly, many salespeople and sales managers today still are not utilizing computer programs to better manage basic information about their clients. This resistance reminds me of a legendary cartoon that depicts a salesperson at the back of a tepee waiting to meet the chief of a warring tribe who is in the midst of a battle being fought with bows and arrows. While the salesperson waited for an appointment to sell the chief a machine gun, the chief exclaimed, “I don't have time to see a salesperson. I am in the middle of a war!” Similarly, an organization that manages information about its customers without the use of modern technology is fighting a machine gun war with bows and arrows.
There are numerous database software programs on the market—such as ACT!, Goldmine, and Microsoft Outlook—that provide simple methods to manage vast amounts of complex information. All of these programs extend far beyond the mere management of names, addresses, and phone numbers. For example, they allow a salesperson to track appointments, conversations, correspondence, and more. They provide simple methods to send newsletters, merge mail, and track secondary information about clients. The use of a structured database system results in stronger long-term relationships with customers.
Use caution, however, as some programs generate complex management reports, which can pose implementation problems if your information technology (IT) department is eager to help you implement every available software feature. These problems can occur when your database methods are lumped into the general category of IT. A sales manager's simple request to the IT department for a database software solution can spoke out into a number of issues such as order entry, linking customer data with back-end systems, inventory management, information feedback to the sales force, and more. In the end, a simple IT request to log names and phone numbers turns into a multi-department initiative that threatens to cost tens of thousands of dollars! When this potential information overload arises, the key ingredient to a program's success—buy-in from the sales team—often is destroyed.
Many companies that I have worked with enthusiastically embrace the idea of a new software strategy to retain important customer information. However, managers quickly become distressed when they discover the difficulties of overcoming sales resistance. Moreover, they fail to realize that their approach is creating the very resistance they want to avoid.
Salespeople are rugged individualists. Rather than accepting the use of a modern technology as a personal productivity tool, some salespeople view a database software initiative as a way for the boss to keep an eye on them, a concept that smacks of George Orwell's “Big Brother” in the novel 1984. In addition, many salespeople are technically challenged and, thus, are resistant to Sell Sheet investing in and learning new computer software.
Great sales managers have learned that in order to successfully lead they must continually focus on the needs of their employees. When it comes time to implement a new database strategy (or any initiative for that matter) they recognize that salespeople should be treated like customers and be sold on the “What's in it for me?” idea. Of course not every salesperson will happily embrace your new ideas, even after you explain the benefits, and at some point, coercive measures may be required to successfully implement a new software strategy. Still, it is easier to gain voluntary acceptance than enforced obedience, and the value of information that an organization can obtain will be much better when salespeople are happily on board with the program. Therefore, sales managers should focus on the following keys to improve database implementation within their organizations:
Successful companies share the common goal of managing customer information for the purpose of strengthening long-term relationships. Airlines, for example, offer frequent flyer programs to encourage loyalty, while automobile manufacturers are now offering loyalty discounts to existing customers. All these companies recognize two things: First, they know it is easier and much less expensive to keep a satisfied customer than to gain a new one. Second, they know that they can't retain customers until they gather important information about them. They understand that knowledge is power.
It is important to show salespeople the value they receive by implementing a data-management process. Be open and honest about the value that successful database management creates in their careers.
Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders, Inc., a Chicago-based sales training organization. 773.769.4409. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org