Really, another sales automation article? I know what you might be thinking...
We’ll cover some of the basics here, but I’d consider this more of an “opportunity” guide then generic advice on sales automation.
The reality is you probably know that there are many tasks and workflows inside your sales process that are repetitive. But to keep the sales machine churning, many sales managers feel like they don’t want to mess with something that’s working. Any change management can be perceived as near term disruption.
After all, if it isn’t broken don’t fix it, right?
But here’s the thing, just because your revenue operations processes are chugging along nicely, doesn’t mean there isn't a massive opportunity to improve them.
Inefficiencies in the sales process are a drain on the energy of your salespeople and revenue. Plus, an archaic sales process that’s loaded down with repetitive manual tasks also means time and money wasted.
And sometimes that leak is a slow one that isn’t very visible. Your sales people aren’t exactly scrambling to share that they:
Now we’re not going to recommend recreating the wheel here.
But we are going to share opportunities for modern sales teams to automate processes that don't require human interaction and effort. This way, your amazing sales people can put their dazzling skills to better use inside more productive relationship-centric tasks.
There are a million definitions out there, but to really understand sales automation, consider this:
Ever have a really good mentor?
Sounds nice right?
You know what can do all of those things and more?
Yup. Sales automation. Sales automation doesn’t mind doing the grunt work and can quickly become a salesperson’s best friend.
Sales reps in today’s competitive landscape have a lot on their plates. Forbes estimates that sales reps are spending more than half their time on non-revenue generating activities. Administrative tasks are often the main culprit and can be blamed for eating up 15% of the average sales rep’s time.
Once considered a luxury, automating the mundane tasks in the customer journey has become a critical necessity to remain competitive. This trend has innovative businesses undertaking a massive push toward sales automation as they try to capture more market share.
Sales automation takes all of the time-consuming administrative tasks sales reps are asked to perform on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis and delegates those tasks to an automated system.
Nowadays, these systems can be loaded with artificial intelligence and know when to remind the rep to perform the task or, when possible, perform the task automatically. Plus, automated systems remove human error from the equation.
What could be better than that?
Automation is a hot word and usually it sounds pretty good, but I think its helpful to provide a quick and easy framework as to how to think about it.
Any sales automation initiative should fall into one or multiple of these buckets.
The benefits of implementing automation in your sales process and customer journey are undeniable. We’ll unpack them in more detail below, but at a high level they allow companies to be more efficient, accurate, & consistent, with less resources a.k.a budget.
Let’s unpack these in more detail.
Automation enables sales teams to more efficiently use otherwise scarce resources (like a small sales team or a limited sales and marketing budget). This means an organic boost to revenue and productivity per head.
But don’t just take our word for it. There are boatloads of statistics out there to support that claim. Here are just a few:
Reps spend time on things they see as valuable. Though it may be valuable for the company, documentation of conversations in the CRM is something many reps just simply don’t want to do.
This is where sales automation plays a role in automatically capturing things without asking the reps to do more work.
This helps you define your target audience and form more effective sales strategies. Reps who understand the needs and wants of customers are able to make stronger connections.
Better information also means better data quality and forecasting. Organizations who automate and capture the right sales data for next steps and close dates can run reports and forecast with confidence without micromanaging the team.
Using the right criteria when automating the sales function will help your teams tease out highly qualified customers from those just poking around for information. More time spent on qualified deals means more conversions and more revenue. This is why many companies implement a dedicated qualification framework like MEDDIC.
In fact, 61% of businesses leveraging automation reported exceeding revenue targets in 2020. And lead nurturing sales automation has boosted conversion for various brands by more than 200%.
An honest mistake with a misquoted price can quickly turn a potential deal sour. Automation in any part of your business is going to cut down on human error and with sales that is a welcome benefit. Misquotes are just one example of many things subject to human error...another one would be our old friend forecasting.
Even in the instance things can’t be fully automated, but gathering more data around something, companies can have a more informed opinion that results in improved accuracy at all phases of the sales process.
Even with a CRM system, managers can spend hours a day manually creating and customizing reports and then figuring out a way to share them with the appropriate reps.
