Sales automation certainly sounds wonderful, especially if you use your imagination: A bunch of sales robots closing deals 24/7 with no salary or commissions, no sick days, and a machine-like attention to detail and execution.
Well, that’s not quite how sales automation works…
Personal selling has always been the most effective sales tool, a fact that likely continue to be true far into the future. There’s no substitute for the human connection, the intuition, and the handshake that a good sales representative provides.
But sales automation isn’t about the replacement of personal selling, it’s about the evolution of personal selling.
Business is hyper-competitive—increased complexity at work leads to more ways to solve challenges, which of course gives people more options to choose from the available pool of solutions.
Sales reps need to keep up with their competition, but how? Send MORE follow-up emails? Smile and dial? Work 80 hours a week? None of these sound particularly attractive, from the consumer side or the sales side.
The answer to building a smarter sales process from the ground up doesn’t lie in doing more sales activity, but rather doing smarter sales activity.
This is where sales automation can help.
In this post, we’ll dig into how sales automation can transform the sales process, team collaboration, and sales revenue. We’ll start with a quick definition, cover the research and planning, and then get into the implementation and best practices of sales automation.
Let’s get started!
What is Sales Automation?
Sales automation is a process that uses software to automate, track, and optimize the sales cycle. Areas of emphasis typically include detailed forecasting, recording customer interactions, pipeline management, and automated sales activities. Sales automation may include several integrated applications or be completely housed within a single piece of software, but either way, it should allow you to analyze the entire sales cycle in aggregate.
If software can help you optimize any one of those areas, you already have a quick win. But if software can help you tie it all together to reduce tedious and time-sucking tasks, target better prospects, speed time to revenue, and create happier customers, then you have a home run.
So how do you get there?
5 Questions to Ask Before You Automate Your Sales Process
Any time you need to buy software, get buy-in and adoption, and train employees, it’s nice to get a running start. Sales automation is especially useful in certain areas, so ask yourself these five questions before you get too far:
1. How are your salespeople actually spending their time?
A study from HubSpot recently showed that salespeople actually only spend about a third of their time selling, but over half their time completing administrative tasks.
Do you know that saying “It’s so easy a monkey could do it?” In no way is that applicable to updating a CRM, but when you think about it, many of those data-entry tasks ARE so easy that a robot could do it.
Do a quick poll to see how much time your sales staff spends not selling.
2. Are you properly qualifying your leads?
Just because you captured an email address does not mean that you have a lead. Categorizing intent to buy varies, but generally speaking, you should look for at least one extra form of engagement from a contact before upgrading her to a lead. How are you currently handling this process—is it built on website/email engagement, time triggered, or something else?
If you don’t have a system for tracking, or better yet, creating engagement from contact to lead, sales automation can help dramatically with follow-up and lead nurturing.
3. How accurate is your forecasting?
Quick—how much money is in your pipeline? If you don’t know or the number doesn’t look right, your forecasting could use improvement. Simple as that.
4. Is it easy to analyze your sales performance?
This is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s fairly simple to look at overall sales performance—just count the money at the end of the month, right? Well, more granular reporting can be super helpful in some situations. Having reports that graphically display a ton of data at a glance can be the difference between a data-driven decision and one based on your gut or past history.
5. What does your communication and coaching look like?
It’s the job of a sales manager to get more out of every sales rep, but do you really think another ‘heart-to-heart’ meeting about meeting quotas is the way to go about that? When managers are kept abreast of the activity of their sales staff in near real time in a reporting dashboard, they can offer better coaching and advice. Hey, you may not even need that Monday 8:30AM sales meeting anymore!
5 Ways To Get Started With Sales Automation
Whether you’re ready to start implementing sales automation or just looking for some inspiration, check out these ideas for getting started.
1. Call and email logging
As discussed earlier, you’d rather have your reps selling rather than entering data into a CRM. With the technology available today, there’s absolutely no reason a person should have to manually enter the time they spent on the phone, the name of the person they called, or the reason they called. All of that is easily created, housed, and automated within a CRM, leaving more time for a rep go can back in and add additional notes or create custom followup.
2. Distribute your leads automatically
Leads coming in? Great! Leads waiting in a queue for a sales manager to distribute them? Not so great. Seriously—what if she calls in sick or is on vacation and the lead goes cold? Depending on how you have your sales team organized (by territory, industry, etc.), you can assign new leads to reps automatically with software.
3. Lead scoring
If you have too many leads to follow up on in one day, that’s a good thing, but you still need to prioritize who to call back first. By using an automated lead scoring application, you can tie actions like website clicks, email opens, and other prospect actions together to help prioritize which lead should receive priority. And, as your system builds more data around which actions correlate to higher close rates, you can even improve the lead scoring criteria—double score!
4. Sending contextual lead nurturing emails
There’s no denying that customers are doing more independent research before purchase than ever. Why waste time selling when the lead isn’t ready to buy yet?
Use your initial touch point, whether the topic of a phone call or the type of content downloaded, to put the lead on a content track full of objective information they want to read. Again, your benefits on this are twofold:
- Saving your reps time and effort by not typing out content or selling a cold audience
- Nurturing your leads with an inbound approach
5. Task creation
Email content tracks are pretty straightforward in terms of automation, but there are plenty of other activities that may require a little elbow grease from a sales rep. Rather than rely on memory, post it notes, or manual task creation, let your CRM do it for you!
For example, if a lead replies to an email you sent, have a task automatically created to respond to the email. We all know that emails can get lost in the shuffle, but if a task (which is visible to the sales manager) goes unfulfilled, it’s easier to hold the rep accountable.
Handshake deal? Awesome! Get that contract created, signed, and officially recorded. Oh, and hand the customer off to your client services team, send the revenue data to accounting, and any other complete workflow you can can document—automatically.
Sales Automation Best Practices
Now that you have plenty of ideas about what sales automation is capable of, here are a few pointers to help you get the most out of your system.
Review and document your current process. Sales automation software isn’t a handful of magic beans, and it can’t create a process for you. If you want to use software to improve your process, you have to map it out, look for holes, look for inefficiencies and areas to improve. Consider making this a collaborative process by creating an outline and letting each individual sales rep contribute.
Set quantifiable goals for automation. With your process map in hand, you should have a good idea of where you can improve. For example, after seeing that the average sales rep spends approximately five hours per week doing manual data entry, updating contact records, etc., set a goal to reduce that to one hour per week. In this way you can not only document your time savings due to automation, but also gamify the process to make it more appealing to end users.
Go shopping. You can’t work without tools! Based on your specific criteria for sales automation and your goals, pick and choose the software that will help you get it done—here’s a massive list of sales automation tools to get you started.
Bonus: Consider piloting software with free trials and small groups before committing to an ‘all-in-one’ system and rolling out company wide.
Assemble your team. Technology and new process adoption can be tricky, especially if you’re implementing with a large group. You need to build some goodwill and get people to buy in. Before training and rollout, make sure to individually approach some key stakeholders and make sure there is some sort of direct benefit in it for them or their direct reports. That way, if there are any bumps in the road during implementation, you can remind people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel waiting for them.