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Podcast Transcript – Workbooks CEO John Cheney on everything CRM

John Cheney, Chief Executive Officer at WorkBooks Online, talks all things CRM.

Listen to the full conversation here.

CRM is the butt of quite a lot of jokes around Marketing and Sales. I think a lot of businesses see it as mostly a passive data store, rather than an active part of their marketing toolkit. What is it that they’re missing? 

I guess that’s right. Historically, marketing automation and CRM have been two different technologies, and I think that’s where that background comes from. Clearly, by connecting both systems together, you get a much richer view of your customer and prospect base. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing that most organisations are missing if they’re not really leveraging the knowledge that’s held in their CRM platform to drive the marketing agenda. So your sales team, if you’re using CRM, will be adding contacts, will be adding profile information into the CRM platform. And if that’s not informing your marketing, then you’re clearly missing a trick. So you want to identify senior stakeholders, for example, or people with particular interests or products and services. And that data is typically held in CRM and, and populated by Sales.  

But it isn’t just the profiling, it’s also things like the transactional history you’ve had with your clients. So, if you know that customers often buy product A with product B, well, that data may well be stored in your CRM platform. So, if you can segment your existing customers based on transaction history and use that to drive your marketing agenda, then you’ll get a much better ROI on crossselling and upselling into your customer base. So, there’s lots of value by having the two platforms connected and using the information that is in CRM to drive marketing. 

Do you think the problem of aligning sales and marketing that’s been around for as long as both departments have is that purely a problem of aligning the technology or is there something deeper that we also need to address? 

No, I think it’s definitely both. I think having technologies disconnected makes it much more difficult to align sales and marketing. But really, your sales and marketing are part of the same onboarding funnel where you start with potential prospects, the top of the funnel, and you end up with an order at the bottom of that funnel. And I think what you really need to do is make sure that both the sales and marketing teams are looking at the metrics or optics, if you like, of that funnel together. Rather than saying, you know, “it’s sales’ job to close deals, and it’s marketing’s jobs to generate new opportunities.” It’s really having a clear set of metrics all the way through the process. That’s actually very difficult to do with the technology disconnected because you just don’t have a common set of metrics across both systems. Whereas if you can align both the technology and the processes and the measures all the way through the top and bottom of the funnel, then you’ll get a much more effective way of delivering new business into your organisation. 

With that need to as you say, have a combined or a matching set of metrics between sales and marketing. Do you think the model where sort of marketing cover the top of the funnel and sales the bottom is broken? Or does it just need a few little tweaks to make it work better than it currently does? 

So I think there’s some truth in the fact that marketing does own the top of the funnel and sales own the bottom of the funnel. But I think that the real point for me is that both organisations need to have a clear understanding of all the metrics all the way through. So if for example, marketing generates 1000 leads, and those convert into 100 opportunities, but those hundred opportunities only convert into one sale, then we’ve got a few problems going on, we’ve either got the wrong types of opportunities coming into the top of the sales funnel, and therefore that’s why we’ve got 1-in-100 conversion rate, or we’ve got a very poor sales organisation that can’t sell. But you really need to understand the metrics, understand what the conversion rates are through the funnel to understand where the problems are. Conversely, you might have 1000 leads that come at the top of the funnel and a conversion rate of only 10 opportunities. But if you collect 5 of those, then what that’s telling you is that your sales execution is great, but the top of the funnel isn’t generating the right kind of opportunities.  

So, I think it’s really about having a clear understanding all the way through the top and the bottom. But I think it is fair to say that you’d expect marketing to own the top part of the funnel and sales to own the bottom part. But it’s really important, I think, to make sure that the feedback from both parts of that funnel is leveraged. So, Sales can often help marketing teams work out what’s going to drive conversion through the top of the funnel because they’re out there talking to customers about the problems and issues that they’re facing. And if that information isn’t being fed back into the marketing teams, then we’re missing an opportunity to create content at the top of the funnel that’s going to drive more sales through the funnel. Does that answer your question? 

Yes, I think it does. Is there a specific playbook in mind for the way that sales can use, especially use, CRM to feed those wins and not the specific wins and losses, and the reasons for them, back to the top of the marketing team? Or does it still rely on face to face meetings and that style of passing information back? 

Well, if your technology is connected, then it makes it infinitely easier. Here at Workbooks we’re obviously using a marketing automation platform connected to our CRM platform. So what that means is that we can see people on the website as we begin to profile them, and at a certain score, they flip through into an opportunity and then we can measure what happens after the opportunity is created. So, does it result in a sale? Does it result in an order? Does it result in an invoice?  

