CRM software has created plenty of operational efficiencies, helping sales teams navigate customers through the entire lifecycle, from sales lead to company advocate. Jon Yates at Aible, explains how the pandemic has changed the sales world and why adding artificial intelligence to your CRM is now essential to maximise ROI.
At its best, CRM helps sales teams:
- Organize data to help search, sort and qualify leads
- Follow up on sales opportunities systematically and on time
- Rationalize follow-up activities and offers
- Increase target reach rates faster
- Operationalize best-in-class sales methodologies
However, the pandemic has changed the sales world – radically. Traditional CRM was geared to manage a face-to-face sales process that, for the time being, no longer exists. One of CRM’s strengths – forecasting – is far less reliable when business conditions are changing so quickly.
Many salespeople end up either not using CRM at all or grudgingly using a very limited set of features. Less than half of sales teams report widespread use of CRM systems, according to a survey by the consulting firm Stellaxius. As a result, CRM is falling short for many users. There’s a need to provide sales teams with more actionable insights that have greater business impact.
A fundamental weakness is that CRM isn’t built around what companies really want from these systems: return on investment. Too often, CRM takes far too long to deliver ROI, if it provides it at all. The average length of time for CRM to deliver ROI is 13 months, according to the research firm G2. Few companies can afford to wait more than a year for CRM to start paying off. Once implemented, the first few months are spent simply loading and validating the data.
CRM alone is more a workhorse than a racehorse
Businesses traditionally turn to CRM to help them optimally move customers through a sales journey. Companies also adopt CRM for a less talked about reason – they want to capture what’s in the salesperson’s brain about the relationships in their territory so that if they leave the company, the organization retains that important knowledge.
That means many CRM platforms are tailored for sales managers and leaders rather than the people actually doing the selling. CRM vendors tend to focus on features that are more applicable to decision makers – reporting, pipeline, and forecasting. As a result, CRMs are often very cumbersome for sales reps to use. Manual data entry is a huge obstacle that inhibits CRM adoption. According to a Hubspot survey, sales professionals spend 17% of their time entering data, the equivalent of nearly one workday per week.
There is no doubt, CRM has driven significant functionality in the enterprise – but at what cost? It’s not a silver bullet as a stand alone tool. Instead, CRM has become much more focused on forecasting, operations, velocity, risk assessment and activity tracking. A CRM dashboard can’t tell you the most profitable opportunities to pursue or how to optimally allocate limited resources across multiple departments and functions.
Say a VP of sales has to reduce headcount and still grow the business. At the same time, business analysts need to do scenario planning beyond spreadsheets. Operations has to allocate reasonable quotas across drastically changing regional dynamics. Marketing needs to reallocate spend to reflect the new virtual normal. CEOs have to go to the board and share the 2021 operational plan across the organization.
CRM alone simply isn’t smart enough to optimize all of those competing interests. The key enabling technology is AI. This is why we have seen the recent acquisitions over the past few years by CRM, marketing and services platforms. They understand the gap.
AI is a game-changer for CRM
Adding artificial intelligence to CRM finally makes CRM what it originally aspired to be – smart and ROI-focused.
AI arms sales teams, from front line sales reps to sales leaders, to go beyond rule-based forecasting. AI delivers optimized predictions and recommendations that help teams manage a sales funnel to drive maximum revenue while also navigating evolving business realities.
AI empowers sales professionals to manage the complete customer lifecycle, whether it has transpired via email, phone conversations, in-person meetings, chatbots, or other interactions. It delivers actionable recommendations about how to optimally manage a sales funnel. It can tell a salesperson not only how likely someone is to buy but also how to optimally change their sales budget and resources given changing assumptions and market realities. AI also enables sales teams to allocate limited resources across opportunities and sales channels and understands that different prospects have different value to the business – something CRM simply can’t do.
However, according to research by CRM provider Freshworks, only 12% of CRM users actually use an AI-powered CRM tool in their processes. More alarmingly, only 11 percent say the AI in their CRM allows them to focus on high-value customers.
AI is a ground-breaking sales enabler – but not just any AI
Too often, traditional AI fails to deliver measurable value for business. It’s not optimized for ROI and doesn’t take into account cost-benefit tradeoffs and operational constraints.
In order to add value, AI must enable sales teams to specify their specific business objective, whether it’s maximizing total revenue, maximizing profit or optimally re-allocating resources. True ROI-optimized AI can supercharge CRM and act as the central nervous system for the modern sales and marketing team. It constantly monitors a customer’s status and automatically generates new insights and actionable recommendations that are surfaced in popular applications such as Salesforce.
Fully automated AI enables sales teams to eliminate manual data entry and bolsters their ability to capture the complete customer lifecycle. True auto AI is automated end-to-end, from data to model to monitoring to retraining.
ROI-focused AI not only enables sales teams to predict (such as opportunity scoring, sales forecasting, territory optimization, customer lifetime value analysis) but also to optimize resources and anticipate change, a key advantage in uncertain times when business conditions are in constant flux.
Many CRM vendors have tried to add AI to their existing CRM, but they’re often just adding a thin layer of AI to legacy technology. That only makes the technology more cumbersome and adds little value to the business. Only an integrated and fully automated AI solution that’s built from the ground up to deliver sustained business impact can give companies what they really want from CRM systems: ROI.
This article was first published on the Aible website in January 2021.