What Your Team Needs to Sell Better – Sales Operations Tools

So, you got your compensation structure right and have hired a couple of good sales people (and maybe my July article even helped you do it). Congratulations! Now I truly hope you have organized a sales operations infrastructure and have metrics in place, so you can keep your sales people out of BS and help them move their leads through the funnel.

Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, we hire sales people before thinking about how to best support them. We expect them to “make it rain” on their first day, but since we have enough other problems on our minds, we only start worrying once the sales team starts causing revolts. It seems like sales operations has always needed at least some help in every company I have joined.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves and go over the list of basics of what we will need. Some of you may protest and say that simple tools like paper notebooks, Excel, or even a sales person’s memory is enough. I wish this was true myself, but it does not scale. So here we go:

First and foremost, don’t assume your sales people (even those who were top producers before) will sell your product like hotcakes, if you have not armed them with enough product knowledge:

  • Every product you sell has to have at least a slide or a page with key points on which customer problems it solves. Use large font, don’t clutter the slide, and make it is easy to read. Consistency sells better.
  • Battle cards! Don’t let anyone start their day without them. Everyone has competition, be it direct or indirect, and your marketing team better put together a retort for every competitor that comes up during sales process. Keep your cards updated for your sales team at all times! If your marketing team is too busy working on that new flashy website, pull them off that task and get the battle cards done first.
  • Figure out the best way to keep the feedback and communications loop between your sales, marketing, and delivery/product team going. This one is highly culture-dependent, so I can’t help you too much here.

You wouldn’t have your accountant run your finances using an abacus, so don’t force your team to use a legal pad – build them the right CRM for the job:

Step 1 – choice of CRM

  • Stay away from Microsoft Dynamics CRM and especially 37Signals Highrise. In the last 15 years, I have dealt with CRMs from Sage, Zoho, Sugar, Salesforce.com, Microsoft, and 37Signals. I would not wish those last two on my worst enemies. 37signals should have stuck with their two phenomenal products: Basecamp and Campire. Highrise is a disaster and you should not torture your sales team with it.
  • ZohoCRM is good for 2-3 person sales and marketing teams, but reporting and other functionalities are not ideal for any organization that wants to scale.
  • Salesforce.com is the most expensive, and I absolutely can’t stand the inflexibility of their account management and annual contract processes. But, if you want an extremely powerful product that you can find a lot of extensions and community support for, find the money for it – it is worth it! If you can find someone good with APIs, you can do some incredibly powerful integration between different tools and make Salesforce.com into a powerful marketing automation, lead and sales management, customer service, and advanced analytics tool. As you scale, you can get as big and as complex as you need. Whether you’re a shop with five sales and marketing people or a multi-national company with thousands of employees – this is your CRM.
  • SugarCRM is for those shops with internal “hackers” willing to spend time playing with the program. If you want a self-hosted and highly custom setup – this CRM is for you. The opensource community is great and does use not proprietary language like Salesforce.com. BUT, you really need hackers on your team with mastery of LAMP and the capacity to do this for you. I know SugarCRM has an SaaS version, but why go this route then – get Salesforce.com instead.

Step 2 – customization and capability enhancements

  • There is no better way to create unnecessary blocks and add additional training burdens than by putting too many customizations into your CRM. You are not a special snowflake, good sales processes really don’t differ much between companies that do well, so every time you get an idea for something new and custom, remember, those CRMs were built based on feedback of tens of thousands of companies. Stop re-inventing the wheel!
  • Have I mentioned the restraint you must practice when it comes to any customizations? It is worth repeating!
  • Where customization is a must?  In measurement. I have a separate section below on this.

Step 3 – once you have monthly budget of $3K+, you can spend on services to minimize “wear and tear” on your sales and marketing folks

  • Marketing automation is the best darn thing that has come out of the hands of software developers and data geeks in the last couple of years. I have seen efficiency improvements and reduced costs in the order of 6X with the use of automation. And, you can iterate and scale the automation as your resources allow. From something as clean and easy to setup as Yesware, to your own custom automation within Salesforce.com or something like Marketo, there is a solution at every level.
  • The second best thing you can do for your sales and marketing teams is to integrate a third party data source. I am talking Zoominfo, LinkedIn, and/or especially D&B (there are others I have tested, and I would not waste my time). You can enhance your lead data quite a lot, improve filtering, get those queues going, and give your sales people richer lead data. The more you take care of the leads you get and work off those, the more your CAC (customer acquisition costs) will dip, which will keep people like me off your necks and get you more resources.

OK, we got them selling, made their life a bit easier, organized them, and got them working on getting their leads through the sales funnel.

Step 2c (c for Crucial) – measurement

You can’t run your company on purely your gut, anecdotal observations, and “perception”. Companies that measure well, do well. Mantra here is qualitative over quantitative. It makes marketing feel good that they nearly killed the server with all the traffic and thousands of leads that came in from a free e-book, but I can’t pay their salaries with that, I need paying customers. If you deployed a decent CRM (like Salesforce.com), creating KPIs and running different reports is not that hard.

The top 4 KPIs you should immediately put in:

  1. Conversion rates at each stage of the sales funnel. Track these like you track every penny in your business bank accounts. This is your investment, the lifeblood of the company, the future!
  2. Customer acquisition costs (CAC). David Skok has an article on this metric that should be read by every member of your executive, sales, and marketing teams (yes, from CEO to intern) - Startup Killer: the Cost of Customer Acquisition
  3. Average transaction in dollars. I want my sales people selling the best solution for the customer and don’t want them leaving money on the table. I also couple each average transaction with the adverse discount and rate in front of the entire sales team for each member. Public accountability curbs shortcutting.
  4. Customer LTV (lifetime value) – this is the SUPER-KPI. This is where sales, professional services, and customer service get measured together. Put incentives in place and reward heavily for healthy increases in this number!

Now I realize this is a lot of “stuff” to deal with, and it usually takes about a year or two to get all of these tools, KPIs, and processes going. But it is worth it! The companies who do it right are the ones you see growing even in lean times.

UPDATE 12/11/2012: I have recently come across a Cambridge, MA startup InsightSquared that would have saved me a lot of hours developing and deploying performance metrics in Salesforce.com (they also work with other CRMs). For extremely reasonable subscription (way less than what your time costs) you get incredible capabilities not available in Salesforce.com.

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