For Axsys managing director Jason Ransley, sales gold lies outside of the spreadsheet. In this blog, he reveals how to use tech to best drive sales performance.
What is the difference between a high-performance sales team and one that’s only OK?
Traditional wisdom would say to create a top team, you need to recruit top talent – a bunch of star players, bringing in the deals. But while star players are good to have on the team, those businesses that have worked out how to turn all their sales people into stars? They’re the ones who can really claim the win.
From my experience helping clients implement key business software, it’s in quality lead management – and that’s all down to great processes and systems. They let you raise the general performance level of a sales team by capturing customer information and embedding best practice into business-as-usual.
Most sales teams that are struggling are working off individual spreadsheets, or databases containing minimal information. While this ad hoc approach can work fine for smaller teams, when businesses begin to scale, problems start to crop up – manual processes can quickly block growth.
Studies from Mckinsey support this hypothesis. After comparing B2B organisations who made good use of technology in their lead management with those who didn’t, the results are stark. B2B players who are the top users of technology in their sales process ‘grow more sales, earn more profits, and deliver more value to shareholders than the rest of the B2B field’.
A study of salesforce effectiveness from KelloggInsight asked both academics and sales people what they thought most influenced sales outcomes. Their answers were wildly different, except in one area – ‘both camps put approximately the same emphasis on having the right data and tools, performance management, and communication’.
It’s easy to see why. Great sales tools can:
Great sales people, by their nature, are people people. Put them on the phone or in front of clients, listening to needs and finding problems, and they excel.
The reality is, sales work actually involves a lot of administration – details that most sales people skip or do poorly.
‘Sales often sees accounting as a bunch of paper pushers obsessed with making it hard to just get out there and sell, while accounting see sales as overcompensated prima donnas unwilling to follow procedures, turn in paperwork… or even imagine anyone exists but themselves.’
Many sales leaders approach this as a management issue – they push their team harder to complete this part of their role, which leads to conflict, and often doesn’t do much to improve performance in that area.
The logical solution is not to force sales people to up their game in the admin stakes, but to remove it all together. Technology can automate many of these mundane repetitive tasks, which can include data entry, setting appointments, quoting, and maintaining sales records.
That means sales people can stop wading begrudgingly through spreadsheets and focus on what they do best: selling. That automatic, seamless movement of data is also good news for accounts and management – they know they have timely, accurate information to work from.
Sales teams are often filled with big personalities who love autonomy and doing things their way.
While that has its upsides, it makes it almost impossible to ensure your sales process is consistent. That can be confusing for customers, and means you’ll have a hard time of improving your processes, or the performance of your team in general.
Embedding technology into the sales cycle means team members must work a certain way – that is, the process set by the software. Most good systems will let you customise that process to suit your business, but once it’s set, it means you create consistency throughout your teams.
Automation also makes up for human failings.
You can set up prompts to follow people up at certain times, embed sales scripts, and generally optimise the flow from start to finish.
That’s beneficial in two ways – it means you can improve the performance of team members who are struggling and it also lets you bring on less experienced, and therefore less expensive, team members. The technology can’t do their job for them, but it can make sure your sales team is hitting the marks you know make the most difference to the success of a sale.
According to McKinsey, while ‘B2B sales teams are working hard to close deals that often involve multiple rounds and many more decision makers, they often lack the real-time analytics and digital tools they need to manage the sale profitably, by knowing which lead will respond to what offer, or when to conduct personal outreach’.
Automated processes and integrated data give your sales team real-time information. For example, they can compare leads with existing customers and industries to find clues on which approach will get the deal across the line.
With separate spreadsheets, your sales teams are essentially operating in silos. That breeds patch protection behaviour and doesn’t do much for serving those potential customers either.
With that customer information stored in a centralised system, you can make sure lead allocation is optimised, and counteract any breaks in service – like a team member heading off sick.
This is especially important for companies with long lead times. Teams can keep track of everything from start to finish, so even if a lead goes cold, you’ve still got all their history if they ever reappear.
While many sales systems and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms still operate as stand-alone systems, companies could realise multiple benefits from having them integrated to their central system.
At a most basic level it allows for more accurate pricing and stock knowledge. Lots of sales people maintain their own inventory, which might not accurately reflect the pricing in the accounting system.
The lack of that real-time information means sales people are in danger of mismanaging client expectations, over-pricing an item (and losing a sale) or under-pricing (and losing profit).
Improve overarching business data
In an integrated system, the sales data also flows back the other way, delivering real-time information about what’s in the pipeline. That has huge ramifications for better predicting stock levels, manufacturing requirements, revenue and cash flow.
Knowing you have the stock or other resources you need in order to deliver on a sale is a critical part of the sales cycle.
With information on how many widgets you have out on quote, your conversion and delivery lead times, you’ll have a fairly good guide on your ordering needs.
How many times do you need to connect with leads until they convert? According to some sources, it could be as many as nine – and for some leads that can be many, many more.
So, when leads don’t convert – what happens then? When you automatically capture leads into a centralised CRM, you get to keep them on your radar. Perhaps they get put onto a lead-nurture campaign and sent emails that remind them you’re there when they’re ready to buy.
That takes the load off your sales team – they only need to focus on low-hanging fruit and leave the rest to the automated system. It also means you can be consistent about who you’re reaching out to – so everyone gets contacted and no one’s bombarded.
The right automated systems and processes can take the admin drudgery out of sales, deliver accurate and timely data to accounts, create and nurture better leads, and ensure the products or services are there and ready to deliver.
Your teams will work together better, with accurate pricing at their command, and real-time sales information flowing back into the system to better inform business planning and sales performance overall.
To stay competitive and better scale your business, it’s time to discard manual spreadsheets and processes, and implement the technology that will future-proof your enterprise.