CRM for Field Sales Reps


Get adoption by reps who spend all day in the field

by Scott Adams

I n the last few years we have seen a growing trend of CRM being used by companies whose sales reps spend most days “in the field”. These reps travel from meeting to meeting in their cars. These reps make as many as eight sales calls a day meeting with end-customers, retailers, distributors, and resellers. In most instances, these companies have never used a CRM. In fact, many have no centralized contact database.

These companies now realize that they need to know who their sales reps are calling on, who makes the buying decisions, and what were the results of recent conversations each rep has made. One sales manager told me that their most successful sales rep had been with his firm for over 15 years. This rep recently retired and moved to Mexico. The company had no record of his contacts at some of their largest customers that he called on. Their billing system knew who paid the bills, but not who made the buying decisions. Is your firm in a similar position?

Some of these companies have required their field sales reps to submit a weekly call report along with their expense report. But these reports usually were short on details, and usually had limited contact information. Recognizing that a good CRM, such as Salesforce, would help to get more customer knowledge and a base on which to develop marketing systems, these companies have embarked on their first CRM deployment.

Their sales team, however, does not sit in front of a computer connected to a high-speed Internet connection, talking to customers on the phone using a head-set. Their “office” is their car and a smart phone and maybe a laptop. Armed with yellow lined pads of paper and product sheets these reps meet over coffee with customers in short 15 to 60 minute conversations. After each meeting the rep hops into his car and drives to the next meeting. There is little time to spend updating the CRM.

"Getting adoption will require a strong strategy and clearly defined expectations.”


The Challenges

Getting these field reps to adopt a new CRM can be challenging. You may be asking them to do more than what has been expected of them in the past. You are asking them to be more “accountable”. And, you might be asking for them to share more information about “their” customers. Some of these reps did not grow up using computers and smart phones and might be reluctant to use these tools. Some may resent being asked to interrupt their “selling time” to do some basic information sharing. As a result, getting adoption will require a strong strategy and clearly defined expectations.

We have had success getting field reps to fully adopt the Salesforce CRM. That is not to say it is easy. Here is some advice.


The Strategy

We have had success getting field reps to fully adopt the Salesforce CRM. That is not to say it is easy. Here is some advice.

Set expectations: Before you deploy the CRM, decide what you want the reps to enter into the CRM. We recommend that you start simple. Do not ask for too much. Ask your reps to enter all new Contacts. Have them verify that any existing Contact information is complete. They should get in the habit of taking each business card and entering the information into the CRM the same day. They also should record a few brief notes about the meeting, especially any price and delivery commitments. The reps should be expected to create a Task in the CRM for any “next step”. If the rep promises to send product information or a quote, immediately create a task for it. Initially, don’t ask for anything else. A “call report” should be easily produced by the CRM using the activity information they enter each day. If you have them update a pipeline report each week in a spreadsheet, this can be done using the CRM. But, make it as simple as possible. Do not ask for more Opportunity information initially than what they provide today or they will look at the CRM as more work rather than an effective tool.

Train well and often: Do not launch any aspect of the CRM without first training the field reps properly. Start simple and focus on making it simple. For example, you might ask them to simply schedule their customer meetings in the CRM and enter new Contacts for the first week. The next week you might add entering Tasks, such as getting a proposal sent. Each week for the first four weeks conduct a short training session of 30 minutes or less, answering questions and introducing one new capability. At the next sales meeting, conduct a refresher training session. Encourage “evangelists” who have fully adopted the CRM to present to the rest of the team how they are using the tool.

Give them the right equipment: Each rep should be provided with a newer model smart phone that offers a fast Internet connection when not connected to a WiFi. Whether an iPhone or an Android phone, it should be able to “talk” to the Internet using a fast 4th generation LTE connection where available. They also should be provided with a separate newer, lightweight laptop (such as an Ultrabook, Microsoft Surface or MacBook) or a tablet, such as an iPad, for more extensive typing. If they use a tablet, invest in a Bluetooth keyboard that works with the tablet.

