Jonathan Bein, managing partner of Distribution Strategy Group, suggests CRM platforms have always been the moon to distributor’s ERP sun. While ERPs were the backbone of most distribution companies, CRM often served in a supporting role.
Not anymore. Bein says CRM is “becoming its own key integration point for customer-facing functions. Successful distributors use CRM in much bolder, deeper ways than ever before.” Bein shared his take in a recent Distribution Strategy Group webinar on how to make your next CRM initiative successful.
Joining him were:
- Stephanie Kuntz, Director of Marketing, Palmer-Donavin
- Tara Nebel, Head of Enterprise CRM, Chadwell Supply
- Dana Lingard, Thought Leader and Consultant, Previously of AZP Multifamily
What is the evolving role of CRM in distribution? Here’s what these subject matter experts had to say.
Missed the webinar? Catch it on-demand here.
CRM’s Role for Distributors
CRM remains a useful tool for distribution companies. These platforms can incorporate various functions, from customer service to lead management, product marketing and sales management. CRM can also help distributors nurture customer relationships to yield higher sales.
The panelists use their CRMs in different ways. Lingard worked in a company that organized sales leads by opportunity type. This approach made sense within the context of a multichannel sales environment. Notably, the CRM routes opportunities to the proper delivery team.
Lingard describes the typical process for handling a new lead via the CRM platform:
“Say we learn that a property is selling to a new management company who may or may not be our customer. That becomes an opportunity for our business development team to create a new relationship or manage an existing relationship in a different way. The CRM hierarchy of users is set up by teams and different opportunity types. Each opportunity routes to the appropriate team. One account could have multiple opportunities for multiple teams because there are various things are going on at the property level.”
Nebel’s company organizes within the context of the properties they visit. These opportunities funnel to the right territory manager for the area.
All the panelists agreed that CRM plays an important role within their sales team as an accountability metric driver. “This goes back to the field sales team and the accountability of calling on a certain number of accounts and entering those quote notes into the CRM and tracking it,” Lingard said. “They’re going out to the properties and calling on X amount daily, and reporting on the backend.”
Sales managers review this data and determine if they are hitting the right accounts at the correct volume. “We’re merging the anecdotal feedback from the sales team and the actual account data together to ensure the routing is right, and we’re hitting the right people to get those day-to-day sales.”
CRM Implementation and Integration
Nebel’s organization is undertaking a critical integration of its CRM and ERP platforms. “Today, a lot of the information we have from field sales goes into the CRM but doesn’t flow back to the ERP,” she said. “There’s a disconnect. We’re looking to bring this full picture for the entire organization to see the data at the backend as well.”
Implementing a CRM and integrating it with internal platforms is delicate and challenging. Salesforce has tracked CRM implementation failure rates reported by various research companies from one-third to as high as 70%.
“What’s core to these projects is to look at it as a business-focused project, not necessarily an IT-focused project. What you’re really doing is creating an avenue for business operations, sales, IT and everyone to work collaboratively,” Nebel said.
It’s critical to identify stakeholders from each group and then select an implementation partner that works well with these teams. “Partner selection is one of the most critical pieces you can have for a large implementation,” she said.
Kuntz said their organization had a disconnect between requirements and the implementation. She called it “a failed implementation,” adding, “Our partner did their job, leading us down the path of a sales hub. But our business doesn’t feed off leads and opportunities; we deal more with cases happening. Instead of our sales teams feeding information like a typical CRM, they’re pushing cases out and stuff happens based on those requests.”
Her team ended up selecting a different CRM. After five or six interviews, they also selected a new partner to implement it.
Kuntz emphasized the need for clean data on these projects. “Part of our implementation process was just clean data. We probably spent three months cleaning up our ERP data before the project start date.”
Kuntz said that her new partner took time to understand the interplays between all the software they use, not just the CRM platform. “The CRM in our world is a tiny part,” she said. “We want all this information put into our CRM.”
The value-add of a CRM with a 360-degree view and integration with other back and frontend platforms is something that all the panelists appreciated.
Lingard’s team added data warehouse functionality so that Google Analytics and ERP data could meld with the CRM. Lingard cautioned: “As we all know, if you start customizing your ERP too much, you eventually break it, and it’s money.” Her answer was the data warehouse as a digital data hub with all other platforms feeding from this centralized space.
Lingard’s organization also implemented a phased rollout of this new infrastructure, fixing issues as they went along within a minimum viable product (MVP) model.
“We created a phased implementation plan. We started with a market rollout first. Our field sales are divided by region, so we picked one region and set them up as users. We did kind of a basic layout and said, ‘Do routes, do all your stuff for a time, come back, tell us what’s not working, what’s not easy, what data’s missing, what would you like to see on sales calls?’ Once we fixed those issues, we rolled the CRM out to the field sales team, to renovations, then to BD. We learned as we went and failed fast when we needed to.”
Lingard’s takeaways on the ‘build as you deploy model’ over a big bang rollout: “It seemed to work a lot better, we got to market faster, and the team was using the CRM much quicker.”
Benefits of CRM Integration
Palmer-Donavin is undertaking an ERP implementation at the same time as a CRM deployment. They’re also changing some tools on the marketing side. Significantly, the distributor hopes to integrate these tools thoroughly so they can work seamlessly within operations, sales and marketing. Kuntz describes the vision for achieving value from not only the new platforms but also the integrations of these disparate tools:
“All our contacts will be managed within there. Our sales teams visit five customers a day. They do product training, placing displays and riding with manufacturers. So, when they enter that information, marketing will take it and say, okay, here’s who the sales team is talking to, here’s what they’re doing. Then we’re building content to push to those contacts. That’s the goal.”
Chadwell Supply is also working on better integration of its existing tools. “Today we have a one-way integration from the ERP system into the CRM. We’re very excited to have full integration because you really see the true value of the CRM within a suite of solutions,” Nebel said.
“You want that bi-directional sync.”
Data In/Data Out in a CRM
Kuntz emphasizes that data is, for obvious reasons, highly critical to the success of CRM. She said distribution companies should “really take the time and focus on the most critical fields for your business. Ensure governance of those data fields, so you control what’s going in and out. Having that data prepped, clean and ready for that implementation is one of the most critical pieces.”
Bein categorized three data types handled by these systems:
- Financial data syncing to the CRM
- Customer data, including contact details
- Product data
The sales reps shouldn’t be responsible for these inputs; reduce their reporting requirements by ensuring clean data from the start, the use of dropdown boxes, and following stringent data governance practices.
Given that our sales teams want to sell (and hate manual data entry), taking away administrative tasks is a win/win for everyone. Kuntz agreed: “We limit the text fields our sales reps enter information into. I think this is a best practice. You want as many dropdowns and validated fields with clean data” to make administrative tasks easier.
“There is an admin part to CRM data,” Lingard said. “But we want them to absorb that overall story and go in with a sales pitch. There are reports in CRM they can slice and dice the data to start to see trends.”
Want more? Check out the on-demand webinar here.