Activity management is an area where we have seen many CRM users become confused, frustrated and inefficient.  This is true of ALL CRM systems.  Yet as one of the most important parts of CRM, it is critical that users become comfortable and efficient with activity management.  Here are some habits we’ve seen effective CRM users master in order to get the most out of activity management.
  1. Get Used to the Concept of Related Records: Many new CRM users have been using flat Excel spreadsheets in the past.  Understanding how multiple activities can be linked to the same record can take a bit of time.  Add to this the multiple ways that activities can be linked to parent records (such as through the regarding field, recipient field, etc) plus the concept of rolling up child record activities to be visible in the parent and there are quite a few new concepts to become comfortable with.  New users need to give themselves the time to become familiar with these concepts – and management needs to plan for an adequate investment to provide follow-up training until users fully comprehend these important concepts.  Expect things to go slower before they start going faster – in some cases it will take many weeks of regular usage to master activity management in CRM.
  2. Invest Time in Yourself and Your Team: Here is a dirty little secret of adopting any CRM system: some things actually take more time than they did before!  Activity management can be one of those things.  The goal of CRM should always be to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a team – but sometimes individuals have to suffer a slow down in one area in order to improve overall.  Here are some real life examples where taking the extra time to enter activities into CRM improved (or could have improved) the bottom line of the business:

* While at an event for one of his children, a sales rep met another parent who was interested in his product and they scheduled a time for a follow-up meeting.  Prior to the meeting, the sales rep found that this individual had already been entered into CRM at an earlier date.  Upon closer examination, he noted that the prospect had been referred to them by another client who they had done work with several years before.  In the follow-up meeting the sales rep mentioned the earlier referral.  The prospect thought very highly of the individual who had made the referral and, as a result, did not bother to shop the competition because of the credibility that this referral gave the sales rep’s company.  The task of entering the referral source, which may have seemed superfluous at the time, resulted in a very positive return on investment 3 years later!

* A CSR (Customer Service Rep) fielded a call from a client.  The client was upset about a service issue and it quickly escalated into a critical problem.  Unbeknownst to the CSR was that a Sales Rep was working on the largest opportunity in company history with another contact at the same company.  When the Sales Rep showed up with her CEO for a meeting that she thought was to close the deal, it turned into a client retention meeting and the large potential opportunity was lost.  A CRM system where sales and service issues could be logged and observed by both business units would have solved this problem.

  1. Every Activity Does Not Need to be Tracked: Not every interaction with the customer needs to be tracked.  You’ll need to decide what should and should not be tracked. In general, activities that include information that may be needed in the future should be tracked.  Conversely social, brief or inconsequential activities do not need to be tracked. 
  2. Create Activities From Parent Records: Save time when creating an activity record by navigating to the parent record first.  This will save you some time and improve the accuracy of your data entry.
  3. Use the Follow Up Option: Using the Follow Up button to create new activities is a big time saver.  You save the time and button clicks required to open a new form, enter data, save the form and navigate back to the record you were on. 
  4. Follow Up on Follow Ups: Perhaps even more importantly than using the follow up button when initially creating an activity is the concept of using follow up when creating another activity to follow up on one that you’re already on.  Just as the Follow Up button appears on customer records, it also appears on activity records.  So if you are on the phone with a customer and they ask you to call them back next week, you can click the follow up button and schedule the follow up call right then and there.  After saving your follow up, you can add notes to your current call and save it as completed.
  5. Use Shorthand and Meaningful Subjects: Opening up individual activities in CRM while trying to look for a specific past conversation can be time consuming and frustrating.  Get into the habit of using shorthand in your subject lines so you can quickly eliminate irrelevant topics and focus on more meaningful conversations.  One easy bit of shorthand to use right away – when leaving a message for a contact, add “LVM:” to the beginning subject line of the phone call activity (this way you’ll know that there are not important notes about a conversation).
  6. Create E-mails or Tasks to Complete Later: When working through a long list of phone calls, it is generally better to stay focused on completing the calls first and work on follow up activities such as quotes and e-mails later.  Using the Follow Up button, you can quickly create these follow up tasks and then come back to them later in the day.  If you create an e-mail activity using the Follow Up button, the e-mail is added to your activity list but is not sent – you can fill in the content and click the send button later that day.
  7. Convert Activities to Opportunities and Cases: While working an activity, you often find a new business opportunity or support issue.  You can quickly convert the activity into an opportunity or into a case by clicking the Convert Activity button in the button bar and selecting either To Case or To Opportunity.
  8. Make Sure Nothing is Slipping Through the Cracks: Activities are great if you consistently remember to schedule follow ups.  The problem is that you may have opportunities, leads, cases or other records that you should be following up on, but that you do not have any activities scheduled for.  There are a number of ways to monitor this to ensure that nothing is slipping through the cracks. The easiest way to get started is to use the reports titled: Neglected Accounts, Neglected Cases and Neglected Leads.  At C5 Insight, we have developed a special add-on called "Account Management" to monitor all critical records and make sure that none are slipping through the cracks based on the importance of the client (this is something we make available only to clients who we are providing implementation services to).
  9. Save More Time with Workflows: Workflows are another tool that can automate certain functions for users.  We’ve seen businesses use workflows to streamline many portions of the activity management process.  Some organizations have setup workflows to automatically post full contact details to phone calls (to improve making calls while mobile), others have setup custom fields on tasks to quickly submit items to management for approval and others have automatically created follow up tasks for new leads to ensure that none of them slip through the cracks.  At C5 Insight, we have a number of these that are freely available to our clients.

Got ideas or experiences that have helped your team to improve your activity management?  Share them with your peers by posting a comment here!