For example, you could use reporting automation tools to:
Because Troops lets you view and schedule reports with custom views into any message or channel, all within Slack, you don’t have to have any coding skills to generate automated reports and get the intuitive dashboards you want.
A huge benefit for sales teams is the ability to expose these reports and information across the company, including users who do not have Salesforce licenses or who don’t feel like taking the extra step of logging in to access the data.
Gone are the days that reps scribbled notes about sales calls. Now they are logging those notes into a CRM system. Is this necessarily better? Pen or keyboard, the rep is still focusing less on listening when they are scrambling to capture details for your sales process.
Often your best reps have the most interesting and compelling conversations and note taking goes by the wayside. When this happens, managers might have trouble understanding what’s happening in those calls since comprehensive notes don’t always make their way into the CRM.
This can also make it challenging for new AEs to pick up and run with opportunities when reps turn over.
Automation can help remind reps immediately after a meeting to log their calls. After implementing this kind of sales automation, one of our clients, blueacorn, saw a 100% improvement on getting this data into their CRM. And more importantly, those managers now have the information they need to help reps close and ensure smooth transitions when accounts and opps are re-assigned.
The result? A significant improvement in coaching which led to higher win rates.
Here is the bottom line on benefits of automation: By automating low value-adding and labor-intensive tasks like data collection, scheduling, lead scoring, and reporting with automatic reminders and prompts, your teams save countless hours each week. Those hours can then be spent nurturing deals toward conversion.
So by now, hopefully you are convinced that layering in some automation to different parts of your process is a worthy pursuit. But where do you begin?!?
When companies seek to standardize and automate the sale process, some focus on one part of the funnel, some focus on automating a specific task or set of tasks, and others focus on the entire end-to-end buyer’s experience.
Whether you’re looking at prospecting, relationship nurturing, or closing the deal, there is an automation opportunity that can satisfy your needs.
Automating the top of the sales funnel is critical for success. Marketing automation exponentially increases your ability to generate awareness and produce leads. This, of course, feeds the rest of your funnel.
Then once deals are in the pipeline, automation, artificial intelligence, and data analytics will drive the following processes:
So what do you do?
Providing data visibility isn’t enough if the signals your people receive are too difficult to act on. You’ve also got to make it easy and quick for presales to get up to speed with the right context so they can effectively help a customer get to their intended outcome before buying
For example, if reps are putting together a custom proposal or offering to tailor your services or product to the specific needs like in the above-mentioned example, one rep often can’t do that alone. You need account-based collaboration.
The faster, and more seamlessly your team can coordinate on solving these custom problems, the better your chances of closing.
Who can get them the data they need? What marketing material and message do they need to see? Who should be involved in which conversations? What information is slipping through the cracks across the team you’ve assembled? Does everyone have the right version of documents on pitch and messaging?
If you struggle to track and validate the progression of opportunities in your pipeline, you can’t accurately gauge how the pipeline is growing or know when to bring in additional resources to support proposals or RFPs for high-value deals.
Organizations need more visibility throughout, but visibility becomes particularly important when potential deals make it to the crux of your pipeline – the place where you know you’ve found a good fit and that the deal can close if you take the right action.
So what do you do?
You find a way to alert your teams once a deal hits this stage in the sales process. One of our clients was able to do exactly that. We helped them avoid digging through Salesforce for information every time a deal entered the critical stage, and instead they used Troops to automatically alert the team in Slack every time a sales rep moved a deal to this critical stage. The client also set up alerts to notify their team when close dates moved outside of the quarter and when an opportunity moved backward in the pipeline.
In the end, the client was able to double the average deal size and get a lot more visibility into their pipeline using Troops.
Time kills deals. And so can a messy handoff.
Botching the onboarding process happens primarily for 3 reasons:
And sometimes all 4 things get in the way!
One way our clients are including automation to improve the handoff process is by leveraging our workflow builder to route information from Salesforce in a conversational environment at the exact moment they need it.
The flow you’re seeing above is facilitated by an “is changed” trigger, so every time you change an opportunity owner throughout the funnel, the information key players need to see is automatically pumped into a slack channel that is available to individuals based on their roles in Salesforce.
Another way to think about sales automation is by use case. Many of these span various parts of the funnel and roles which means they are great opportunities.
