Automating the Sales Force

John Ominski

267 - 331 - 1032

Part I 

Companies have spent large amounts of time and money wrestling with the concept of sales force automation. Overall most have made little progress in an area that most agree is critical to survival in the new millennium. Why? Here are the 8 most typical reasons programs fail. 

1.   Poor or non-existent Customer Relationship Management System. 
At the least, every company should have a good database system with the basic demographics of all customers, vendors, and prospects.

2.  Too busy right now.
Companies are too busy with the day-to-day realities to effectively address Sales Force Automation without outside help.  In most cases, there is no one within the organization that has the background or experience to automate the sales process or integrate existing systems into the sales force.

3.  Not including the sales force in the process.
How would you like to be 'Automated'? 
To a group of very people oriented folks like sales professionals, it has all the charm of a root canal. We have found the phrase Technology Implementation to be a bit more appealing. Perhaps the reason so many Sales Force Automation programs fail is that they start by focusing on hardware, software, and techies.  They fail because they don't take the actual sales people and their tasks into consideration.

4.  Lack of SFA / CRM Knowledge

To many companies SFA / CRM means Oh yeah, some of our people have laptops and a couple of them use OUTLOOK!   This is a far cry from a program, which applies sales technologies throughout the system to improve efficiencies and sales effectiveness. A thorough program should include workgroup contact management, opportunity management, document and email automation (PC based letters, emails, forms, proposals, literature, etc.) information and document management (a knowledge bank of the best ideas and business information) presentation tools (interactive presentations and value analysis spreadsheets), and communication tools (e-mail, PC based faxing, and an integrated web site).

5.  Our 'computer guy' is handling that.
The project is turned over to the IT department. You might as well put the gun to your head and pull the trigger.  This would be faster and less painful for the results you will achieve.  The IT staff is already busy trying to keep up with technology. More importantly IT professionals usually have no concept of what sales people need to be more effective (and seldom care). The IT staff should be part of the process but the sales team needs to determine program components.

6.  The cost of technology.
Many companies simply refuse to accept the fact that the technology infrastructure needs to be kept up to date.  That costs money.  But, it is a continuing investment that should provide significant returns.

7.  Inadequate training.
So, you make all of the investments.  You have the best technology infrastructure in your industry.  But NOBODY knows how to use it.  See point number 6.  Part of the cost of technology is having your staff trained to fully use it.

8.  Lack of Management leadership and involvement.
Like any important sales initiative, any technology program must be driven from the top. If management isnít promoting, using and developing the tools, staff will not use it.  If the boss provides staff with information written on napkins, expect the staff to move information on napkins.

At this point, you may be depressed enough to toss this paper into the circular file. You are not alone. Over 70% of all SFA programs fail because of the reasons above. So what should you do?  Go back and read points 1 through 8.  You now know why SFA programs fail.

Some good news awaits you in Part II.

Part II 

Sales and Marketing Process Automation

OK, so let's put "automating the sales force" to the side for a moment. How else can you use technology to improve your sales results?

The answer lies in the red-hot area of Sales and Marketing Process Automation. In simple terms this means using technology to do the legwork your sales force would do if they weren't spending so much time pushing papers, creating pipeline reports, and attending sales meetings.

Using this affordable technology with only two or three employees will make a major difference in your sales and marketing process. This means more sales, more $$$, more profits!  This group will create a 'sales funnel' to turn suspects in to prospects and prospects into customers. You will be able to 'nurture' your existing customers by 'touching' them more often with suggestions, information and new product solutions. You will feed a steady stream of qualified leads to your sales force. You will increase the number of sales contacts by at least 200% and reduce the cost of developing new business by at least 50%.

Sound interesting? Good! To make all of this official, we need to have a name for this department. We call it a Business Development Center (BDC). The BDC responsibility is to develop new business opportunities with existing customers and prospects.

A Business Development Center utilizes a combination of a contact management database, the Internet (your website), broadcast communication (Fax, E-mail, Postal), and telemarketing to work its magic.

What is the role of each BDC component?

Contact Management Database.
This is the control center for your BDC. Your BDC team will share a database of contact information. They will schedule follow up calls and build a history of all activities. They will access a library of literature, letters, quotes, and proposals, which can be e-mailed directly, from their PC.

