Making your horses drink the water

by | Dec 5, 2007

Sales wins customers and customer service keeps them.  Growing your business depends on both.  In recent posts, I’ve addressed how easy and profitable it can be to use an information system to beat the pants of your competitors at customer service and turn your sales reps into top performers by getting them just a little bit organized.

If your sales team and customer service team are both finely tuned to execute efficiently and effectively, you will beat your competition every time.  This is virtually guaranteed.  Why?

Because most companies struggle so much with getting there.

Here’s the secret to taking sales and service to levels your competition can’t touch –

Motivate your team to use an information system to organize and share information about prospects and clients.

Please note – this is not dependant upon the technology your choose as your information system.  Use Outlook and MS-Exchange, build an Access database, use ACT!, subscribe to an online contact management or CRM system or spend big bucks on something with all the bells and whistles…  The #1 reason for failure across all these system is user adoption.

User adoption is where soooo many companies fail.  On the surface, it sounds too easy to mess up.  You’re the boss, you tell them to use it or leave.  In fact, most businesses fall into one of two categories:

1) Established businesses where the problem is taking the risk of changing the habits of successful sales reps.
These companies have sales people that have “been there and done that” and management is often reluctant to “force” a top producing sales rep to change their methods.  The rational being “what they’re doing now is working for them”.  Sales reps with long established habits will resist the change and nit pick minor technical challenges, using them as excuses for not using the system consistently.

In this case, the key element to success is trust.  They’ll never say it but, the inner most fear of the sales rep regarding the new contact management system is that management will be watching what they do.  They’re afraid of measurement and accountability.  Strangely enough, even the hardest working reps on your staff will fall victim to this fear.

2) New businesses or divisions where the problem is that no one really understands the sales process yet.

No one can identify the “best practice”.  Sure, every rep has their own idea of the best processes, etc. but, there’s little evidence that any of it is right.

In this case, management is sooo busy with sooo many other unknowns that they’re typically trying to hire sales reps that can “hit the ground running” without a lot of oversight.  This leaves the sales process up to the reps.

Regardless of which group your company falls into, the problem is the same.  The inmates are running the asylum!

So, when we talk about trying to motivate the sales team to get on board with your new sales automation system, we’re talking about convincing them to give up control.  That’s never easy.

Steps to take to get your team on-board:

•Involve the end users in every step of the requirements, selection, design and implementation process.

•Be firm.  Do NOT let the discussion be about “if we do this”.  Take charge.  Communicate the compelling reasons that your business needs to make this change.  Make it clear that you are committed to moving forward and resistance is futile.  So, the question for each individual is not whether they’ll have to use it but, whether they want to be involved in designing and selecting the solution before they have to start using it.

•Identify the bits of information that each person in the team struggles to get their hands on at critical moments.  Product specs, price sheets, latest marketing materials, deal status, a copy of the last proposal, etc.

•Do some time and motion analysis.  Estimate the amount of time each person spends preparing or searching for this information and more importantly, the amount of time customers spend waiting for solutions while your team coordinate and communicates.

•Customize the system so that each person can find that crucial bit of information that they’re always searching for instantly.  Usually this is pretty simple.  Put a few custom fields in the database to easily record the stats you need about a customer like # of employees, trucks in their fleet, etc.  Put standard collateral like marketing materials, specs, price sheets and agreements in the system so that anyone can grab them any time.  Be sure that proposals and agreements can be easily archived and retrieved.

•Now, sell it to them.  Show them how much time is being wasted now.  Show them how much more quickly their customers could get solutions.  Discuss what that means to your company competitively. Ask your team to help you identify the ways in which you’ll know the change has been worth it.  What evidence should you see in 3 months, 6 months or a year that making this change is moving your business to the level you set out for yourselves?  It may make sense to provide some incentives to the team for making these goals a reality.

Good news.  This process does not need to take months or involve outside consultants.  It does not require that you spend big bucks on the technology.  In fact, keeping the requirements and the chosen solution simple is your best bet.

If you’ve defined realistic objectives and everyone involved knows what is at stake for the business, your biggest risk is that you’ll need to upgrade to a more comprehensive solution in a couple of years because your requirements will grow as you automate more and more of your process.  This is a very good problem to have!