CRM cannot replace the process of making the sale


The evolution of Customer Relationship Management software during the past 10 years has truly revolutionized the way businesses conduct business.

From the collection of key demographic data during the prospecting stage to the automated fulfillment of contracts and customer updates, the power and impact of communication has exponentially increased with CRM.

CRM can be a sales organization's dream. Its key points of value include:

  • Automating routine activities.
    Activities like information requests, proposals, thank-you letters, surveys and routine "check-ins" can all be automated. It allows the system to tend to the minutia of details and allows the salesperson to do what she's most valuable at: selling.


  • "Set it and forget it".
    CRM applications put the "ink on the paper" by scheduling all tasks, appointments and activities, and then placing each on a calendar. Salespeople can literally set it and forget it. They simply schedule activities and then handle them when they appear on the CRM calendar.


  • Integrating key business functions.
    At any point in the sales process or customer relationship, management can have a snapshot of the playing field. By integrating areas like customer service and support, sales automation, marketing automation, reporting, tracking and analysis, businesses are operating at a very efficient level. Even better, when all departments work from the same database, communication and teamwork are outstanding as all employees are accessing the same information.

As great as CRM is, however, the more discussions I have with professionals from all industries, the more obvious it is becoming that something is missing.

What is missing is intangible, yet of prime importance: the understanding, at the core, of what CRM is, and what it is not.

Customers buy the application expecting a process, only to learn later that it's an automation tool. No matter how functional the application, salespeople must still manage the application.

A colleague of mine runs a direct-sales organization with more than 200 salespeople. He tells me that he receives calls weekly from CRM vendors telling him that if he uses their product he can eliminate his more costly salespeople. This could not be less true because a CRM application does not become the sales process, which means it can't replace salespeople.

Recently while visiting a prominent CRM provider's Web site, I found that the company is dead-right when citing the key CRM benefit as: "Effective Sales Process Management -- A Competitive Differentiator."

Note it does not read, "Effective Sales Process." It includes "management" because CRM can help an organization and its salespeople manage the sales process. However, it can not circumvent or replace it.

What is really lacking is the understanding that a CRM application is not the sales process, but rather a component of the sales process.

With this understanding, it's easy to realize that it's still the selling skills of salespeople that ultimately determine a sales organization's success.

Accordingly, all companies should use a CRM system with the understanding that it's one component of the selling process, and then integrate the CRM application into the seven steps of the sales procedure.

The following brief overview of the seven-step process that has been used by more than 250,000 salespeople from more than 3,000 companies is applicable to every industry, product and service. The steps are:

  • Step 1: Approach.
    The initial contact with the prospect. Although very brief, it is critical that the prospect likes and trusts the salesperson for the sales process to continue.


  • Step 2: Qualification.
    This is the information-gathering period where a true sales professional spends 70 percent to 80 percent of his time. Need, authority and budget are the keys, and the salesperson qualifies the prospect, learns her true needs in preparation for making the best recommendation.


  • Step 3: Agreement on need.
    While most sales managers focus on closing skills, in our experiences we've learned that it's much easier to walk through an open door than a closed one. This makes the agreement on need the most important step in the sales process, as it is where the salesperson summarizes and verifies for his prospect the information gathered in steps 1 and 2. The salesperson can only continue toward a sale by receiving an appropriate agreement on need from the prospect.


  • Step 4: Sell the company.
    The prospect has questions and possible concerns about the salesperson's company, and this is when the salesperson shares all that is great about her company.


  • Step 5: Fill the need.
    Prospects want to know about the product or service that the salesperson is recommending and the price. In this step the salesperson shows the prospect how her product or service solves specific problems, fills the prospects needs precisely, and the value the prospect will receive.


  • Step 6: Act of commitment.
    This is the previously mentioned closing step in which the salesperson asks for the order. Closing requires the ability by the salesperson to overcome the prospect's fears, uncertainties, or doubts about her product or service, price or time to buy.


  • Step 7: Cement the sale.
    People buy emotionally, then justify their buying decision logically. In this step the salesperson "cements" in his prospects' minds the logical reasons for buying the product or service.

With a clear understanding of what CRM applications are -- and are not -- sales organizations can thrive with their implementation.

And upon basing such applications on the seven steps of the sales process, the results of all sales organizations can increase rapidly, and dramatically.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.