How B2B companies automate their sales forces

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In a world of rapidly evolving buyer expectations and behaviors, B2B sales and marketing leaders need to provide their teams with tools necessary to achieve customer success and improve business results.

Essentially, B2B businesses live and die with their sales forces. The key factor is how many sales leads they can churn through in what amount of time. However, 42 percent of sales reps feel they do not have the right information before making sales calls, according to CSO Insights. Fortunately, there are methods available to help automate this process and make salespeople more effective and efficient, which will directly affect the top line of the B2B firm.

Making customers content with content
Just as music can soothe the savage beast, unconverted customers can be swayed with marketing content. But according to Kapost, salespeople most commonly complain that they cannot find content to send to prospects.

Andrew Davies
Andrew Davies

“As such, the key challenge for sales teams is time wasted finding relevant content for sales prospecting,” says Andrew Davies, CMO and co-founder, idio, a content intelligence provider and Salesforce integration partner.

“And while marketing may produce a lot of useful content for nurturing prospects and accelerating deals, it’s wasted if sales doesn’t know where to find it or can’t keep pace with new content being produced.”

Without relevant content, a lead score or customer profile with name, email, title and engagement level is little use to sales reps who want engaging and informed conversations with prospects, Davies says. idio fixes both of these problems with a content intelligence platform and a sales enablement product, idio for Salesforce, according to Davies.

“By tracking the content consumption of each prospect, we provide users with the real-time needs, interests and pain points of each prospect in their database,” he says. “We recommend the most relevant marketing content to automatically email a prospect. Both a prospect’s interests and the next-best recommended content are displayed on the same CRM dashboard—saving time and stress of searching for the perfect piece.”

Customer profiling
To help B2B salespeople be more efficient in servicing customers, sales reps should send individualized value messages to them, according to Haka Products. For that, they can use Haka Connect, a Salesforce app that replaces static customer and buyer profiles with an automated process in Salesforce, according to Haka.

“B2B buyers today are more connected and more informed,” says Colm Lennon, founder and president Haka Products, provider of Haka Connect. “They have more choices and higher expectations of value. They don’t want to be sold; they want to be educated. We help sales reps communicate effectively to each stakeholder in the buying decision,” Lennon adds. Haka provides sales reps the ability to share voice of the customer so marketing and product management can listen, learn and iterate product positioning, collateral or improve the product to accelerate close rates.

Sales force automation only as good as its data
At the start of the PC revolution in the 1980s, as it’s chronicled in the current TV series “Halt and Catch Fire,” an acronym came into vogue, GIGO, which was short for “garbage in, garbage out.” In other words, any system—including a B2B sales force automation system—is only as strong as the information put into it.

“B2B salesforce automation—SA—is a necessary tool for today’s market,” says Mike Rodriguez, business consultant and published B2B sales author. “However, SA is only as good as data entered and managed. With that, businesses need to understand their sales cycles, closing ratios, loss ratios and have an overall database for client content.”

Regardless of industry vertical, it is critical to capture and track customer information, according to Rodriguez. However, the metrics will be different per vertical. “Businesses must verify current opportunities, manage progress and measure results,” he says. “SA allows businesses to stay on top of their key sales data to forecast properly and grow their business.”

Commodity products easy, complex products difficult
When it comes to sales force automation, the simpler the product, the easier it is for an application to streamline the sales process such as for commodity products.

On the other hand, complex products prove a more difficult proposition. “High-volume, standardized products are easiest to automate due to lack of variation within each sales process,” says Hannah Lincoln, lead CRM consultant, itas solutions, reseller of Sage ERP, CRM and business intelligence solutions. “Where there is a large consultancy component then automation becomes a lot more complex and can be more expensive.”

The biggest challenge can be deciding how much to automate the sales process, according to Lincoln. If B2B firms automate their sales processes too much they risk losing the ability to push buttons on the customer’s pain points and pulling the trigger on the sale, she says.

For more complex sales, focus on nurturing stages. If the customer buys into the B2B firm at a higher level it will shorten the sales cycle and lead to faster conversion, Lincoln says. Overall, tips she offers in sales force automation include:

  • Optimizing your process for automation before deciding on software
  • Analyzing the effect of standardization on conversion rates
  • Implementing a prompt system to ensure customers push through the process when automation is not possible

Automate pre-sales process, too!
B2B sales automation performs best when early effort is expended on the pre-sales process or prospecting stage, according to Jim Herst, CEO of Perceptive Selling Initiative.

“Development of automated prospecting techniques—especially when designed so that buyers self-identify—is the best way,” Herst says. “Identifying and isolating better (methods of) prospecting can be the doorway to making and keeping a sales force happy.”

Whereas most of the current methods of “automating” the sales processes turn to the cloud or software solutions, Herst advocates more classic principles of sales prospecting methods including but not limited to direct mail, TV/radio, billboards, PR, telemarketing, trade shows and print advertising. “The key is, find what works best, use and improve (it) and supply the sales force with the leads,” he adds.

Quality leads to predictable revenue
But don’t just supply any old leads to the sales force. Consider the quality of the leads given to sales and how much each salesperson knows about her prospects.

“You might know that they’ve purchased from you before, but it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of their needs,” says Amanda Kahlow, CEO and founder, 6sense, a B2B predictive intelligence engine for marketing/sales. “Predictive intelligence solutions tap into all the data you know about your buyer—from past deals to interactions with emails, ads, website, plus firmographic and demographic data about the account and contacts involved in purchases.”

Via API, all this rich data about buyers is seamlessly pushed into any sales force automation tool whether click-to-chat, auto-dialer or marketing automation. “Then the sales force can spend more time on leads highly likely to buy rather than just dial for dollars,” Kahlow says.

Because without quality leads, revenue’s not predictable and sales force automation won’t matter.

Photo of Hannah Lincoln via itas solutions

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).
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