By Vivian Wagner

Eric Esfahanian is senior vice president and general manager of sales intelligence and marketing compliance provider Gryphon Networks.

In this exclusive interview, CRM Buyer discusses with Esfahanian the connections between sales intelligence, sales performance, and effective CRM.

CRM Buyer: How would you define “sales intelligence”?

Eric Esfahanian: Sales intelligence is using the activity data of your sales organization and applying it to support decisions that managers need to make. Not only to maintain their business, but also to grow it and continually improve on its effectiveness.

CRM Buyer: What are some of the primary components of sales intelligence?

Esfahanian: Sales intelligence is automatically capturing data and making it available in context to managers. CRM is naturally a good source for analytics and sales intelligence if the data that lives within your CRM is automated, accurate, and something that you can reliably make decisions from the data.

CRM Buyer: How can you ensure the accuracy of the data collected?

Esfahanian: The best thing to do is get away from the manual entry aspects of logging activity into CRM. The more you can automate the process; the more accurate and more complete the data is going to be.

CRM Buyer: How can you put data into context?

Esfahanian: You start with an understanding of what behaviors are essential to your team and your organization. What behaviors are predictive of success? You have to understand what you’re hoping to manage. You can’t just give them a phone and a territory and say “Good luck. Have at it.”

You give them an understanding of what success looks like from a behavior standpoint. In the 90s, people would fill a room with young, eager sales folks, give them a phone and a phone book, and then manage the activity to the nth degree. They had a consolidated system to manage that activity.

When the 2000s came, along with mobility and a stronger Internet, people started to distribute their sales forces, and managers lost a lot of visibility. All they had to rely on was something like a CRM tool or weekly conference calls with reps, or a centrally maintained Excel spreadsheet that they would have to manipulate themselves.
What you see now is the pendulum swinging the other way.

CRM Buyer: What is the relationship between good sales intelligence and effective CRM?

Esfahanian: It has to be tightly synergistic. When you combine CRM with sales intelligence, and you do it in a way that’s tightly integrated and has one workflow, it changes not only how companies feel about sales intelligence, but how they feel about their CRM. Suddenly it becomes more valuable.

CRM Buyer: How do you combine CRM with sales intelligence?

Esfahanian: Sales intelligence is all about automatic capture of activities, and CRM becomes the clearinghouse of all of that data. Sales intelligence is taking the data and making it immediately available inside and outside of CRM.
CRM is where it ultimately resides, where you do much more long-term trending analysis and decision support with the other aspects of a campaign, account or opportunity.

CRM Buyer: Do good sales performance and good CRM go hand-in-hand?

Esfahanian: I come from the school that believes they go hand-in-hand. I always say to my sales reps, “You’re going to start creating activity, and that activity at the beginning is going to be low quality and high quantity. Over time, that activity will turn more into better quality, lower quantity. If you keep doing your thing, you’re going to start seeing results.”

Sales activity is a function of good customer relationships, and vice versa. You’re generating more activity when you’re better at doing your job. Customers want to deal with people who are effective and efficient. CRM is a reflection of the effectiveness of the agents — of the agents’ performance and the agents’ activities.

You’re going to see a clear synergy between sales activity performance and growing customer relationships, improving customer relationships. Because they are synergistic, and CRM is the inflection point for all of it.

CRM Buyer: How is the relationship between sales and CRM evolving? What’s in the future?

Esfahanian: People have started to realize that accuracy is paramount when it comes to CRM. No one will ever dispute CRM’s role in managing and running a sales organization, but what is surprising is the amount of data that is not accurate that lives in CRM.
We talk about the accuracy wave coming in on the heels of big data. We’ve got all this data. Now let’s look at it and make sure that it’s accurate. The future of CRM [rests] on driving down into accuracy. Ultimately, I see it coming into a more predictive analysis. I won’t need to run a report and look at it and figure out where I need to be. CRM is going to tell me what I need to put my attention. If I want to look at the data to support it, I can click back, and it will show me a dashboard view. It’s going to move into a more predictive phase, where artificial intelligence feeds managers the insights from the data that they need to focus on first.

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