I have a lot of conversations with strategy and operations leaders who are looking for a better process to track and monitor their plans. The solutions most organizational leaders are using to get visibility into long-term project metrics are overstuffed email inboxes and chasing people down in the hallway to update an Excel spreadsheet – not productive and time-consuming for everyone involved.
Surprisingly, one of the other patchwork tools leaders think can be adapted to track strategic and operational excellence plans are CRMs or Customer Relationship Management platforms. [There are a couple of different kinds of CRMs, but here we’re talking about sales automation CRMs, e.g. Salesforce.]
These tools do meet some requirements for a strong planning and monitoring solution: they’re integrated into existing processes, people are committed to updating them every day, and most platforms offer customized dashboard reporting.
However, truly effective leaders need to track more metrics than client calls, emails, and revenue numbers. Frankenstein-ing together sales information doesn’t give insight into the progress of key initiatives across the organization. Revenue numbers are important, but they do not provide visibility into, for instance, the progress of building a new hospital, how many potholes were filled by the county this quarter, or the change management adoption of new processes brought on by an acquisition.
Here are the main things to keep in mind when looking for a plan execution platform to move your goal tracking out of your sales CRM.
Use Your CRM for Its Intended Purpose
Let’s be clear. You need a sales CRM. But only expect out of it what you put into it – calls logged, pipeline, won/lost revenue, and prospect/customer relationship statuses.
As a sales professional, I’ve been indoctrinated into a world where “if it’s not in Salesforce, it doesn’t exist.” An employee in sales or customer success logs into a CRM daily to manage tasks, make notes, and plan the next steps – just like you would want in a tool to track your strategic or operational plan, except…
These small tasks don’t give insight into the progress of your company’s top 3 or 4 goals. Lead measures, like meetings per week or individual quota percentage, may align to organization-wide initiatives, but your CRM doesn’t give high-level insight into the overall status of how those main goals are progressing.
Sales CRM dashboards can show pipelines and even teamwide revenue goals, but neither of those measures truly helps track the execution of your strategic, operational excellence, or process improvement plans.
Where Your CRM Falls Short of Plan Execution Tracking
When discussing strategy, we focus on 4 key pillars: alignment, accountability, visibility, and collaboration. Each element is necessary for effective leaders to get more work done faster, make better decisions, and achieve more of their goals. Your CRM is sneaky – it provides these four key elements of a plan execution platform, but not at the level you need it.
CRMs keep track of daily tasks and activities, but not how they affect your company’s overall plan. For example, there may be a major company goal to “increase profit by 34% YOY,” but a sales CRM dashboard won’t be able to show how a metric like “daily logged calls” rolls up to impact overall revenue and overhead cost metrics of the entire organization.
CRMs excel at this, but only for those who are in sales or customer management. A sales CRM can track the probability of a deal closing, giving managers an indication of whether or not they need to take action to move it along, but never if a major initiative is off track or at risk. Using only a CRM without a plan execution tool can lead to gaps and blind spots throughout your execution timeline.
A CRM is built to show users at every level how your pipeline is growing, sales teams are performing, and customers are using your product. The information is accessible and easy to understand. However, those metrics don’t give the full picture outside of anything day-to-day. Strategy and process improvement plans look at trends over months and quarters. It’s all-important to keep a vigilant eye on projects and initiatives outside of revenue and growth.
CRMs are meant to provide sleek informational profiles and data-first, no-frills reporting. Certain instances may have custom notes fields added to the system, but ultimately CRMs don’t encourage or truly facilitate collaboration. Without an easily viewable history of qualitative data providing context to the numbers, you’ll stifle your ability to make informed real-time decisions to get back on track and achieve your goals.
Your Sales CRM is Just One Layer of Your Tech Stack
While the CRM is many things, it can’t be everything. It may be tempting to try and solve every part of your workflow with this single platform, since your teammates are already using it every day. But, just imagine finance attempting to use a CRM for bookkeeping and billing customers. Sounds ridiculous, right? If you wouldn’t do it to the finance team, don’t do it to the strategy team.
Strategy – and actually executing it – is essential to your organization’s growth and ability to keep up with competitors. To make matters even more dire, you only have one shot each year to get it right. If you let your growth plans get deprioritized or your track gets stuck in a CRM, you’re left with a shrug that reads “Maybe next year.”
Save your CRM for what it’s built for – prospect and customer relationship management. Find a platform that’s built for plan execution that can work in tandem with your CRM, and give you the visibility, alignment, collaboration, and accountability you need to drive toward your goals.
By allowing software to solve the problems they were made for instead of trying to retrofit them (or worse, trying to cobble together your own creation), you’ll set yourself up for the best success. “Maybe next year” becomes a distant memory and so do the headaches caused by trying to force a square peg into a round hole – and losing thousands of dollars along the way.