what is sales automation How to optimize sales process & why automation is king

How to optimize sales process & why automation is king

How to balance between actual selling and keeping up with software systems? How to make sense of sales process optimization and not get irritated with this overused term? Is it possible to automate sales? Set 10 minutes aside to read my take on it.

Let’s skip the so called mandatory introduction part with “remember what a salesperson used to look like a decade ago?” and how technology changed everything. No time to waste in our day and age, so no time for nostalgic reflections either. Yes, it is unbelievably competitive. Yes, you need to move fast in business and consider loads of information. Sales and sales process are key in any company, of course. Sales are boosted and managed with software and IT-solutions today. Business software options are capable of coping with the whole sales process, and they are plenty. So, we’ve cleared the way.

The challenge for businesses has drifted from discovering tools and ways to increase sales to selecting proper ones. Sales managers now are swamped in software and need to be very tech-savvy. To back that up factually, the latest study from CSO Insights reveals that sales people spend around 34% of their time actually selling. Rest of the time they spend entering data, generating reports and forecasts, training to use new pieces of software, researching the market to collect data etc.

34% of time sales people spend actually selling – CSO Insights, 2016.Click To Tweet

So how top-performing businesses tackle this? What the IT & software market has been offering in this regard? Various marketing and sales productivity systems, or MSP systems – as the acronym has already settled in. Sometimes alternatively called SFA – short for “sales force automation software”. From most effective and widely used customer relationship management (CRM) and sales automation systems to marketing automation software of numerous niche purposes.

What is sales process automation?
A way of using software to automate the business tasks – sales, contact management, information sharing, inventory control, order processing and order tracking, customer management, sales forecast, employee performance evaluation. Sales automation software is a type of program that automates those tasks.

Sales process automation: what and why

Back to “34% issue”, the obvious question is why is about one third of sales managers’ time goes to communication with customers? Well, because they also have to generate leads – meaning finding possible clients. And that is tough. That is why salespeople spend the other two thirds of time doing the following:

  • Emailing leads and prospects;
  • Social connection requests (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.);
  • Cold calling;
  • Qualifying and converting leads.

With the aim of combating these time-consuming issues, systems for sales process automation may help in 2 big ways:

  1. Automation of selling and direct marketing – enhancing the productivity of teams;
  2. Automation of marketing information collection and analysis – for timeliness and quality of decision making.
Image: EasyERP

CRM software has matured in recent years to become the most popular and most sophisticated option for sales teams. In USA, according to various B2B surveys, the share of companies using CRM is as high as 90-95%. This customer management software keeps all client information organized as well as offers other benefits. Though administering that database may in some cases still limit the time to go after more opportunities and leads. Therefore, not surprisingly, 43% of companies using CRMs plan to increase and improve the sales process (and marketing) automation.

In addition to CRM, some businesses develop a custom automation software, or choose from other products. Other solutions typically use a three-tiered architecture (database, server, application) and a module-based design to allow customizations by end users. And basically all of them are capable of dealing with each sales process stage: lead generation, conversion of leads into prospects, targeting, presentation, and closing.

55% top-performing companies use CRM/sales automation systems. Click To Tweet

Sales process optimization: how

Let’s see what industry experts advise on how to optimize sales. Stage by stage within four essential ones.

Lead generation

Effective lead generation means constant prospecting. No matter the way – advertisements, email campaigns, phone calls, meetings… Basically, by any means available. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), trade shows, coupons, surveys, referrals, you name it.

Check out our article – 7 foundations of lead management process, for more details.

To name few best practices for increased lead generation:

  • Crystal clear CTAs (calls-to-action), properly placed and hyperlinked;
  • Visually pleasing landing pages with contact forms as simple as possible;
  • Emphasize benefits in compelling business offers;
  • Attention grabbing subject lines;
  • Downloadable content, webinars, live chats;
  • Social media channels and video content.
Automated lead management brings 10-15% revenue rise in 6 months.Click To Tweet

Conversion

This means communicating with the lead, asking fact-finding questions to determine if the lead could be qualified. A lead that converts up to a prospect must possess a legitimate need for what you are offering. When he/she has no interest it’s better to direct the efforts elsewhere. A lead that converts should also be an empowered decision-maker, not “anyone in the company”. This is pretty self-explanatory.

