Sales teams are vital to the success of any business; therefore, organizations are always looking for new ways to make them more productive. Companies spend millions on incentive programs, kickoff events, motivational speakers, and more in an effort to increase their drive to succeed. While programs like this are great ways to keep your salespeople motivated, they do not change or enhance the way in which your team operates on a daily basis.
Enhancing the daily behavior and habits of your sales team is a fundamental characteristic of sales efficiency. To empower your team to communicate, quote and, most importantly, sell more efficiently, you need to focus on improving Sales Operations.
The Sales Operations role is highly strategic. You need to keep in mind, that every employee in the company is affected by Sales Ops’ ability to steer the sales process to the next level. This is critical to keep your company relevant, profitable, and successful.
We are now going to look at the essential areas of influence that will help you improve your Sales Operations, enabling you to connect, measure, and optimize your Sales Process and ultimately your company can start to win deals faster and more efficiently than ever before.
Remove Manual Processes and Complexities from the Sales Process
Companies need to do everything in their power to remove manual work and complexities from the sales process. Any time a salesperson spends on hunting for product specifications, using a complicated spreadsheet to ballpark a configuration, reentering proposal data into a CRM solution or other overly complex, unnecessary tasks, sales velocity and agility fall by the wayside. Here is what DestinationCRM has to say:
“Sales professionals who spend large amounts of time drafting proposals or conducting extensive research may feel like they are working hard but getting nowhere. In reality, those are “alibi” tasks. These salespeople are making sure their whereabouts are accounted for, but they are not actually selling. Salespeople need to focus on the core aspect of their profession. No salesperson is paid for crafting fancy, animated presentations; filling files with background information on potential customers; writing proposals; or entering data in their company’s CRM system for hours. Salespeople need to sell!”
Take the time to analyze what tasks you are asking your salespeople to perform – from prospecting to quoting; from training to reporting – and what solutions you have in place for supporting this work. Any investment in technology or processes that streamline these activities will immediately increase the time they can spend on the value-added tasks that close business.
“The most successful CRM deployments are those that take into account all types of users, not just the top sales reps, or the top reps that enter data to the system today, or the most technologically savvy users,” says Jeff Lumsden. Instead, when choosing a solution, survey a cross-section of your CRM consumers — from Sales, Marketing, IT, Customer Service, and Finance — and take their input seriously.
It’s important to “understand not only how your users work, but why they work that way and how they’d like to work in the future.” The “look and feel of the CRM will play a factor in whether your users like and use the CRM,” Lumsden notes.
By taking into account the needs and preferences of those who will be using the CRM, and choosing a solution with a UI that feels intuitive, you stand a better chance of habit-forming company-wide adoption.
Streamline the Configure-Price-Quote Process
Most companies are overburdening salespeople at the most critical juncture in the sales process: the proposal phase. Rather than empowering this step, many organizations require salespeople to navigate complex configuration formulas, continuously updated spreadsheets, clunky SKU bundles, and lengthy price lists to figure out what the customer needs. Sales teams in these organizations suffer – productivity is lower, error rates are higher and offerings are rarely optimized. Because the process is so difficult, individuals may not even bother providing quotes to prospects while they are still in the investigative phase – a practice that will definitely impact pipelines over the long run.
According to an article at Fourth Source:
“When it comes to carrying out a fast Configure, Price and Quote (CPQ) exercise, which will determine the effectiveness of the sales process, their hands are too often tied by a lack of co-ordination with the back office. Improvements to this process will ultimately allow [them] to become more innovative and responsive …and bring new offers and products to market quickly. …a platform which allows for innovation, fast delivery and encourages interaction and loyalty will soon see the returns.”
Providing salespeople with a robust CPQ solution is probably the single most important move companies can make to speed the sales process. Being able to quickly generate a professional response when the subject of cost comes up will help build credibility and allow sales teams to create a larger, more convertible funnel over time.
