Avoid the Trap: Don’t Tie CRM Adoption to Sales Compensation

After years of struggling to get sales reps to use CRM correctly, I thought I had finally found the answer.

Like many sales leaders, I had been through the frustrating cycle of training my team to use CRM, offering best practices, and constantly reminding them to input data correctly. However, reps still constantly forgot to change close dates on deals, were slow to update information after a call, and had pipelines full of old opportunities.

A few years ago, I was struck by an idea…What if I tied sales compensation directly to CRM adoption? Since compensation already works a mechanism to drive positive behavior, why not use it to push for better quality data in CRM? Or so I thought.

I implemented this new plan on my sales team, but quickly found that the solution proved to be short-sighted. While I saw an uptick in CRM usage in the short-term, using sales compensation to drive CRM use wasn’t the answer long-term. Here’s why I’ve found sales leaders must prove the value of CRM to their sales team, instead of relying on the carrot or stick of sales compensation.

The Sales Compensation Trap

It all sounded so simple at first: just throw money at the problem of CRM usage and it will drive results. If it works for closing deals, why wouldn’t it work for CRM use? However, even in the dollar-driven world of sales, money isn’t always the answer. When I made a small portion of sales rep compensation contingent on correct CRM use, I saw a small improvement initially and celebrated. However, after deeper analysis, I realized it wasn’t working as well as I had hoped.

I saw that reps were doing the bare minimum in the CRM to get their full paycheck, and nothing more. The quality of their work continued to go downhill as time passed, and reps were often more frustrated than motivated by the compensation. They began to resent the workload of the CRM even more than before we made the change. Tying CRM use to compensation further degraded the relationship between reps and management because reps felt punished, rather than rewarded for their work. I realized that money is not a catch-all for improving sales rep behavior in every aspect of the sales process.

Teach the Benefits of CRM

Why didn’t my brilliant plan work? It’s because I wasn’t thinking about CRM from a sales rep’s perspective. If you ask sales reps on your team, they honestly believe they shoulder all of the hard work of using CRM, while sales management gets all of the benefits. Reps clearly see the hours spent inputting sales data, but they don’t see any improvements to their own sales results. This leads to reps who treat the task of inputting data into the CRM as a waste of their time, and something to do as quickly as possible — if at all.

Instead of relying on money alone as motivation to use CRM, you should trust that your team is smart enough to understand the true benefits of CRM. As the sales leader, you can explain how entering data today will directly improve each rep’s sales results tomorrow. For example, accurate CRM data can help sales reps:

  • Forecast their own sales pipeline, to balance prospecting and pipeline building with execution.
  • Understand where to prioritize and allocate scarce resources like time, sales engineering, executive outreach, and more.
  • Learn from past sales mistakes instead of repeating them over and over.

The last point is especially powerful to reps. For example, if a rep thought a buyer was ready to close and reported that up the chain, only to lose the deal to a competitor, that rep failed to understand where customer was in their buying process. That is the type of mistake that reps can easily lose track of without proper CRM usage and coaching from management.

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Driving Improvements with Analytics

High quality CRM data can not only help reps avoid mistakes or prioritize their time, it can also show areas for improvement. With the right data input daily into CRM, sales managers and reps alike can use data analytics to find patterns in behavior and drive improvements throughout the sales process. Explain how reps can use analytics tools to understand:

As a sales leader, you should be transparent with your sales team, openly sharing the benefits of data analytics. This data should be the basis for every sales coaching conversation, every pipeline review, and every team communication.  If you’re not using empirical data to guide your sales team, you will never be able to find true, data-backed improvements. But without the right CRM data, you can’t even start.

Now that I’ve realized sales compensation is not the answer to the CRM dilemma, I’ve been able to put in the effort of explaining the true value of CRM to my team. Now, CRM use has become ingrained in the cultural fabric of my sales team, and is just a part of doing the job of sales well. Even without the added pressure of sales compensation, you too can get your sales reps on board with using CRM.

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