To name few best practices for increased conversion:

  • Use lead scoring systems;
  • Set higher standards for leads;
  • Create really valuable offers;
  • Feed leads with targeted content;
  • Offer proof (customer testimonials, case studies, demo versions, reviews);
  • Follow up, follow up and yes, follow up.
Using videos on landing pages may increase conversions by 86%.Click To Tweet

Targeting / Identification

This is when you exploit the uncovered need. Sales professionals mostly focus on those clues from a prospect to maximize the impact. Furthermore, here a prospect is let to talk more than a salesperson. The goal is to find out more about expectations or problematic issues. In that way, a salesperson can decide which products or services would best fit. It reinforces the efforts and possible outcome.

To name few best practices for sales targeting:

  • Target customers personally (getting customers to actually read/hear you out);
  • Target the message (it should be aligned with the buying company’s mission and relevant to products or services offered);
  • Target the company (B2B business information, go deeper than just Google).
Nurtured leads result in 20% increase in sales, on average.Click To Tweet

Delivery and follow up

A new customer gets the product or service, pays for it and receives a thank-you card. Many salespeople make a mistake of doing nothing more. Experienced salespeople follow up and add a personal touch. Follow up calls a day after, a week after, etc., to better the customer experience or to offer assistance with any issues.

44% of people decide to buy after 1 follow up.Click To Tweet

To name few best practices for sales follow ups:

  • Dividing prospects into categories (hot, warm, cold) to prioritize follow ups;
  • Timing is everything (…when a person is ready to buy, not when you are ready to sell);
  • Marketing and sales should be working hand in hand;
  • Personalize (hand written thank-you notes, timely emails, etc.);
  • Offer assistance and real solutions.

Software for sales

And what is truly great, all those sales efforts and tactics above mentioned could be assisted and managed with software. There’s actually plenty of software types for any sales process optimization:

  • sales funnel software
  • sales tracking software
  • sales enablement software
  • sales pipeline software
  • sales automation software
  • workflow automation software
  • marketing automation software
  • sales forecasting software
  • sales order processing software
  • lead distribution software
  • lead nurturing software

There’s CRM, as we’ve pointed out already. Add tools for predictive financial analytics, big data options, sales automation, lead management systems, cloud-based technologies. And that’s only a tip of the iceberg.

Image: EasyERP

4 ways of software use

  1. Big data
What is big data?
Massively large data sets that may be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.

This technology can grant you the analytics for all sales process stages. You could decipher whether your efforts are paying off, learn better the needs of prospects, what additional services existing customers might need. Generally, it can bring a better understanding of a customer and market demand. Smart sales, as some call it.

Popular tools: Spotfire, GoodData, InsideSales, DataPine, Accuvit, InsightSquared.

  1. Managing leads

Trouble with distributing leads within the sales team? Lead management systems can organize the process of lead distribution automatically, as well as other related tasks. Sorting, sending, redirecting, qualifying, tracking, reporting on leads… lots of options available. Besides fair play between sales team, it can open up more time to train and close deals.

Popular tools: Marketo, Hubspot, Nowblitz, LeadMethod, TeamGate.

  1. Sales automation

Time to put away repetitive tasks that devour much time, and often reduce actual selling. With special software for sales process automation you can omit such tasks as scheduling meetings, sending follow-up emails, tracking and updating sales opportunities, etc. There are lots of applications for contact management, email marketing, lead nurturing that help sales reps to focus on customers. Moreover, top managers gain additional tracking ability over sales team.

Popular tools: Pega, Pipedrive, Customer.io, BrandMaker, Sidekick.

  1. Instant information

Cloud-based technology, cloud CRM systems for instance, allow access to the information anytime. For sales reps this means better understanding of client’s needs, preferences and favored products. Their work becomes more agile. In addition, companies can integrate sales automation tools with a CRM to create a single system.

