The sales operation is arguably the most important part of any company. But sales activities can be the most stressful, time-consuming, and inconsistent parts of your business.
Fluctuating sales numbers—whether low and high—can significantly impact every other part of your business. When there aren’t enough sales, people start to worry. When there are too many, manufacturing struggles to keep up.
But, to be fair, being a sales representative often isn’t easy. It’s hard to anticipate how many leads will turn into orders—and then there’s the problem of generating enough leads in the first place. The job comes with high stakes, long hours, and the unrelenting pressure to build pipeline, close deals, and meet goals. And then there’s the annoying unremitting presence of competition that can come in and swoop away a sale or even a longstanding customer at any moment.
Fortunately, technology has made field sales activities just a little easier so you can better compete within the marketplace. The reality is that if you introduce a new system or piece of technology to enhance your sales operation, it’s probable that one of your competitors is already using it.
So, innovation in sales is a necessity for success at this point in time. That means your business needs to think about how innovation can help you monitor and/or enhance your field sales activities, with the ultimate goal of keeping your business competitive.
To do this, we’re going to look at some well known business advice, and consider how innovation can impact your business in each area.
“Information has no values at all unless it has the potential to change a decision.” – Sam Savage, The Flaw of Averages
Anthony Smith is CEO and founder of Insightly, a small business Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and project management Web app. He points out that salespeople spend significant parts of their days in the field, on the road and away from their desks. This means it’s critical that they have access to mobile communication and collaboration tools.
“You need to provide them with easy, remote access to timely and critical customer and sales information through a mobile CRM solution or app,” Smith says. “This allows them to always work with real-time data and to update a prospect's information immediately, rather than wait until they're back in the office, enabling managers to effectively track data through the sales funnel.”
So how do you do this? It may be by building a sales dashboard with the latest numbers plus training resources, and making sure it is available on mobile devices. We did this for Consolidated Assurance’s far-flung sales team. Or it could be by ensuring that your company’s website resources display optimally on company-issued tablets, as we did for Safe Industries.
Whatever the information solution, you need to make sure that it works for your salespeople in the field. Otherwise, it’s not really a solution.
“Relevance and value, not time, are the currency of sales.” –Unknown
Perhaps the most time-consuming sales activity is following up on leads. Often the difference between a good month and a bad month is whether the right lead was pursued at the right time. That’s why software that helps qualify sales leads is so valuable.
Al Huizenga is managing director of product at Sparkroom, which specializes in higher education performance marketing. He offers the following advice for efficient lead follow-up: “Define your target audience and recognize that people outside of that definition are more likely to be wasting your time than resulting in sales. Third-party demographic and behavioral data from sources like Neustar can be appended to inquiries in real time to quickly evaluate how well [prospects] fit a defined target profile.”
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca, Roman philosopher
At the heart of the first two points is a good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. A CRM is essentially the way a business organizes interactions with potential, current, and past customers. Almost every business of every size uses a CRM, or a more robust software offering that includes CRM capabilities, to stay organized and focused.
What you may not know is that a good CRM has the ability to prioritize leads, send automatic reminders, and track lead-to-sale conversion time. It can essentially give your sales team the best preparation possible to follow up with the right leads at the right time.
Mack Dudayev is the CEO and cofounder of InsureChance, an online life insurance marketplace. He says that with a good CRM, “You can expect to see an increase in your sales team's closing ratio and improved productivity. You can see how fast leads are being contacted, amount of attempts made, total sales and idle time.”
It’s also important to note how CRM functionality has evolved over the years, and will continue to evolve. Here are a few key trends that experts expect will become increasingly important, courtesy of Techopedia.com:
Cloud computing is the use of various services—such as software development platforms, servers, storage and software—via the Internet (or the "cloud”). Cloud-based software is preferable because it solves many of the problems of uptime, storage space, and access everywhere that were often issues with CRMs hosted behind a company firewall.
Social media allows consumers to provide feedback and influence a brand’s image and perception immediately. Businesses can expect feedback to reach potential markets even before it reaches them. Comcast was one of the first companies that took to Twitter to interact with customers in 2008, and social media marketing has been gaining popularity ever since. By integrating social conversations with more traditional CRM data, you unlock more insight that helps you choose the right customers at the right time.
A business can better understand its customers through extensive data collection and analysis. Centralizing customer data through CRM allows it to target and engage customers more effectively.
As mentioned above, a CRM system is not effective if it can’t be accessed whenever and wherever it’s needed. This mobility is about more than location—if possible, your CRM should be just as useful on a smartphone as on a company-issued laptop.
Users must be able to customize CRM software to meet their needs. For corporations, it’s also essential that the software can integrate with other systems and to share information and gain insights from elsewhere
No doubt your business already has a CRM system that it relies on heavily. It might be daunting to think about overhauling or even adding any of the above-mentioned features to such a critical aspect of your business.
A reliable business and technology consultant is a good place to start for advice. They can assess your current systems and determine what additional tools and capabilities will be most beneficial to keep your field sales team competitive in years to come.
Worthwhile recently went through an innovation session with a client that is finally ready to add a CRM to its tech stack. We were able to help them identify needs and find a solution at the right cost with the right functionality given the other sales tools they’re using.
Your company can write this kind of success story too. The first step is deciding that the time for innovating in the sales process is now.