But more importantly than that, if it doesn’t convert through into a sale and we qualify out of that opportunity, or, for example, we lose to a competitor, which occasionally we do, we can measure that inside the CRM platform, and that feeds all the way back into marketing. So, we can see, if we qualified out of a deal, why did we qualify out that deal? We use two very specific exit routes through our sales funnel. So, we either qualified deals out, what that really means is they weren’t quite the right shape for us, or we lose them. And those two differences are quite important. So qualified out is really important because it allows us to inform marketing on, well, when we first got this opportunity into the business, we kind of thought it was the right shape, but actually, once it was further qualified, we can see it’s not, so maybe they’re in the wrong industry, or they’re in the wrong geography, for example, the organisation size is not the right shape. And because our technologies are connected, that automatically flows back into marketing, rather than there being the need for lots of face to face meetings to understand the metrics.  

Now clearly, meetings are useful to provide some of the stories, but I think having the two technologies joined up allows the metrics to flow backwards and forwards much more effectively. 

You touched there on lead scoring as a way of managing all these things. Do you think that setting your lead scoring programme, in terms of which pages score highly, should then be more of a sales job than a marketing job? It seems to me that it mostly lives within marketing teams at the moment. 

I think it’s a little of both. As I said before, I think one of the real values of aligning sales and marketing is the sales guys are out, being with customers, understanding their problems and understanding what interests them in the products or services that you sell. So, it would be, frankly a little foolish not to leverage that knowledge that exists inside your sales team to work out what content is more compelling and use that to drive some of your engagement scoring. Obviously, marketing have got good visibility on the typical pages that result in conversions, because they’ll be using their analytics on the website to understand what converts through from a page onto a form, for example. So, I would say that it really is about aligning both those teams together, making sure that the marketing team are getting the feedback from the sales force on what kind of content is interesting clients.  

So a good example in our case would be that if we see prospects coming to our implementation pages, that’s quite a common buying indicator, that they’re beginning to consider how they are using the platform and how they’re going to deploy it. So, what we did when we implemented our page scoring, in the early part of that process, we spent quite a bit of time looking at what pages are actually being visited by the types of people. And because we could see from our CRM platform, they were prospects rather than customers, and we could see from our CRM platform they’re in some specific industries, and were surfacing the page scoring inside CRM, we can join other information up to work out, “Oh that’s interesting, when we talk to the media and publishing sector, they’re particularly interested in understanding how they can implement subscription management”, for example, and we’ve got those pages on our website. And that’s a good indication of buying behaviour. So yeah, absolutely. It’s about I think, joining up the knowledge between both teams to drive your page scoring. 

Does CRM become less useful when you’re moving on to client management or account management, as we call it internally? Is it mainly a platform for managing your relationship with your leads and prospects and thus becomes less useful once you’ve made that sale or that conversion? 

No, absolutely not. And actually, it’s one of my pet topics that I think people think about marketing automation being a platform for driving new business. But here at Workbooks we’re strong advocates that marketing automation is a platform for not only driving new business but also improving customer engagement. And we do that all the way across the user journey. So obviously, if you think about a new prospect, then marketing automation is in that instance driving new business creation into the business, but once they’re on board, then we’re using marketing automation all the way through the process. So for example, some of our clients are using the Spotler platform to send out transactional emails. So “thank you for your order, your goods will be delivered in the next 30/60/90 days”, or it could be “we’ve now finished your implementation project, would you be willing to provide a survey on how well we did?”. 

That kind of customer engagement I think, can only be achieved when your marketing platform is connected to CRM because that’s where your customer data is. And as a marketing organisation if you’re not using that technology to not only drive new business, but also drive customer satisfaction, scoring, customer engagement, for example, doing Net Promoter-type evaluations with your client, you’re really missing an opportunity. 

Given the importance of the things you can do and the abilities it can add to your marketing both, as you say, both to customers and to leads and prospects, what’s the biggest pitfall you see companies doing and they’re trying to make CRM work as a marketing tool for them?  

So I think I would start more generally by asking or recommending to organisations, they take a step back from their CRM and marketing investments and really understand what they’re trying to achieve. And we spend a lot of time at Workbooks helping customers with this problem. You started this interview by talking about the fact that CRM is sort of notorious for not necessarily delivering value and I think that stems from the fact that most organisations see CRM, and to some degree marketing automation, as a technology to be used without really considering what the business outcomes they are looking to achieve from the investments they’re making in these areas.  

