CRM Trends

This article has been provided by Workbooks

Recreating ‘Water Cooler Moments’ with CRM

SMEs have had to clear many hurdles over the past two years, culminating in a very different commercial landscape – and customer pathway – to those that preceded the pandemic. With changing B2B buying habits cited as one of the two biggest challenges – alongside Digital Transformation – facing SMEs according to the latest Workbooks CRM survey, this is clearly a major concern.

Adding the employee disconnect created by hybrid working and the great resignation to the already complex and lengthy B2B buying journey, and it is little wonder that SMEs are struggling to prioritise opportunities and collaborate effectively throughout the process. How are individuals sharing knowledge? How are new starters gaining vital business insight and understanding? What now defines a good customer opportunity?

With the pressure to match and exceed competitors’ digital sales effectiveness, it has never been more important to ensure the right CRM solution is both in place and used effectively.  But CRM adoption and success remains frustratingly inconsistent. As John Cheney, CEO, Workbooks, explains, an increasingly complex path to purchase demands a CRM – but one that’s fine-tuned to a business’s specific needs and challenges.

Rebuilding the Economy

Many businesses have spent the past two years supporting and nurturing their existing customer base in order to safeguard revenue and reinforce key relationships. For many, business growth has taken a back seat but as the economy emerges fast, new business generation is now a priority.

So much has changed during that time, however, not least completely new buyer expectations and behaviours. Traditional B2B engagement models have all but vanished over the past two years, accelerating a digitally enabled trend towards self-service that was already in place before the COVID pandemic. With buyers undertaking most of the buying process before any direct engagement with a business, sales reps can now hope for just 5% of a customer’s time, according to Gartner.  

With traditional sales operations now missing out on huge numbers of deals they didn’t even know were out there, it’s no surprise to discover that changing customer demand is considered the biggest challenge facing SME businesses in the future (18%), second only to digital transformation (21%), according to a new survey from Workbooks.

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Fragmented Knowledge Base

At the same time, companies have experienced a spike in employee turnover. With an estimated 250,000 over 50s leaving the workforce, many of the knowledgeable sales and marketing staff – and their invaluable expertise and experience – are no longer in place. New staff, however keen, will lack both customer and market knowledge. Add into the mix an employee base that has become increasingly disconnected during months of home and hybrid working – and where is the knowledge, understanding and insight required to re-energise business growth strategies? Companies may now be prioritising building back better – but how?

The natural information sharing and collaboration that occurs in an office environment just isn’t happening today. Teams, Skype and Zoom can never replicate that ‘water cooler moment’, where staff – old and new – can casually share ideas, pool knowledge, even ask questions without fear of judgement. While large companies can invest in robust onboarding processes with staff education, training and mentoring, that just isn’t an option for SMEs.

As the survey confirms, 31% of individuals working from home have struggled to communicate with colleagues and 24% have struggled to access information and make informed decisions. SMEs urgently need to replicate the pre-COVID shared experience, to ensure expertise, knowledge, customer understanding and new buyer expectations are captured to allow effective, collaborative sales models in an increasingly hybrid world.

CRM Imperative

Many B2B companies have adapted to some aspects of the new buying model – improving websites, for example, to enable direct online sales. But how many also have advanced analytics to track buying journeys and understand how social media interactions are driving sales online? How many are offering online chat to support buying decisions? And how many sales staff are confident in this new way of working?

With 77% of respondents planning to continue hybrid working, it is clearly more important than ever to provide the technologies to unite employees, information and processes. Businesses need a single source of customer and prospect information, a way to understand the new buying journeys, track activity and, critically, share insight. A CRM is the obvious solution – yet 32% of respondents said they do not have a CRM in place.

Furthermore, of those with a CRM, 56% have switched systems in the past, with the number one reason being it was a poor fit to their needs (37%). Why? An obsession with technology checklists:  every year the Workbooks survey confirms that ‘features and functions’ are the number one criterion for buying decisions.

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Understanding Outcomes

While a focus on features (47%) has been marginally outstripped this year for the first time by the need for integration with other business applications (49%), taking a technology-first approach to finding the right CRM solution has always been a mistake. Companies need to define business outcomes first – something that is now an absolute essential considering the new challenges being faced.

Driving revenue growth may be a given but what about identifying the new Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), accelerating the onboarding process for new staff, and improving collaboration between sales and marketing teams? Or unlocking information on customer spend that is tied up in finance systems, and not available to sales, marketing and customer services teams – insight that is key to defining a good customer. These are all important outcomes to consider in a digitally-driven B2B buying journey.

Despite the commonality of features within most CRM solutions, companies are still failing to consider outcomes up front and use those goals to drive the CRM selection. There is a shift in approach that suggests attitudes are changing: companies are far less swayed by vendor reputation. Three years ago, the Workbooks CRM survey revealed 41% of companies perceived vendor reputation as a key criterion in the purchase decision; last year that dropped to 34% and this year the figure is just 15%. However, a continued focus on technology first will compromise the success of any investment.


Hybrid working and changing B2B buyer expectations are transforming business operations – and creating a clear gap between those SMEs willing and able to respond, and those that cannot. Businesses and employees need a new way to work more effectively together, combining robust, trusted process with informal information sharing and collaboration across multiple locations.

A CRM is no longer just about measuring sales performance; in a dispersed working environment, a CRM can also provide that essential way to touch base with colleagues, share market news and ask questions, replicating those ‘water cooler moments’ that will always remain key to sales success, whatever the buyer journey.

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