At the same time, CPQ solutions actually improve conversion rates and profitability. Not only can the system automatically configure the entire solution at an optimized price, but it can also suggest possible upsell items to include as well.
An added benefit, CPQ solutions can integrate directly with order entry, finance, and other corporate systems to cut administrative expenses across the board.
Learn more: What is CPQ?
Eliminate Errors in Customer Communications
Nobody wants to go back to a prospect or newly signed customer and tell them that the quote you recently provided is not accurate. It not only breeds mistrust and erodes confidence, it can be a deal-breaker.
Studies show that the main source of these problems and quote inaccuracies is manual tasks. According to Experian QAS, 65% of organizations cite human error as the main cause of data problems.
More often than not, it is those companies that cannot easily update their pricing or product information – or use highly complex configuration formulas – that end up releasing proposals with erroneous information. Typically, these companies must absorb the cost differential to win the business. On the other hand, sales organizations equipped with automated CPQ solutions can rest assured that each quote produced is fully validated – technically and/or managerially – before it is sent rather than relying on the human element to follow through on the task.
Standardize Sales Responsiveness
Companies with rigid, complex configuration and pricing systems have a hard time working with customers throughout the pre-sales phase to arrive at a mutually beneficial final proposal. This problem is exacerbated when salespeople cannot effectively team up with sales engineers, product managers and other subject matter experts. Companies must be able to respond quickly as both sides revise requirements and deliverables until an agreement is reached. Here is some insight from Enterprise Irregulars:
“The pace of business is so torrid these days that the turnaround time needed to develop a quote, get it approved by your boss, and into the hands of the customer is shrinking. If you can’t deliver quickly, your competition can, which would place you at a serious disadvantage.”
A CPQ designed specifically to enable collaboration between multiple contributors is the best way to inject agility into the sales process. From the start, it allows all users to work together to quickly update the products, services, and configurations being proposed. And, CPQs can offer full version control to eliminate mistakes throughout the process.
By improving collaboration, salespeople can rest assured that the end result will be the best possible offer – one with the best chance of winning the business.
Improve Training for Current and Onboarded Sales Reps
It can take 6 to 9 months to onboard a new sales rep and get them to meet their quota. Educating your new hires about the products so they know what to sell and how to sell it is a major step in this learning process. But the learning shouldn’t end there. Once fully onboarded, sales reps need to be constantly trained and updated on the new products, pricing, and solutions that they can present to clients and prospects.
For some companies, getting a sales team or channel partner to focus on a new product offering can be difficult. It’s easy for salespeople to have success in one area and settle into a comfort zone. Salespeople tend to pitch what they know best – and ignore the rest. In a typical company, 30% of sales reps aren’t even aware of the latest wins and success stories.
Often, organizations try to combat this tendency in two ways: training and SPIFFs. When done properly, training does help to make a new product top of mind. Unfortunately, many salespeople find the constant bombardment of highly technical information to be a distraction to their real job.
Incentives can provide some short-term excitement, however, the first time the salesperson runs into difficulty – especially at the proposal phase – they will quickly revert back to their comfort zone.
One of the best ways to push new technologies in the market is through a Guided Selling tool integrated directly into a CPQ solution. It basically walks a user through specifications, options, and other customer-related requirements and then generates a validated configuration/price quote in just minutes. This approach limits the need for extra training – which salespeople usually resist – in favor of a system that walks them through the process of matching their customer’s needs to the products and services that address those needs.
When sales teams trust that they can effectively propose new technology to valued customers – and be sure it is both accurate and appropriate – companies will find themselves better able to capture market share as their offerings evolve.
Eliminate Approval Bottlenecks
Often the only way to win a deal is to completely customize an offer. Whether they need to send a proposal with special pricing, a non-standard configuration, extended support and/or a very competitive discount, most companies have rules governing “non-standard offerings” and who needs to approve them (Sales Management, Finance, Support, Product Marketing) before they are released. After all, companies cannot afford to send out quotes that will not be profitable in the long run.