Data entry can be tedious and time-consuming, but it’s necessary and unavoidable. When reps don’t log calls or meetings into CRM, managers and executives find it incredibly difficult to coach and make strategic decisions.
Sales automation tools can streamline the process by automatically capturing activities, conversations, and data points. Moreover, you can use workflows to identify when reps are not capturing these things and intelligently prompt them for the data that needs to be collected.
While the Internet certainly makes manual research about prospects much easier, it’s also easy for sales teams to become inundated with information overload and fall down the proverbial rabbit hole.
Research opportunities include things like CRM enrichment to show when key prospects have raised money, were mentioned in the news, or had some other “sales trigger” that warrants a touchpoint. Tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator make it easy to see social activity and when prospects change jobs.
Reps should no longer have to go and dig for this information. When research is automated and targeted, research to support deals becomes even more productive and efficient. Automation software and platforms can help identify potential clients or find public information about prospects to inform communication and sales approach.
If asked which part of their job they like the least and would LOVE to hand off to someone else, most reps would say….? You guessed it: data entry.
But, of course, all emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings must be captured in real time so other key players can remain dialed in to important opportunities. Automated activity logging sounds amazing, but auto-filling customer details like contact information, the product they’re interested in, and the pricing model only gets you so far.
The other more subjective details require human touch. But reminding the reps to add those details to your CRM can certainly be automated.
Your team is having a lot of conversations that in turn are then nurtured by your marketing team until they are ready to have a real conversation. But this assumes that when your team is having these conversations, the prospects are getting added to the database in the first place!
You’d be surprised how often this doesn’t happen. In today’s world, anyone that your team is interacting with over email, linkedin, text, should be automatically added to your CRM and associated with the appropriate account. This isn’t rocket science, but very important!
Sales automation can greatly increase the value of your marketing function and the automation that takes place there as well. But it’s always good to clarify the difference between sales automation and marketing automation.
So far we’ve been discussing sales automation, but it’s important to understand how sales automation and marketing automation differ.
Sales automation helps streamline the activities that flow through the sales process with the driving purpose of deal conversion.
Marketing automation is starting much earlier in the sales cycle. The main focus and objective of marketing automation is to drive efficiency for lead generation. So these automation efforts will cast a much wider net.
Much of this is oriented towards automatically communicating the right message to the right segment of people at scale until it’s time for a human to take over choreographing that communication.
Some contacts that a marketing team captures will undoubtedly be passed on to the sales team to nurture and hopefully convert. Both automation efforts are different, but will overlap from time to time and they certainly rely upon one another.
Think of it this way:
Now there’s just one more distinction we should discuss…
So we’ve really exhausted what sales automation is so far. The best way to explain the difference in these two items is to examine what exactly sales force automation is.
Today most sales force automation (SFA) really takes the form of CRM systems, but often many CRM systems still involve a ton of manual tasks that can and should be automated. From there, sales automation can be further layered on top.
In other words, SFA refers to software apps for sales management. Automated sales workflows streamline the sales process so you can more effectively manage business leads, sales forecasts and team performance.
The primary features of a SFA system include:
The combination of these features enables management to better track communication with your customers, compile a complete history of all interactions, sales, and activities. From there, you’ll naturally want to create tasks and/or reminders to follow up on a certain date.
By obtaining line of sight into all these activities, it naturally becomes easier to manage the pipeline from initial contact to closing the deal. And at the end of the day, you establish better relationships with your prospects because you’re minimizing the likelihood that you’ve annoyed your points of contact with duplicated sales efforts.
Many additional “sales automation” capabilities are not core to the CRM you use, but rather layers that plug into and sit on top of it to provide an enhanced experience. Most modern companies are using both!
Let’s be super clear. Just because you can automate things, doesn’t always mean you should!
Automation initiatives can fail. Not everything needs to be automated and automation doesn’t mean setting a task on autopilot and walking away.
Here are a few things that can get in the way and hinder the adoption of automation initiatives:
Even organizations that have overcome these challenges have still struggled to meet automation project targets, with only 50% reporting project success, according to McKinsey.
Sales automation won’t magically improve sales numbers and is not a license to become lazy.
