CRM solutions from firms like Salesforce and Microsoft provide great capabilities to manage the B2B software sales process.  Marketing automation tools that integrate to the CRM enable marketers to target clients and prospects with messaging and measure responses.  But a CRM software product is a tool and unfortunately does not fix a broken sales process.  Dirty data, poor processes and resistance to use by the sales teams will not produce results.  Yet too often, firms will make large investments in CRM technology, sold on the idea that the spend will fix business and process problems.

Based on over 20 years experience working with companies adopting CRM’s and over 30 years running software companies, some of the key success factors for a CRM to realize the benefits management expect include:

  • Senior management’s visible commitment.  Too often companies deploy a CRM solution with little commitment or interest by senior management.  The best deployments are where senior managers are committed to the solution and communicate that to staff.  Why should staff change their behavior to adopt something that management is not committed to?
  • Great processes in place where the CRM is an enabler.  Software doesn’t fix bad processes, it only makes the processes run faster and more consistently.  Get the processes right and then use technology to make them run faster and more efficiently
  • A requirement for everyone to use.  One of our very successful clients in my former company had a rule that if the information was not in the CRM, it didn’t exist.  Sales people will not use a CRM because they love to type information into it and share details of their details with others in the firm.  They will use it because its a requirement of their job.
  • Look for ways to help sales people be successful.  To often CRM’s are seen by sales people as time wasters that make them spend time doing stuff that consumes time and takes away from them making money.  If the CRM can save sales people time and help them be more successful, adoption will follow.  Workflows are a good example that can help automate routine processes, such as the tasks required after a prospect signs a proposal.

The bottom line is if you are looking to deploy a new CRM, ask if the items above will be in place.  If your firm has made a big investment in CRM technology, but you feel it is not delivering the results expected, ask if the items above are in place.  To often at my former company, we would see a firm toss out one technology and replace with a different one, expecting it to fix their process problems.   Other than a lot of costs, in most cases the results were the same.


To often you see a sales presentation in PowerPoint and the focus is for the sales person to tell their audience how great their product is.  But the presentation doesn’t engage the buyer.  As Dale Carnegie taught, the first steps in a sale are getting the buyer’s Attention and Interest.  Presentations need to be created to engage the buyer.  Many years ago, I saw a format that still works today and is built to engage the buyer.  It goes as follows

  1. Initial Benefit Statement – how does the solution address a problem the buyer has
  2. History of Problem – what is the problem the product addresses.  Ideally the buyer connects with the problem being addressed and wants to hear about the solution
  3. Solution – a high level description of the solution we are providing
  4. Features – an opportunity to talk about product features
  5. Benefits – how do the features translate to benefits for the buyer
  6. Objections – if we know some, its a good time to address before the buyer brings up, or just thinks about
  7. Rationale – an opportunity to talk about studies and facts that back up the benefits of our solution
  8. Summary – wrapping up
  9. Action – what is the next step for the buyer.  We want to create an action from the presentation and ideally get the buyer to commit to it, or agree on an alternative action.

Above is a great format.  If the buyer can relate to the problem being addressed, you have their interest and attention for the rest of the presentation

One of the most difficult hires is selecting a successful sales person.  Typically it takes 6 months to realise if the person will work based on closed deals, after which you have invested a significant amount in training.  A bad choice is identified by dropping sales, which has a direct affect on profitability and firm value.

A great software sales person follows your firm’s process including tracking opportunities in your CRM, and they have consistent sales performance.  A poor sales person talks a big game, but won’t follow processes and hopes to sign an mega deal to keep their job alive.  Unfortunately really good sales people are hard to find.

Some things to look for is a candidate’s resume.  Have they sold products similar to yours?  If you sell $100K deals that close in 6 months, is the candidate used to selling million dollar deals that take years to close?  Is there a history of moving around a lot, possibly because of an inability to meet targets?

Your firm has some responsibilities to help your new sales person.  A good sales person sells and leverages the tools the firms provides.  This includes demand generation through marketing, collateral, awareness building, pre-sales resources (demos, videos) and sales processes that a good CRM can support with things like workflows.  If these are not in place at your firm, they should be the priority, unless the expectation is that the sales person will create these items, which will take away from their time to sell and drive revenue (this may raise the question if you are ready for a sales professional).

Finally, if the sales person you hire cannot or will not follow the firm’s processes, including tracking opportunity activity in your CRM, its a big sign of future problems and may be a reason to part ways.  Successful software sales is not magic or inherited.  Its smart people following processes and helping prospects solve their problems with your products.

The greater market share a product has, the lower the selling cost/revenue dollar, shorter sales cycles and greater profitability.  Significant market share generates referrals and awareness by prospects who like to purchase products used by others, especially if current users are viewed as leaders in the market.  At Salentica, we had 30% of the largest RIA’s in the industry using our CRM.  For large RIA’s looking for a CRM, we were on their list to look at, which generated inbound inquiries.  We were also selected for strategic relationship with the custodians that RIA’s relied on, partly based on our market share.  The custodian relationships helped drive more awareness and inbound leads.

For a new company, it may be necessary to pursue several different product opportunities early on.  However at some point, it is important to prune the products that cannot be market share leaders and focus the firm’s resources on the product that can.  Jumping into unrelated markets with a product takes away from the goal to develop market leadership in the target market.  With a proven product and client base, it is best to look for opportunities to expand functionality within the target market to increase the revenue potential for a sale and provide opportunities to have add-on sales to the current clients.

At Linian, after we had over 65% of the mutual fund assets in Canada being valued by our solution, we expanded our product to provide portfolio modelling and trading.  The new functionality opened up new opportunities in existing clients and our brand in the industry enabled us to acquire new wealth management clients that needed portfolio modelling and trading, but not mutual fund accounting.

A good reliable product is the foundation for commercial success in the B2B software market, but leaders do marketing really well.  They create awareness and develop mind share with buyers.  Buyers like to buy successful products as its viewed as safer.  In the 80’s the saying was “no one gets fired for buying IBM”.  In the late 90’s, Siebel became the dominant CRM, even though the product was difficult to use and expensive to manage.   Siebel was known for being a company that was difficult to deal with.  But they did marketing really well and became the safe choice for large firms.  Today, Microsoft and Salesforce both have strong CRM solutions.  But Salesforce is the market leader based on stronger marketing and sales.

The lesson for software product companies is to not under estimate the importance of a strong marketing program, to generate awareness, demand and support your sales force.   Successful sales people are attracted to companies with strong marketing, as it helps them achieve their financial goals.  And successful sales people will help to drive more sales.