Your customer relationship management (CRM Relevant Products/Services) system can be a blessing or a curse for your sales force -- it all depends on how your team uses it, and really, if they use it at all.

To put a new twist on an old cliche, you can lead a salesperson to your CRM system but you can't force him or her to use it. The first step in using a CRM system to boost sales is getting your sales team to take advantage of what the software has to offer. The second step is making sure the CRM system offers what you need to truly help build beneficial relationships with customers.

"The most cutting-edge companies are [now] focusing their sales efforts around the customer experience," explains Morgan Norman, a senior director of product marketing for Microsoft's CRM division. "With the volume and velocity of data created by social, marketing, sales, and care departments, teams need a [comprehensive] real-time view of the customer."

To help optimize sales, your CRM system should be setup to capture the information needed in a way that's easy for your sales reps to record and access. And here, we are not just talking about data to predict your sales pipeline, or whether any particular salesperson will meet the monthly quota. That information is critical, of course, but more customer-centric information is needed as well.

Avoiding Sales Mediocrity

Lisa Earl McLeod, a sales leadership consultant and author of "Selling with Noble Purpose," is convinced that most CRM systems promote sales mediocrity because they focus salespeople on information important to their own companies rather than information that is important to their customers.

"Here's the big mistake that most companies make: They tell salespeople to focus on the customer. Yet [their CRM system focuses] more on internal metrics and pipeline management. The result is mediocre sales behavior," she writes in a Forbes article entitled "Is Your Sales Force Being Sabotaged By Your CRM?"

In the article, McLeod suggests looking at your CRM system and asking, "Where is the information about customers' goals? Is it buried, or is it right up front? If the information is more company-focused than customer-focused, she says, you have a big problem.

"Capturing the right information about your customers and pulling it to the front and center of your CRM gives you a huge competitive advantage," she says. "You can be a me-too sales force that says you want to make a difference to customers, or you can be the rare company that actually does it."

Asking questions about your customers' goals, and what they view as success, is a great starting place. That process turns the sales conversation into a more personal, more customer-focused effort. Having a CRM system setup to record and report that information is critical. There's little point asking the questions, if there's no easy way to record and track the answers.

If your sales team asks the right questions and is empowered with a CRM system that lets them easily record key customer-centric information -- such as goals, concerns, and objections -- you can turn your CRM system into a true powerhouse for business intelligence.

Customers Don't Want To Be Sold

For its part, Microsoft promises the next release of Dynamics CRM will deliver "more personal experiences" for sales, marketing, and customer care professionals. For example, the new release will let people access information on a variety of devices; introduce a new user experience; give people access to information that's relevant to their jobs; and deliver richer contextual information with deeper customer insights. There are also enhanced social collaboration capabilities.

"Customers don't want to be sold to anymore. They are knowledgeable and are interacting with their social and professional networks to make their buying decisions. They expect businesses to help them make the most informed choice," said Bob Stutz, corporate vice president for Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Stutz went on to explain that Dynamics CRM has been evolving to help sales and service people connect with their customers in a way that is more personal. The strategy now focuses more on giving customers and prospects the information they need to choose the right solutions, as well as nurturing relationships, and engaging productively.

When all those goals come together, the result should be an outstanding customer experience that ultimately drives increased sales and customer loyalty.