Companies with inefficient notification/response methodologies are impeding sales velocity at the organizational level. When a salesperson sends an email requesting permission for a special offer – even if it is marked urgent – it rarely elicits an immediate response.
That communication channel is so noisy and overused and people always seem to be traveling, in a meeting or otherwise occupied just when their approval is needed. Typically, salespeople have to sit around waiting for an answer or calling various approvers or their assistants before they can do anything else – a tremendous waste of their valuable time.
This particular bottleneck is easy to eliminate as today’s CPQ solutions have a built-in solution for streamlining the process. When a created quote needs authorization, the CPQ system automatically sends a notification to the required parties requesting the necessary technical and/or commercial approvals. Designing notifications to include all the relevant information an approver needs to make a decision will ensure a rapid response. And, salespeople can go about their typical workday knowing that the system is tracking down approvers for them.
Removing bottlenecks in the sales cycle will immediately boost velocity in any organization.
More importantly, sales tools need to be integrated together. Asking salespeople to log into the CRM system to look up customer details and then enter them into the CPQ solution to build a proposal is extremely unproductive. Instead, integrate sales enablement tools directly into the CRM solution and allow salespeople to instantly respond to customer requests – wherever they are.
Sales Engagement – Measure Everything
If you cannot measure something – then it does not exist. From the top down; Investors, Board, Management Team, all need to be able to measure the existing process and forecast growth accurately. Your role is to create an accurate Sales Engagement Lens to measure each micro-step within the Sales Process that contributes to the growth goal OR detracts from that effort.
You need to measure both the seller and buyer’s activities and engagement touchpoints. Looking at frequency, duration, intervals, and communication style and content are all good areas for focus. Allowing you to build a profile of that buyer’s disposition, the influencing factors, and clear and timely recommendations for best-practice. The advantage of this objective process is you can compare the steps of successful reps draw conclusions as to what the whole team can be doing better.
Taking the guesswork out of the execution process is a huge stress relief for all concerned – and they will thank you for this once they are consistently hitting their quota.
Your litmus test is whether your Sales Engagement data is covering the entire Sales Process. If it is not then you face the issue of data without authentic context.
The Bottom Line
Without sales velocity and agility, companies will soon lose out to more aggressive competitors – even those with inferior offerings. We all exist in crowded marketplaces, where we compete for time, budget, and prioritization. It is not important whether your product is superior or inferior. What is important is that you sell in a way that aligns with buyer expectations and needs.
Therefore, companies must continuously take steps to make their sales organizations more productive and efficient at every turn. Certainly, sales enablement tools like CRM, CPQ and Sales Engagement platforms must be part of the solution, however, velocity cannot come from tools alone. Turn a critical eye on your operations and identify where bottlenecks are occurring. Are you spending more time helping partners price solutions than prospecting for new business? Are your salespeople spending the day chasing approvals to offer the discount? Does it take hours of sorting through Excel spreadsheets to provide a customer with a quote?
Putting together a Sales Stack that enriches your team’s preferred workflow is the most effective way to reduce friction in any potential change management. Trying to enforce something that is counter-intuitive will only lead to greater sales inefficiencies.
Institutionalizing solutions to these problems with improved technology-enabled processes is the best way to increase velocity and agility and any sales team – regardless of size, industry or sales model.
Need Help? Our experts are here for you.
You cannot leave gaps in your sales journey, and the easiest way to map this journey is to start with the end-point in mind and work backward from there, making sure your digital eco-system is connected and measurable.
Having this in place allows you to drill-down to the opportunities for efficiency optimizations and prioritize the areas that are costing your company the most money. Remembering that cost could take several forms: lost business, time inefficiency, sales cycle duration, or ramp up time.
Regardless of size, industry, or sales model you are neither unique or alone – we would be happy to talk further with you and share our experience.
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