Popular tools: Nimble, Contactually, AgileCRM, BPM Online, OnePageCRM.

99% is the rate of CRM positive impact on customer retention. Click To Tweet

Ways and tools for sales automation

Now let’s focus on sales automation software. As Ari Plaut of Hubspot rightly determines, there are mainly six ways to automate the sales process with software:

  • Automate reporting
  • Automate lead distribution
  • Automate lead prioritization
  • Automate record creation
  • Automate sales content access
  • Automate booking process

sales process and benefits of automation Image: EasyERP

Reporting. What’s the goal here? Sales activity visible to everyone inside the company sets up friendly competition and motivates employees. It also saves time as there will be no need to collect statistical data manually and/or sending it out. For those using Excel or Google Sheets automating reports would probably be quite hard though possible. Those using CRM are in better luck as the system generates reports automatically (following the setup), and can even set up an email schedule for reports.

Reporting and dashboards in EasyERP

Lead distribution. Almost every company has faced frustration caused by random lead assignment by team manager or top executives. Or often managers spend too much time manually moving leads around causing confusion, instead of helping to close deals. What you can do instead is to initiate automatic lead rotation process.

What is lead rotation?
Is the technology built into sales and customer management software systems to allow agents who are in “active” mode to receive leads from a website. When leads register on the site, those sales reps will receive registered contacts.

For that you need to set the criteria for lead rotation first. By geographical areas, for example. Then use the lead rotator script in your system to distribute leads.

Lead prioritization. Not all leads are equal in importance, right? So whom to call first and how not to lose other ones? A clue lies in behavior. We all own certain behavioral and demographic characteristics, so it’s data in a way. And any data you can analyze and apply automation to. Based on those personal characteristics you can prioritize the sales process ensuring your best leads get closer attention or followups.

There are automated lead scoring systems or modules for this purpose. With it you assign scores to leads based on your criteria and after that the system shows you leads with the highest scores first as a reminder. Typically this is CRM feature, and when it is separate a good option would be to connect the two.

Record creation. On average, a salesperson spends 1 hour a day on CRM administration – entering contacts and companies, tasks and notes, creating leads and opportunities, etc. Obviously, if you can cut that time down you’ll sell more. In most CRM systems there’s the workflow automation section built in, or at least certain sales automation features. Explore it, and you’ll find options to automatically create or update system records from incoming activities – emails, social activities, webpage action, etc.

Content access. It’s often some hassle for sales reps to find or create content to send to prospects. It’s often (the content) stored across different locations. The more accessible and easier to utilize sales materials are the more time it saves, right? Therefore, sales teams need centralized and traceable content. How to to do? You can start the easiest way – a shared Google Drive folder. As your stuff extends, use a document tracking system (or DMS, document management systems) like Dolphin RFID or OpenDocMan.

Meeting/booking process. It is plain evident: booking meetings wastes time. To overcome that one can use special booking management software to generate custom booking links for every sales manager. So those scheduling links can be added to email templates and signatures, making the process lighter.

CRM – a champion in sales optimization

A company installing and running a CRM system will collect and organize data about marketing activities, including:

  1. All customer contacts (by mail, phone, direct salesperson, etc.)
  2. The status and results of sales efforts
  3. Origins of all leads
  4. All leads that are qualified internally and distributed
  5. All customers
  6. What and when have customers purchased

The main purpose and the winning feature of CRMs is coordination of information throughout a company that prevents misunderstandings and mishaps. There are hundreds of CRM solutions on the market and finding Salesforce alternatives isn’t a problem at all. Take CRM module in EasyERP for example. It contains functionality covering the whole sales process: leads/opportunities management, contacts/companies, reporting system, orders/invoices generation, dashboards, tasks and notes.

Lead management system in EasyERP

To have a clear idea how to use it and what the workflow looks like concerning lead management you can watch our short user guide:

To get acquainted with contacts database and features related check our video guide on persons and companies:

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