Give them the information they need: Find out what information about customers they need in the field. Using a mobile CRM such as Salesforce1 requires that they not have to scroll through many fields before seeing what they want. Too much information is not useful. Often we import sales data from the ERP/billing system. For example, the rep might need to know the Sales Year-to-Date or Month-to-Date for the customer and whether or not they are on a credit hold currently. Sometimes they may need to see the last 5 customer orders, including what they have ordered. Ask several of your field reps what data they find useful when in the field; do not make assumptions on your own. You might also use or other sources to import into Salesforce prospects – those companies that are in your market focus but are not customers. There is nothing worse than a field rep continually driving 25 miles to see a current customer, passing by 10 potential customers along the way.

Make note taking easy: Show sales reps example of the notes you want them to enter. Notes do not have to be complete sentences. Abbreviations can be used (e.g., lvm for Left Voice Message). To make typing in notes faster and simpler, train reps how to use Siri or the Android voice dictation feature to quickly record notes without typing using their phone on a mobile CRM app like Salesforce1. Show them how to speak clearly and how to add punctuation – all without having to type. An excellent option on the Salesforce AppExchange is Voice2Insight. This Provo, UT company has a dictation system where your field reps call a 1-800 number to update and create Salesforce activities, Accounts, Contacts, and Opportunities. Rather than use some computerized voice-to-text app that often results in notes with errors, actual humans do the dictation. The $45 per month per user fee is a bargain compared to the time saved by your field sales reps as they drive to the next meeting.

Another option is to have field reps call into a phone number that ties into your own dictation system. The rep can state the Contact, the Company, the Date and Time of the meeting, and a summary of the meeting and follow up tasks. A sales operations person at your headquarters then can then type these dictated notes into the CRM for the rep. While this option is not ideal, it can be used to persuade some “old school” sales reps who are resisting the CRM commitment to get their meeting notes into the CRM.

Monitor compliance: Once you set these expectations, make sure that they are complying with them. We deploy a Weekly Activity Report that shows the sales manager who and when each rep has spoken with along with the meeting notes. The manager then uses these same reports for their weekly check-in calls with the reps. Instead of asking “What did you do last week?”, they can glance through the report first and be prepared for some sales coaching on the call. If the sales reps know you are looking at the information they enter, they will soon realize that it is important. If you do not review these notes, it does not take them long to realize that they can go back to their old habits and wait for the CRM craze to die off. Do not ask them to put the same information into some other report, such as a separate Excel call report. Show them that entering the information once into the CRM is all they need to do.

Track how many new Contacts and Activities each user enters each week. Create a Leaderboard dashboard in the CRM based on usage, and then provide great incentives for top performers. For example, you might provide a new Apple Watch for the top CRM adopters during the first three months. If your reps start using the new CRM immediately and make it part of their daily routine, they will find it more natural to use after two or three weeks. Do not give them the option to drop back to their old habits.

Listen and enhance: As your field reps start to use the CRM, check back to see how they are progressing. Seek out their ideas on how to make the CRM easier to use. Find out where they are having some problems, and provide special training in these areas.

Once your reps become more experienced, perhaps a month or two later, find out what else they might use the CRM for. See where you might save them some time. Do they want to see any more data from the ERP? Generate quotes using the CRM? Get customers to sign contracts electronically, even on a tablet? Explore allowing reps to do expense reporting using integrated apps like Concur. Monitor and calculate commissions from within the CRM with tools like Xactly. Keep growing and adapting your CRM to make it a strong tool. At the same time, remove parts that are not being used as well.

Getting adoption of a CRM by a field sales team is always more challenging than with inside sales reps. But the benefits are well worth it for you and the reps.

About Scott Adams

Scott Adams is the president and founder of SalesPath Corporation, a leading Pacific Northwest CRM consulting company. SalesPath is a Salesforce Certified Consulting Partner. For over 16 years SalesPath has implemented CRM systems for small to mid-sized companies.