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11 questions your CRM system can't answer.

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Understanding the limitations of CRM systems, and how to use them effectively.

Aside from waking you up and handing you your morning cup of coffee, Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM) can pretty much run the rest of your day for you, right? Actually, not so much.

With the potential to increase sales productivity, cash flow profit margins, it’s no wonder CRMs have become the go to software for many businesses – but it’s easy to forget that they can’t do everything. Amidst all the efficient customer data handling and integration with automation software, it’s important to understand the limitations of CRMs, and what questions they simply can’t provide answers to.

When it comes to practical contact information such as times and dates, call information and scheduling, your CRM can excel. But transactional data such as detailed previous products bought, margins and revenue is something that a CRM simply can’t deliver.

That’s right, shock horror. There are some questions that your CRM can’t answer – but that doesn’t mean this information is beyond your grasp. We’ve put together a list of the top 11 questions your CRM can’t answer, as well as some useful pointers and workarounds.

Chapter 1 – Obtaining customer details.

The cornerstone of any professional relationship is trust, often achieved by adding a personal touch. If your customer feels like they are talking to someone who truly understands and cares for them, they are much more likely to want your offering. So, how do you achieve this? It’s simple. You get to know them.

1. What challenges are your customers facing?

Being in a position to make a sale is exactly where you want to be, but being able to approach that sale with the most relevant information possible is essential – and isn’t something you can rely on your CRM system for. Being a relationship management system, it isn’t your CRM’s job to establish customer relationships by sourcing information, but instead to manage and organize this information once it has been added to the system.

Developing your relationships will help you to understand your customers’ challenges, where you can then form an individual response in order to solve their issues. Whatever stage of the nurturing process you find most appropriate for gaining this information, make sure that you have a standard list of questions or ‘need-to-knows’ that you want to get from the prospect. This way, once you have entered all important information into your CRM system, you will be able to source it whenever you communicate with them, helping to cater your offering to them as needed.

2. Why are they shopping elsewhere?

Your customers aren’t loyal to you and you want to know why. Well don’t go to your CRM. Your CRM doesn’t know why. Qualitative information like this requires you to go out and do the hard work. Asking questions in order to understand your customer’s needs and desires will help you to paint a picture of why they may be purchasing from your competitors, and what you need to do to tempt them over to you instead.

At its best, your CRM can track this data once you have entered it. This allows the information to be accessed in the future to help keep a record of competitors, which can also be useful for sharing relevant information across your sales team. This can help you compare your offering with your competitors, and can give you an advantage in winning over business.

3. What are your customers' buying habits?

Another part of understanding your customer, and understanding how to sell to them, is gauging their buying habits. After all, there’s no point bringing round the dessert tray to someone without a sweet tooth. Gaining this information will allow you to adjust your approach accordingly to ensure that you’re not forcing products on them that they don’t need, or won’t be likely to buy.

Implementing a CRM system won’t give you answers to these questions. In fact, to get the answers to this, you will have to analyze your transactional data from your back office system. Did your customer buy in bulk? Do they buy one product consistently? Are they seasonal? By tracking these buying habits over time you can approach every customer differently, in a way that secures more sales.

4. What is your customer's decision making process?

One of the most important customer details you’ll need to know is how your customer approaches their decision making. This will help you construct your sales pitch, and is something worth knowing for when you plan on making a sale. Tailoring your approach to best suit their internal processes will not only be appreciated, but will also give you a better chance of closing the deal.

Your CRM system can’t gather this information, so don’t bother looking for it. Something as detailed and precise as this will need to be coaxed out of the customer using nurturing and continuous interaction. Once you have obtained the information you need, you can add it to your records, and update them should the customer’s process ever change.


Chapter 2 – Digging into customer history.

It is also important to build a back story for your customer where possible. Where gaining details can inform you of the here and now, they won’t be able to present the big picture. Requiring a personal touch and an inquisitive tongue, delving deeper into your customer’s past can help you to truly understand them.

5. What products do they use/have they used in the past?

Not usually a question met with too much resistance, most customers should be happy to share this information with you. As your CRM isn’t exactly MI5 and can’t quite run background checks on customers, it’s up to you to decide what information you consider valuable before querying it with the customer. Do you want to know what products they have used in the past? What do they use now? Why they are in the market for an alternative?

Understanding this information is crucial, as it can greatly help the way you shape your offering and cater it to your customer’s needs. Your CRM simply can’t do the research, but it can retain the information, once obtained. This can act as a valuable tool for assisting other members of the sales team who may need to get up to speed on the background of a customer quickly, if working on the prospect in the future.

6. Who are your customer's main competitors?

While smart, customer relationship management systems aren’t that smart. In fact, when it comes to competitor information, sometimes Google doesn’t even have the answer. It is important to get insight like this from the industry experts, who will know exactly who their competitors are. It is helpful to see who they are benchmarking themselves against, as well as where they aspire to reach. This information will help you to gauge where they lie within their industry and what type of product or service you can provide for them.

This information is best provided by the customer themselves, and should never be assumed. While smaller companies may not have a definitive list, all businesses will have a general idea of their market. Getting this information from them and keeping it stored in your CRM is a good way of keeping track of current competitors, which over time may change.

