10 Ways to Cheat on CRM (& a bit on war).

Everyone is using CRM systems to manage sales people. A big part of the analysis is around win rates. Good sales people win more; bad win less. Over a period of time how good or bad a sales person can be measured by the value or quantity of opportunities that they win or lose. Gamers call it a “kill ratio”, “Kill / Death” or “k / d” ratio  in shmups (shoot ‘em-up games). It measures how often a player kills versus how often the player dies.

Win rates matter.

Militarians call it the “loss-exchange” ratio. Loss-exchange ratios are hard to get. It depends who you count. Allies and civilians can be counted optionally. Sometimes counting isn’t possible and sometimes people don’t count. General Tommy Franks is widely reported to have said in the Iraq invasion of 2003 "we don't do body counts".

966,000 Vietnamese were killed in war related deaths from 1965-1974 but that does not count those killed in the French phase of the war from 1954. It includes Vietnamese killed by the side allied to the United States.. If you ignore those and non-military deaths you get an estimate of 440,000 Communist military deaths. 56,000 Americans were killed. That gives a ratio of 8 : 1.

15 years after the end of the Vietnam war there had been considerable change.  40000 Iraq soliders were killed in the first Gulf War as against 148 U.S. military deaths or a 270 to 1.

Impact of win rates in sales

The impact of real win rates is massive in sales. Take two sales reps with a pipeline of 1,000,000 each. “A” has a win rate of 25% and “B” has a win rate of 20%. After working through the pipeline, “A” will have closed 250,000 and “B” will lag on 200,000. That is a 25% difference in sales revenue for the company for the better rep -  50,000 more than “B”. A beer with 5% alcohol is 25% more intoxicating than a beer with with 4% alcohol.

CRM systems make the analysis of win rates easier but there are ways to manipulate the numbers.

Problems with Win Rate Analysis

The goal is to see the effectiveness of sales people in revenue terms so it is natural to use the value of opps won versus the value of opportunities received. The value is a subjective opinion by a sales person or the person who passed the opp to them or even by the prospect. This leads some sales analysts or managers to use the count or number of opportunities won versus the number received.

Good sales people argue against this because they concentrate on bigger opportunities. There is an argument that win rates should ignore opportunities that are still open because they are undecided. However, leaving out open opportunities means that the rate can be fudged by leaving opportunities that are really dead open indefinitely. The wilful rep interprets a decision to go with a competitor for five years as a possibility that there is a deal to be had in a few years time.

For 10 years, I worked in salesforce.com; first selling and then managing sales people as a VP in EMEA. Without fear of contradiction I can say I got very good at running reports and dashboards. Good Excel pivot table make me smile and I think matrix reports in salesforce.com are beautiful.

But the beauty can be misleading. Sometimes there can be “systematic anomalies in the matrix” that show how misleading. Bad sales people can have high win rates.

The Top 10 ways to Cheat on CRM Systems.

These are techniques for sales reps in trouble with their win rates. Only bluffers should read on.

They could get you fired but then that is a distinct possibility anyway.

1. Low ball until the deal is done.

This is a “cover up” before the fact if you know you are in real trouble. Understate the opportunity so that when it dies it won’t look too bad. Tell the sales manager there is  “nothing to see here” - just a small deal that won’t materially affect the total value of deals lost. Only if it is certain to close do you increase it to the true value. Advice: Trust no one. Previously-owned, unused ones are cheap.

2. Never kill an opp.

These opportunities become zombies. They exist in a terrible living dead state. They are still open in the CRM system but they have as much chance of closing as getting a royal flush in poker. It works if managers don’t include open opportunities in win/loss analysis. It is easy to get away with your manager tends to pass over opportunities that you don’t draw attention to. Advice: If ever asked about these say “I must follow up with them”.

3. Never create an opportunity until the deal is done.

This is “stealth mode” for the opp. It remains totally invisible until it is certain to add to the win pile. It has the advantage of not showing up in win / loss analysis by number of opps for nosey types. These characters have lost faith in the win / loss analysis by value because of “the cover ups”. Advice: invest in a fil-o-fax and a good pen. You should be able to get a previously owned one easily.

4. Change near dead opps over to other people (ideally dead people).

Dead people don’t complain. They can have win rates in the single digits and won’t be fired. Pass your most egregious dead opps to them. Think of it is organ donation. You benefit from their loss. Advice: If none of your colleagues have expired: try re-assigning to sales people who have left the company or changed role.

5. Misclassify the type of opportunity.

This is for advanced fiddlers. If the focus is on new business win rates, then classify opportunities as add-on/upgrade until you get a firm nod that paperwork is on the way. Then rectify your “mistake”.

6. Let territory poachers work opportunities that should be in your name until it closes then demand it.

This has the advantage of increasing your productivity in the sense that you will win more for doing less work. Try to assess if they are better than you. If they are worse it could go wrong. Remember not to compare your win rates as these may not be reliable. Advise: The timing of the dispute is important. The poacher might be more vulnerable before the paperwork arrives. Senior management might have a bias for the person holding the order. In this situation play for a split.

7. Keep the close date in the distant future and hope nobody notices.

This is like a zombie opportunity but might help it to stay off the radar and avoid the bouncing of close dates that sometimes attracts attention. Even if it is counted in the denominator for your win rate i.e. where open opps count in the win rate, it is still better than having a high value of dead opportunities. Managers will understand the damnable consequences of having you on the team more easily if you have a high dollar value on your dead opportunities. Advice: log some activity intermittently on the opportunity to show that you haven’t forgotten it.

8. Leave the close date in the distant past and hope nobody notices.

You can always claim it was a typo. At my age, I could put a date in the 1990s and claim it was an innocent mistake. Use a close month that might make sense e.g. if it is now May 2015, pick a month after May in an earlier year; that way you don’t have to explain how you got the month and year wrong - just the year. Advise: this works better if there is a perception that you are a bit careless about details.

9. Re-open old opportunities that are dead.

If you have been slow to create opportunities or are lucky enough to get a “blue bird” that lands in your lap, you can take the opportunity to give the Lazarus treatment to another dead opportunity. This has a “double whammy” effect because as well as getting a win, the dead pile goes down. Advice: make sure to adjust the key information on the opportunity so it reflects the right products etc.

10. Re-use opportunities that were linked to another account.

This is a complete transplant. You need to change a weak or dead opportunity from one account over to another account that you know will go better. You will need to change the details. It is like the opportunity joined the Foreign Legion to hide its past and got a new name. Advice: Use this too if you lose territory but have a “hold out” on opps created before a certain date. Pick an opp before that date and change all the details to the opportunity that came your way after you lost territory.

Be warned all of this could be traced back to you if someone smart gets suspicious and starts to dig around. It could get you fired but then if you are trying to bury your bad win rate, maybe that is a risk worth taking. Use the time that you might buy yourself well. Improve your game. Sales is a lot of fun when done well. It is worth getting better so that you can reap the benefits.

Best Advice

The best advice: do not to bluff your manager if they are good. They will try to help. Don’t bluff customers. They smell it a mile off. Win rates will drop like a stone. It might even be affecting you now if you have read this far instead of spending time talking honestly to potential customers. Most gravely, never bluff yourself. It will sap your energy. Most people can sell. Especially those who think they can’t. Try to be authentic. Real sells.