In our experience, you can really define the outcomes you’re looking for in four main areas. So firstly, it’s about revenue growth, and I think that’s probably the most obvious one, you’re using your marketing and CRM platforms to help you acquire new customers and upsell and cross sell to your existing clients. There’s only two ways you can drive revenue. You either sell more things to your current customers, or you find new customers to sell things to. And CRM and marketing is the obvious use case for that.  

The second one is around improving customer experience. So, in a highly competitive world that we all operate in, the way you engage and manage your customers through their journey is increasingly a big differentiator. We’ve all sat on the end of phone calls with utility companies trying to pay bills thinking “why am I having to wait 25 minutes to give you some money?” I think in the B2B world particularly, the level of customer experience you provide is key.  

The third area for me is about streamlining business process. So again, we’re all trying to be more efficient. So, automation, for example, marketing automation, transactional emails, surveys, all those things provide us with methods and techniques to streamline the way we operate as a business, and therefore reduce the cost of what we do. And lastly, it’s about having the right metrics. And again, whether it’s metrics through your sales and marketing funnel, whether it’s metrics around your churn rate, or whether it’s metrics around your customer satisfaction. So,take a big step back and go, “Well, what am I actually trying to achieve with my investment, which of those things are important to me?” And we call that the why; why am I investing in this area? And if you identified, for example, that your number one priority is revenue growth, then the next question is well, how do I do that? How do I use the technology to drive revenues? And that might mean that in CRM, I actually do need not only my customer database, but also the data of all the things they bought from me in the past, because I want to drive cross sales or I want to manage my subscription renewals more effectively and drive more subscription sales. So I’d recommend rather than getting hung up on the technology, take a step back and work out what your business goals are, why you’re looking to invest, then figure out how do you deliver those goals?   

And then lastly, the question is, well, what technology is going to make all that work? Whereas I think historically, the technology industry has promoted technology, and people buy it, based on the features and functions it provides. But actually, a much more effective way of doing that is to understand the why and the how first. And what we now do at Workbooks is we actually lead customers through that journey before we onboard them, before we actually ask them to spend any money on CRM. We run workshops with them to understand the why and the how, so we can really help them add value to the investments they’re making.  

Are there two or three things that listeners to this podcast can take away straight away as immediate action points if they’re trying to improve their CRM? If they’ve already implemented the system & they’re trying to refine it. Rather than starting at the beginning of the journey where you were just discussing with the “Why” you want to achieve. We have to paint that picture where they’ve already got these technologies in place and it’s an improvement and they’ve sort of assessed the why and then are looking for tweaks if you like. 

Yeah, so I think it’s always worth reconsidering the why. “Why are we spending money on this stuff?” To make sure we know why we’re doing it. But the how is a business question. So how do I think I can drive more revenues? Is that by making sure that the marketing communication that goes out drives people to a form, and that form flows straight into sales, for example, and sales probably follow it up? Or is it that we need to do a more effective job of profiling our prospects first, before we start doing lots of marketing, and therefore, the type of marketing or type of selling we might do initially is much more around profiling and engagements, and less around direct selling. So, for example, we spent a lot of time over the last three months, as we’ve been dealing with COVID, providing content around how to handle marketing and sales in the crisis. And that content has been very engaging; we’ve had very high open and click through rates on that. What that allowed us to do is profile people that we weren’t engaged with before, we can see what’s interesting them, what sort of content they’re reading. And because that data is coming straight out of Spotler into our CRM platform, we can see which of the people that are engaged match against our hot prospect list, and we can begin to engage those more meaningfully and start a sales process with them.  

So, I definitely revisit the why and the how, but in simple terms, the thing that I would focus on is making sure that your CRM platform and marketing automation platform is joined up. And what I mean by that is not that you export lists from CRM and import them into marketing, or you export opt-out lists from marketing and bring them back into CRM, it’s that the profiling information you’re building in both systems is joined up. So, you’ve got a complete view of your world. Whether that’s allowing you to market based on interests or previous purchase history, whether it’s from a sales perspective, having visibility of the digital interactions that your prospects are having with your marketing content, that joining up of the two platforms for me is key. Because if you don’t join the platforms up, it’s very difficult to get common optics across sales and marketing. And then you end up back in that world where marketing do the top of the funnel and they chuck it over the fence to sales, and sales are left to follow it up, and there’s very little feedback. So, the number one thing you can do is join up your sales and marketing funnel and join up the technology that underpins that funnel. So, you’ve got metrics, and measures all the way through that journey.  

