You Can’t Automate What You Don’t Understand

by | Mar 11, 2008

I’ve often said that business owners and sales managers that go looking for contact management and sales automation solutions for the first time are having a knee-jerk reaction to a fundamental sales problem.  Somethings going wrong with sales – its not growing fast enough, large clients are leaving, they’re having trouble hiring and training new reps, etc.

So one instinctive reaction to these types of problems is to look for more information.  That’s where contact management and sales automation comes in.  Other possible reactions might be to bring in a sales consultant or trainer or send everyone to a 2 day sales bootcamp.  Bottom line is that the executive lacks information from which to devine the actual problem and take decisive action to correct it.

What a wonderful world the sales game is!  No where else in business do we deal with so much uncertainty.

If a business has a problem with manufacturing its product, the facts can easily be obtained:  How much do we spend on each material, ingredient or part, for what quantity?  What are the specific steps we go through to put the parts together?  What QA procedures do we undertake?

From these facts we can determine the problem and weight possible solutions.

Not in sales…  How many of us have labored without the basic knowledge of how many calls were made?  Do you know how many proposals went out and for how much value in a given time?  How many leads did we obtain?  What competitors were we up against in the top deals in our pipeline last month?

Without that kind of basic information, how can we expect to be accurate in our decision making about hiring, training, new product promotions, marketing strategy and most of all, future sales?

We lack information and that information is most often inside our sales reps’ heads.  Sales reps are not generally ultra-organized folks.  They don’t naturally record specific metrics about the process they go through to pursue business.

And so what executives do is they grasp for the information technology that has the capability to record these metrics but, shy away from the challenge of making their sales team document all the details consistently, at least in the beginning.  There are lots of reasons for their reluctance…  You don’t want to upset the apple cart for top producers.  You don’t want to run them all off with onnerous requirements.  You don’t want to take the time required to get a process in place.

And so, you set your expectations very low.  “Let’s just get all our contacts in there and keep the names and phone numbers up to date and try to put a note in after you have a meeting or a call” is what I hear executives saying to their teams all the time.

That can work in some cases.  Sometimes its a beginning from which you can build momentum.  But very often, its doomed.

Based on these loose sort of requirements, sales people will determine how and when they document the facts you’re after and it certainly won’t be consistent, which means you won’t be able to mine the information to gain any sort of organizational visibility.  What’s worse, you probably won’t build any momentum either.  The reason is that this sort of loose database of names and contact info offers the sales rep very little value.

In the pursuit of sales, the technology providers in the CRM, Contact Management and Sales Automation spaces are going to let you make this mistake.

The real answer is to bite the bullet up front.  Recognize what you know and don’t know about how your products and services get sold.  Accept what you can and can’t reasonably ask your reps to document for you.  Within that context, estalbish a procedure that is reasonable to ask your team to follow consistently.  It may actually be as simple as “Every time you talk with a client or prospect, log a note about that contact and indicate a few quantifiable facts about the contact – industry, current budget, current vendor, etc.”.  It doesn’t have to be extremely detailed.  The point is that it has to be accepted and followed by the entire team.

That’s where the momentum comes from.  You will get some things wrong.  You will have to change a few things.  In fact, Mike Moran’s blog advocates the concept of accepting the falibility of your ideas and strategies up front (his focus is on marketing mainly), so long as you can measure what happened and react to it.  I think is valid in sales too.

But, you will also be able to provide meaningful feedback to the team like calls made last week by rep, etc.  Sales people are competitive by nature.  That’s going to motivate them!

When our company “on-boards” new clients, the first thing we do is have a conference call with them in which we try to help them identify the handful of measurable steps their team will take.  Its not always easy to decide but, its crucial that the answers be sought instead of just avoiding the questions.

Happy Selling,

Craig Klein