Operational Excellence is one of the most undervalued and overlooked levers used by sales professionals. Some of you may know what’s coming. Yes, it sometimes means pain. Yes, changes in behavior too. And it won’t work without some discipline — that’s enough to make many sales people recoil. But I can demonstrate that by using just a little diligent application you could benefit from exponentially greater returns of revenue for every unit of time. As any sales person knows, time is the most precious asset and effective use of time and sticking to an activity plan not only creates peace of mind but also creates a sense of accomplishment even during more challenging time periods.
Sales Operational Excellence Driven by your CRM
In this article I’ll show you how I’ve utilized and enforced operational excellence on myself when I was a sales person as well as how I’ve instilled operational excellence into the teams and sales people I’ve managed. While we think about excellence I will need you to consider your self. Not yourself, your self; and specifically your future self and the gulf between that and your present self. Seinfeld knows what I’m talking about.
Operational excellence is being able to distill down and repeat processes over and over. I often joke that the best sales reps want to turn themselves into robots on the stuff that CAN BE REPEATED. They can then use their charm, wit and intelligence and every other natural ability that differentiates them from their competitors and their peers to gain an edge. This allows for repeatability with the mundane while focusing creative energy on each distinct prospect.
So how do you “make yourself a robot” or get repeatability once the sales engine is in place you ask? Let’s focus on CRM as the backbone to operational excellence. If a sales person can get a CRM to work for them and thus use the CRM as both the enforcer and enabler of operational excellence it makes life considerably easier for everyone.
The CRM as Your One Source of Truth
In my early years, like many sales people, I became an expert at tracking workload. I used a notebook with a to-do list, sticky notes, excel sheets and occasionally, begrudgingly, the CRM to keep track of things. And, of course my amazing memory. Which I realised may not be quite as amazing as I thought when I wake up in the middle of the night because I forgot to do something (we’ve all been there). Having this mess of to-do’s everywhere and a constantly anxious brain worried about what’s falling through the cracks is both exhausting and inefficient. That’s the thing about being disorganized- it’s just tiring.
Without one single place to remind myself what to actually do when I arrive at work and — worst of all- without trusting my present or future self to remember to get tasks completed is inefficient, tiring and stressful. And a stressed brain leads to total confusion about what to work on next. If you’ve ever arrived at work and scrambled through your pockets for the sticky note you made the day before you know this is a problem. You’ve probably even said it’s not worth having a more effective system because your future self will ignore it. The good news is that this can be avoided by trusting a process that your present self knows your future self will adhere to and I found this in using the CRM.
Think of the CRM as a workflow tool as well as the one source of truth
If the CRM is the one source of truth EVERYTHING goes into the CRM. At first this kinda sucks because you feel like you need to “write everything down” and yes you need to track as much as possible because the CRM becomes YOUR ONLY TO-DO LIST. You can stop trying to rely on your memory. Be kind to your brain and set your future self up for success.
The to-do list is meetings, reminders, emails that need to be sent, calls that need to be made, anything that should be on your to-do list goes into the CRM in the form of a present (today) or future (any date in the future) task/activity that you schedule for yourself. And because you know you only have one task/activity list, that list becomes your ONLY TO-DO LIST for your entire work. One source of truth!
The key here is that you either do this 100% or don’t do it at all. Fully commit and trust the method, it works! Keep at it!
Using a CRM loses effectiveness completely when you keep several to-do lists. Just found a great new project management phone app? Have you got your own bullet journal for work? The key is to have only one to-do list for your work and if you trust that you WILL do everything on your to-do list. The CRM starts to work for you because you can schedule these tasks at any time and each of these tasks will be associated with a lead or contact or account and since those need to be in the CRM it all comes together efficiently.
Never leave the office with tasks in your to-do list.
Your word is your bond to anyone you work with and yourself. Failing to achieve what you set out to on a daily basis creates a pattern… Bad habits, pushed reminders, rescheduled appointments and general disappointment. Discipline keeps you in control and on top of the priorities that need to be tackled day in and day out. Once you start scheduling all to-dos as tasks/activities in your CRM you then start to get an idea of how many tasks you can get through in a day and what types of tasks take longer than others. So when you leave every evening you have your to-dos for the next day. Then, when you come in every morning you have your task list in front of you. This keeps you from needing to “figure out what to work on today.” Past self has already sorted this out for present self. Oh that past self, what a hero!
Your Calendar is not your CRM
Don’t use your calendar as a reminder for something to do unless it’s a time sensitive and date sensitive event. You’re either blocking time for a meeting or another task like a call that needs to be done at a certain date and time or it’s not in your calendar… guess where it goes? That’s right! In your CRM as an task/activity. Your calendar is servant to the CRM.
There is an exception here. Very operationally excellent sales people will block their calendar for their time. ME TIME. Where they execute a specific type of task during that time period like prospecting, email/tasks slots, pipeline management and they aren’t to be interrupted.
I loved it when I ask a sales person a question and they say, “Hey I’ve blocked this time for prospecting right now. Is this more important than me adding new deals to my pipeline?” Oh, it hurts so good.
DO NOT use your Sales Pipeline as your reminder of what you should work on
Many sales people use their CRM for only tracking deals/opportunities in their pipeline. Every sales person, VP Sales and CEO knows that they need a “pipeline” and that a pipeline should be in a CRM. So I often see the pipelines that are not mimicking real future predictable revenue, but mimic a sales person’s to-do list. And reps say, “But how will I remember what to work on?” and that’s where the tasks/activities from above come in. Every CRM is built to allow for tracking clear next steps and notes, so that all lives under the CRM and in your usual workflow so that everything is a well oiled machine.
I will take your accounts away from you if you do this
I’d like to think I’m a reasonable manager who gives quite a bit of freedom to my team and sales people (perhaps ask my reps for the truth on this) but I’m hardcore about enforcing discipline in the CRM. I find that when reps begin to fall behind on tasks/activities the wheels start to fall off their system and they become inefficient. I take this as a signal that they have too much to work on and when they fall too far behind on their tasks we have a conversation around passing some of their accounts to other sales people.
It feels harsh, but if they are working on more important things and they can’t get to these less important prospects’ tasks/activities then they should be worked by another sales person who is either more efficient with their time or has less accounts to work. One of my reps said that if they are struggling to keep their activity list running, their pipeline clean and 5–6 daily appointments, something is not working, and we need to meet to tune the engine.
In all my years I’ve never actually had to take an account away from a sales person, but the conversation brings things clearly into focus that if a sales person is either too busy or not working efficiently, which is signalled by overdue tasks, then they should not be working on those accounts as the accounts are being neglected. And neglected accounts are bad for the overall business as that is lost revenue.
Trust is empowerment
After 17 years of working to perfect the sales engines at many companies it’s clear that success for sales people is in building, iterating and most importantly sticking to a method. Sales leaders need to collaborate with the team and build a method around the type of product and sales cycles that allows the team to thrive. The CRM and process should unlock and enable sales people. The method allows a sales person to be kinder to their future self and frees everyone to do what they’re good at. Trust in the method is essential and it should be flexible and allow for some fine-tuning and experimentation to empower each sales person.
I’ll leave you with the master of CRM himself Mr. Bruce Lee.
“Research your own experience; absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is essentially your own… and remember operational excellence accelerates revenue growth”