Your BDC will process, handle and track all leads. Suspects will be imported into your database from sources like trade show leads, D&B's, iMarket or Manufacturers Guides on disk. Prospects will visit your web site and submit information requests via e-mail. Dormant or untapped customers will be fed into the BDC funnel for development.

How can just a few people handle thousands of contacts? Your BDC will have help in the form of Automated Processes. In an automated process, a prospect is put on a 'track' where the completion of one step in the sales process automatically triggers the next step to happen or be scheduled. For example, a prospect inquires about a product on your web site.  The prospect emails you or calls you.  You now have a new prospect and their information.  You respond immediately with a customized / personal email with the information that best meets the prospectís needs.  A follow up phone call is scheduled. If the customer expresses interest during the call an appointment is scheduled for a sales rep. If more work will be required the prospect stays on the 'track' and another follow up call is scheduled automatically.

You create this automated process and determine what you want to happen at each step. During the process BDC members and management have complete access to the status of every prospect and program. Management reports can be generated to track new business, suspects, prospects, forecasted or completed sales or a even a complete history of events.

Think about a new product introduction. What is your process today? Sales meeting, literature, target account lists, contests, nagging? Using your contact manager, your BDC will be able to qualify your customers and prospects by market, products used, size, etc. Your BDC team will be able to apply a 'filter' to pick out all the contacts that meet a profile for the new product. Within minutes they are ready to call, e-mail, fax or create a mailing. You will be giving qualified leads to sales reps before they would have normally made their first cold call.

The Internet /
Your website will serve as your 24/7 storefront. If your site is interesting, and is perceived to offer some real solutions your customers will feel quite comfortable stopping by for the latest info.

Your site will tell visitors, who you are, why you are unique, and why they should do business with you. It should feature products or services that provide a solution to customer problems. Your site should give visitors a chance to call you, request more information and submit a request for information. These requests will be drawn directly into your contact management database.

Your marketing efforts will regularly point your customers and prospects to your web site for new information or specials. You will utilize on-line PowerPoint presentations to serve as the cold call sales rep for your offerings. Visitors can click on a 'View Presentation Button' and get the basics without having to see a sales rep. They save time, you save valuable sales rep time. You will send your sales reps in to close prospects that request more info and are ready to buy.

Broadcast Communications
Broadcast communications refers to using technology to send the same message to a targeted group of contacts. After selecting the target group of contacts, your BDC team will have an arsenal of communication options. They may use any or a combination of the following.

Phone: Schedule phone calls, over a period of several days to each BDC associate.
Postal mailing: Create and send personalized letters and flyers. The contact manager will create labels in minutes. Printing and postage are expensive, folding and stuffing are very labor intensive tasks.

Without doubt, the most efficient and cost effective method is e-mail: You can send a broadcast e-mail with hyperlinks directly to areas of your web site. Typically you can send thousands of personalized e-mails in minutes!

Using broadcast e-mail, your unattended 'broadcast' can happen at night or on the weekend. Compare this to the time spent on mailings today.

The BDC Team will provide amazingly fast response to customer requests for information. They will have an electronic library of letters, literature, and forms available. Requested information will be faxed or e-mailed while the prospect is on the phone.

What will you need to start your BDC?
Commitment - The BDC should have a leader with good database experience as well as some sales and marketing background.  This person will serve as guide and resource to other BDC members. Because all information is captured and shared in the database, the BDC can be a great training ground for future outside reps.  They will have quick access to customer and product information from the database and the practical experience of the leader to draw from.

Software: The basic software needed to accomplish all this is readily available off the shelf. For contact management, a program like GoldMine will serve you well. Typically, software will cost about $800.00 per seat.

As someone who has walked on all sides of the street, business owner, sales manager and SFA consultant, the amazing success that can be accomplished through computer-aided sales and marketing constantly amazes me. Though the journey into the technology jungle can be frightening, with some dedication and patience you can become one those cutting edge sales organizations. You will wonder how you ever did it the old fashioned way. Technology in sales and marketing is here to stay, and companies that fail to embrace it might not. The key is to build a plan of action and do something. All successful journeys begin with the first step. Sales Automation is no exception.


John Ominski


(267) 331 - 1032