And then the other thing I would do on top of joining the technology up is, frankly, make sure that your staff are leveraging the tools as effectively as they can be. We’ll often go in, for example, swap out a Salesforce deployment to find that the technology is not really the problem, it’s the fact that they’re not using it in the right way. So, it’s making sure that your teams and your staff have the skills and the training to leverage the technology you’ve already invested in. So those two things for me would be the big takeaways. If you’re keeping the platforms that you’ve got, make sure that they’re joined up, then make sure you’ve invested the time to learn how to use the technologies in the right way to redeliver the outcomes that you’re looking for. 

I wanted to follow up on the point you made about stories being the function of meetings. Having worked in both sales and marketing myself, I’ve come across this debate about how much of the personal relationship, if you like, sales need to have in CRM for a particular deal? Is it a case of measuring, “Oh I had this meeting, demo-ed this”, and then if they find that the prospect happens to be an Arsenal supporter and that conversation came up, does that kind of information belong in CRM, do you think, or is it more just for that personal salesman? Does it just add to the noise, in terms of the data that you store? 

Yes, that’s a good question. So, I think that depends quite a bit on the business you’re in. If you are a very people centric business, then I think profiling some of that personal demographic is useful. Whether it’s football clubs, I’m not sure, but yeah, certainly, understanding the interest areas of individuals I think is important. And we’ve got some customers, for example, that their entire business is based on connecting organisations together, and so they are very keen to understand what drives the leaders in those organisations and what kind of interests and hobbies that they’ve got. But, you know, if you’re a b2b business, then where you can normally add most value, I think is not in talking about your favourite football game, it’s about understanding how you solve the business pains that your clients are experiencing. So, you’re better understanding the demographics of your customers in the round, not just the individuals.  

So, let me give you some real world examples. We do a lot of work in the manufacturing sector, for example, that’s one of the key verticals for us. And we know there are common demographics across organisations in that sector, whether they’re doing a particular type of manufacturing, or they’ve got particular types of supply chains, the problems they have are often common. And from a marketing perspective, it’s much easier to build account based marketing strategies if you understand the demographics of the organisations that you’re working with or looking to prospect to, as well as the personas, or people inside those organisations. If you’re selling to IT directors, for example, some IT directors might be interested in football and some might be interested in rugby, but neither of them, I suspect are very likely to engage in marketing content in those areas. But if you know that that profile of IT director inside a manufacturing firm is grappling with these kind of ERP problems, for example, then you can build marketing campaigns that do engage and do inform. So I think it is about understanding, what are the demographics of both the organisations and the people, the profiles of the personalities inside those organisations, that you’re looking to work with? A little less of “What’s the individual person’s hobbies or interests?”  

Obviously, we’re in a time of massive upheaval. Are there any particular trends in the way that we use CRM you can see coming and being particularly important in the next 12 to 18 months, especially for B2B users? 

I think there’s a couple. I think we’re already heading towards cloud being the dominant CRM delivery factor anyway, but that’s just accelerating, I think. We’re also seeing, in our customer base certainly, more people roll out more licenses, because they’re having to work in different ways, and CRM provides a useful tool to collaborate on customer engagements together. Whereas perhaps if they were in the office before, they might not have been using it quite the same way. So that remote working has accelerated cloud and I think will accelerate the adoption of CRM more generally.  

The other trend I think I would articulate is that we’re seeing a lot more emphasis on customer engagement, certainly in the last few months. A lot of B2B organisations have seen quite a dramatic slowdown in new business sales. So, there’s much more emphasis on engaging the customers that they’ve already got, supporting those customers through the current crisis, and that’s required them to work in different ways. So you know, marketing, in some of our customers, was very focused on new business, and they’ve had to do a complete 360 in the last couple of months, and focus more on engaging the customers that they’ve currently got. And I think that trend will continue, actually, because I think now we’re going to go through an uncertain time for certainly the next 12 months, and all of us are going to want to be closer to the customers we work with, and therefore having a better feel for the sentiment, the issues, what your customers feel about the services you provide, are going to be key and improving the way you engage with them.  

So I think cloud, continued acceleration, and improved customer engagement will be the big overarching themes, and then we’ll continue to see technology improvements and things like AI for example, improving the way that we analyse and track data and provide more targeted marketing. 

This blog was written by our Marketing Automation partner Spotler. From time to time guest contributors write on the Workbooks Blog – have something to say? Email the Workbooks Marketing Team on