Automation simply helps you become less involved with the more mundane tasks like creating and completing spreadsheets, starting from scratch to make sure prospects are nurtured at the right time by the right people, and looking like a crazy person with alarms going off on your cell phone every 3 minutes.
“Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
- Bill Gates
We’re not replacing people with automation here, but instead we’re giving them superpowers. Sales automation must focus on incorporating value-adding activities that your sales process desperately needs and eliminating those non-value-adding activities.
So it’s really important to invest up-front and understand the “as-is” sales process. From there, work to create the “should be” process.
Sales automation and the artificial intelligence that powers it actually enable your sales team to work smarter because they’re receiving signals that help them focus their time and energy on the most important elements within the sales cycle. By streamlining the process, they can begin to really focus on the prospects that are most likely to convert and the activities most likely to convert them.
We’ve been having a pretty thorough discussion of the benefits and best practices of automation throughout this guide, but now let’s clearly lay out X best practices for your sales automation initiative.
In other words, don’t automate just for the sake of automation. The approach can’t be random. It’s got to be strategic. Assess your processes and workflows to identify where efficiency could be improved with automation. Then lay out an actionable plan with metrics and milestones, so everyone remains accountable. This way, the automation impact becomes clear and obvious.
Once you identify the inefficient pieces of your sales process, it will be clear which areas need automation. Now it’s time to define your objectives. Set specific and measurable goals for what you want to achieve through automation.
To scale sales automation, create a standardized and repeatable approach to assessing, analyzing, and prioritizing automation opportunities. To do this, develop guidelines for what qualifies as a good candidate for automation as well as a methodology for measuring investment of time and budget vs. return on investment.
Clearly communicate goals and action plans for automation throughout the organization and clearly define individuals or departments that will be expected to adopt new practices.
Your team will inevitably not love changing behavior, especially if you just rolled out a new sales model or two in the past few years. But if you keep the focus on the rep benefits, adoption of new procedures will be much greater.
Training is critical for automation to succeed.
In the same way a company might study its customers as they try to meet a need, you should engage your sales teams to understand why these changes in workflow will produce better outcomes for them in the end.
Let your teams know here’s why we are asking you to do this, and here are the potential benefits you might see!
Journey mapping is a way to document and visualize the benefits of the new procedures in the workflow. Work with your teams to examine pain points and desired outcomes. A nice byproduct of journey mapping is that you can often uncover additional opportunities for sales automation and sales process improvement.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and adjustments along the way. Your processes will change, and your automation should evolve accordingly. This is why we highly recommend picking technologies that are easy to administer and deploy so that making these adjustments on your own is not a big hurdle.
“The best workout routine, is the one you actually do”
I love this advice and the same can be said for any new business process. Often times it’s not the process itself that creates results but the consistent and effective execution of it.
At Troops, we believe the easier something is, the more likely someone is to do it. And the key to making something easy is meeting your team within their existing workflow.
That’s why we built an entire platform that monitors all the data on whats changing and not changing in your key revenue systems like Salesforce, Zendesk, Outreach, Gainsight and more and then allows you to build rules to engage people with the right information and actions at the right time.
This makes it easy for reps to see and do the things they need to, with clear next best actions. And because its where they are already working, adoption and deployment is fast and easy.
Sales automations Troops can help your team with include:
Really, the opportunities are endless. If you have a process, Troops can help aid, guide, and drive behavior around it.
One day anything that doesn’t require human interpretation, judgement, and communication will hopefully be automated. I’m excited about a world where someone will think something and it will be entered into a CRM...maybe.
In the near term, though there are lots of exciting categories that will become more important. Ones that stick out are conversation intelligence. The idea of rewriting things after you’ve already spoken about them so they can be recorded and reported on seems archaic.
Moreover, all the manual processes today required to connect with people that actually want to talk to you. Think about how much time is wasted chasing people that really aren’t interested in your solution?
Lastly, we think sales will continue to become more and more a team and company sport. The integration of communication, data, and all your systems will become more and more seamless and as a result, yield better outcomes for both you and your customers.
At Troops, we’re building synergistic solutions that help salespeople close more deals as a team. Want to see how it works? Sign up for a free trial!