7. What are your customer's company growth plans?
While seemingly the opposite of ‘history’, company growth is often determined by past performance. That’s why it is helpful for you to discover where a company has come from, in order to understand where it may be going. However, CRM systems can’t obtain previous figures and information out of thin air, nor do they have the ability to make projections based on any data you enter. So, you’ll have to do some investigating.

While often considered sensitive information, it can be very beneficial to query prior performance while questioning future strategies, in order to gain a full picture of the customer’s business and where they may be heading. With this, you can adjust your offering accordingly to best suit the financial position and expected business growth of your customer. It may also serve as an indication for an increase in potential sales opportunities in the not-so-distant future.

Chapter 3 – Catering your offering.

Dedicating your product or service to your customers is at the heart of what you do – but doing so for so many different customers can be a struggle. That’s why catering your offer is essential to winning customers, but how exactly do you know what they want?

8. Is your product/service right for them right now?

Your customer relationship management system won’t tell you this one, either. (You’ve probably spotted a recurring theme by now). In fact, you might not even get a straightforward answer from your customer. They know what they want, and you know what you have. Aligning those two elements to make it work is the art of being a salesperson. If your product doesn’t fully unite with their needs, can you tweak it to make it so that it does?

If, on occasion, you find a customer that doesn’t quite fit the mold for your offering at this moment in time, but they have the potential to become a client in the future, then updating their details in your CRM can ensure that the relationship is managed in the most efficient way. It will help to avoid making contact too early, but will also make sure that they don’t fall off the radar completely. This is where recognizing what your CRM system can do is essential. Not all opportunities are instantaneous, and if it means keeping one on the backburner for later on, your CRM can take good care of them.

9. Which product will benefit them the most?

This is really down to you. As the person making the pitch, it is your domain to know what your customer needs. But how do you get this information? Through the nurturing process you should begin to learn who your customer is, what their pain points are, and where they need help. Knowing what they need is the first step to pitching the right product.

Remember our friend without the sweet tooth? We know that he’s not in the market for a sticky toffee pudding right now – but what isn’t so obvious, unless you really do your research, is that he has a serious savory craving. Reaching out to him with the right product, at the right time, is the key to closing that sale.

Using your CRM throughout the relationship building process to update details and information on the customer will keep a constant track of the sales cycle, helping to construct a detailed image of who they are, what they want, and where they are in the buying journey. Though your CRM system won’t tell you directly, with a little collaboration and some patience, it will soon be able to summarize all the entered information you need to make an informed decision about what to sell, and when to sell it.


Chapter 4 – Fine-tuning the sales process.

Making a sale is what you do. But once you start using CRM, your approach may change. Using the information it provides can help shape the way you approach a pitch, and embracing what it has to offer will help you maximize your sales.

10. Are you selling to the right person? Who is the key decision maker?

As a salesperson, there’s nothing worse than developing a relationship, only to find out that the person you’re pitching to doesn’t hold any real power. It’s like pleading with the bouncer to let you in, only to realize that when he does, you’ve got to make an equally laborious amount of effort just to persuade the ticket lady you won’t be causing any trouble tonight. In the world of sales, once you’re past the gatekeeper, you need to be sure that you’re spending your time pitching to someone who can make a decision. And this is something your CRM system won’t be able to help you with.

In terms of helping you make the right call at the right time, it’s your best friend. But it’s not your customer relationship management system’s job to check if that relationship is worth nurturing. That’s up to you. Understand your CRM for what it is – an intelligent, obedient body that thrives on the data that YOU enter. Establish your relationships with the right people in the first place, and your CRM can take you the rest of the way.

11. How can you improve your customer's experience when interacting with you?

Like many wise old men – Dumbledore, Gandalf, Mr Miyagi – your CRM is there to hold your hand and guide you through, but it won’t ever directly hand you the answer. Though it doesn’t come with the obligatory white beard, your system can be just as useful as the aforementioned mentors, if you use it in the right way.

Tracking responses to questions, your own thoughts and impressions while on a call, and even general tones of voice, within your CRM, can help to create a detailed narrative of your pitch and the sales process as a whole. Instead of then approaching the customer in the same way you did the previous week, you can use the information stored within your CRM to help influence changes within your approach, to hopefully result in the outcome you’re looking for. So, much like the wizards and maintenance men that give you just enough information to let you learn the lesson for yourself, your CRM won’t quite give you the answer you need, but it will provide you with more than enough tools to find it.


Conclusion – Implementing a CRM system that works for you.

So, there you have it. Like all great things, CRM systems have their strengths and weaknesses, but if they were good at everything, you’d be out of a job. Implementing a CRM system effectively and utilizing everything it has to offer is a great way to increase efficiency, productivity and revenue. Attempting to use it for something it’s not designed to do or looking for answers it simply can’t provide is just counterproductive.

Essentially, your CRM is an information hub when it comes to customer interaction, from the first pitch to closing the sale. Ask the right questions, note down the answers, and you’ll be developing the relationship exactly the way you should be in no time. Learn what your system can do, and learn what’s best done the good old-fashioned way. All you need to do then is learn how to harmonize the two and you’ll be on your way to sales greatness.

Now that you’re a complete expert on all the questions your CRM system can’t answer, explore the ins and outs of sales-i’s CRM integration to see what it can.

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