How much time are your salespeople actually spending on selling?
Sales is a remarkably complex human activity. As Daniel Pink points out in To Sell is Human, it’s also deeply connected to who we are as a species. The desire to persuade others to join us in a belief, a mission, or an experience forms part of our identity as social animals.
By the same token, success in selling depends largely on our ability to connect with another person on a human-to-human level. As any seasoned sales rep knows, that means tuning into emotional signals and zeroing in on psychological needs. The best salespeople score high on qualities of emotional intelligence, such as the ability to empathize and to articulate feelings, through tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions.
And many of these highly skilled professionals are stuck behind computer screens for much of their time, prevented from doing what they do best—engaging in human interaction.
Although it might sound paradoxical, automation can help improve your bottom line not by dehumanizing your sales process but by rehumanizing it.
The ABCs of selling
At the most basic level, any sales process consists of three general stages. First, you Attract potential customers, or leads. Then you Build your relationship with them. And finally, you Convert their interest into a financial transaction.
The diagram below shows some of the many ways the three stages can play out:
As you can see, the first two phases typically belong to the Marketing while the third function is typically considered the job of Sales.
Looks pretty simple, doesn’t it? Admittedly, the diagram intentionally oversimplifies a multilayered process. But it does so for a reason. Your sales process really should be this straightforward and uncomplicated. If it’s not, chances are that your sales team are wasting their brilliant people skills on administrative tasks.
The burden of selling in the Age of Data
For example, let’s take a peek into a Day in the Life of a Modern-Day Salesperson.
Luc is a career sales professional with more than 12 years of experience under his belt. His specialty is technical sales to oil and gas companies, which means that he’s a master of the “complex sale.” He has a gift for explaining technology in everyday, business language that decision-makers can easily understand. Just as importantly, he reads body language and facial expressions like a psychic. Colleagues joke that they’re afraid he can read their mind during meetings.
Ten years ago, Luc spent much of his time on the road, visiting clients in person. Today, he spends most of his days in virtual meetings. His wife welcomes this change, but Luc finds it’s tougher to build relationships over the Internet than over a cup of coffee. To build trust with new customers takes more meetings, more follow-up emails, more time.
Yet Luc has less and less time to spend in those valuable meetings—because his administrative burden seems to grow week by week. Since the pandemic, his travel budget has been slashed, so he can’t rely on in-person trade shows and conferences to generate new leads. Instead, he spends hours combing through LinkedIn to identify possible connections. He also invests huge chunks of time into documenting his sales activities: writing up notes from sales calls, updating spreadsheets, generating daily and weekly sales logs, and producing monthly forecasts.
In Luc’s company, the sales process is no longer simple. It has ballooned to look something like this:
Luc’s boss recognizes (rightly!) that data should be driving the company’s marketing and sales decisions. Unfortunately for Luc, he doesn’t recognize how gathering, analyzing, and presenting data is wrapping one of his best salespeople in administrative chains.
How to liberate your salespeople, step by step
In the ideal world, sales professionals like Luc should spend most of their time in the Convert phase. And they should be able to use that time efficiently and effectively because they have all the data they need to inform key conversations.
Luc’s manager is right: in today’s sales environment, data is critical to success. But Luc should be spending a minimal amount of time collecting, sifting, and sharing it. Automated marketing and sales solutions should be freeing him up to spend his time on tasks that allow him to deliver the most value to the company—live interactions with prospects (or as Luc likes to say, “future customers.”)
With even a small budget, it’s now feasible to automate many steps in the sales process. For example:
- In the Attract stage, you can:
- Schedule social media posts to self-publish
- Create on-demand webinars (website visitors self-register, and the webinar plays at a time they select)
- Generate leads through AI-driven software that searches the Internet for you (Uplead is one example)
- Scan LinkedIn profiles for personality traits using Crystal
- Track new entries into your pipeline using Pipedrive
- In the Build stage, you can:
- Integrate curated content into your newsletters and customize it to user preferences using rasa
- Collect registrations for online events using Eventbrite
- In the Convert stage, you can:
Implement a CRM (customer relations management) application to help you store, sort, and manage all your customer data in one place. Some options include , such as Salesforce, Freshsales, Close, and Prospect. Hubspot also integrates a CRM into its robust offering, which includes invoicing as well as social media scheduling and email marketing.
CRMs differ in their specific features, the “friendliness” of their interface, the number of contacts they can store, and so on. But regardless of what the package includes, it’s based on the concept of a “single source of truth.” Through the customer list, you can search, analyze, and manipulate data and use it across various functions. For example, once you’ve entered a customer’s information into the list, you don’t have to re-enter it to generate a sales report, add the customer to an email campaign.
Increasingly, CRM applications are incorporating elements of AI and predictive analytics. Some of them claim to generate automatic follow-up emails, for instance, to nurture relationships, and some automatically produce sales forecasts.
Begin one step at a time
If you’re just starting to think about automating aspects of your marketing or sales, begin with the Attract and Build phases of the sales process. As you consider digital solutions, keep an eye out to the future, though. You may want to invest in solutions like Hubspot, which have the capacity to grow with you as you start thinking about latter phases.
As with any business decision, take your time evaluating your options. Be careful to align your choices with your overall strategic goals for the organization, and be sure to allow ample time for employees to learn new software and workflows.
If you incorporate sales automation into your digital transformation strategy, the Lucs in your organization will soon find themselves with more time for real-time customer conversations, and your bottom line will show the difference the human touch makes.