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Conquering Acceptance Challenges of Sales Automation

A culture change that needs to happen

By ROBERT S. GNUSE & KHALID HARRIS

“I’ve never seen a client/sales automation tool that could sign a contract.”

Those were remarks made 20 years ago from a salesperson when asked his opinion about automating sales call reporting companywide.

Fast-forward to 2011 – and enterprise-wide sales automation implementation is still met with the same reluctance and skepticism by the sales force.

Reflecting back, what that salesperson was really saying was “salespeople” are integral to closing deals; so if you expected them to welcome and use automation technology, it had better add real value to their ability to sell.

There is no disputing that the speed of acquiring new business has increased because of advancements in technology; making communications of voice and data almost instantaneous. Today, sophisticated clients are requiring more from the sales force than just knowing their service or product lines. The sales force needs automation tools to effectively engage their organization’s resources in quickly developing integrated solutions to the client’s business problems.

So why do most companies report challenges in implementing sales automation processes and still get a push-back from the sales force meant to use them? In many cases, adequately training the sales force to use technology correctly – and convincing them to use it consistently – can be a serious “culture change” issue within organizations. The salespeople asks themselves, “Why do we need this process automation tool and what are our benefits in using it to serve our clients?” Implementation problems can also stem from failing to properly address the following three key issues:

  • Alignment of company sales and automation processes that focus on adding value and reducing time wasters for the sales force
  • Selection of an automation tool that supports the core sales processes and does not drive additional processes that are not productive to the company needs analysis or sales force
  • Providing adequate training for proposed users, as data quality and user acceptance are inversely proportional to the user’s perception of the friendliness/effectiveness of the software application.

What truly makes a company’s automation processes successful? It depends on each company’s own definition, which essentially is driven by their internal needs analysis and often further supported by judicious use of implementation partners.

We have examined three companies that have reported successful implementations of sales automation software and related sales processes to see what lessons could be learned in the selection and implementation of automation tools in sales force management.

IBM

IBM is a great example of a company that has designed and implemented a sales force automation system that reinforces as well as promotes automation aspects within their sales processes and provides benefits to related departments. Resistance to change will always be a constant issue within organizations and breed the familiar “I don’t like the new changes, I like the sales process the way it was!” IBM has been delving into these change issues and over the years has effectively developed an automation system that has clearly engaged a myriad of salespeople and departmental experts along the way to help ensure and secure future business opportunities.

IBM, in conjunction with SAP (their chosen implementation partner) has won more awards for implementation than any other partnership since their inception. Why is partnering necessary when most parent companies would rather keep all their vital information and details in-house? Partnering elevates the platform of credibility while creating a framework that promotes validity too. IBM utilized its automation cycle of design-prototype-deploy-operate-enhance, rinse and repeat while SAP customized the automation software and processes to meet IBM’s “needs analysis.” The company has been able to develop self-actualization aspects within their software design. This essentially means that as the CRM system is updated with new sales information on a tracked opportunity, the system responds by creating “what if” and “next steps” scenarios. This creates a window for proactive “push adaptability and functionality,” getting information into the hands of those throughout the organization that may help strategize solutions to sales obstacles with the client.  

An example of how having real-time sales updates has benefited IBM and their partners is their ability to provide drill down capabilities that essentially allows a company to delve backwards through any and all processes to determine a root cause of sales problems. This allows for various departments to continuously drive operational efficiencies and answer questions such as,”Why does the sales force use certain details/aspects to determine potential clients and what is the relevance of those details toward the desired results?”

Maersk

Maersk, a leading importing/exporting shipping company, is another example of good implementation of client relations/sales automation systems. Maersk’s corporate sales function has four main departmental sub­groups that drive all corporate sales agendas and include: sales objective management (sets goals and creates protocols to meet/exceed those goals), account management (makes sure that the company manages optimistic and viable revenue streams), opportunity management (procures/facilitates current and future revenue streams, as well as product diversification), and sales management (implements vertical/ horizontal integration of sales force and overseas sales force initiatives, programs and protocols).

To achieve a cooperative implementation effort, Maersk conducted a rigorous “needs analysis” coupled with interactive workshop sessions for the four department sub-groups and departmental managers.

Partnering with Quartz+Co, the two respective giants created various programs and workshops to facilitate the development of their automation system. Their ability to highlight sales force techniques that have been proven over the years, coupled with their individual fact based coaching methods, facilitated development of an application that convinced many within the sales force teams that “change” was not only needed but necessary to promote the enterprises sales and growth agendas.

The main focus was making sure that all employees, vertically and horizontally, understood that there must be a desire/need for “change.” Once understood, the desire transforms into questioning, “what implications are involved and are the benefits attainable/desirable?” If properly posed and answered, the initial developmental steps necessary, yet sometimes daunting to facilitate, creates the environment to holistically build a CRM automation system that in-turn provides great implementation leverage.

Siemens

Siemens is another company that has developed a CRM system allowing them to create and virtually modify any and all aspects of their sales force automation tools. The CRM system was developed with Blackstone & Cullen to ensure that flexibility, compatibility and implementation support the processes in place. Blackstone & Cullen, similar to SAP and Quartz+Co, were chosen due to their track record as well as their adherence to government compliance aspects, which is important to companies seeking worldwide positioning via their sales force automation processes. Siemens has been able to consolidate approximately 400 knowledge center locations down to 20 master knowledge centers of their products via their new sales automation system, which adheres to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002) and promotes government compliance.

So what does this actually mean?  Department users analyzing data find information and resources are in such abundance that leveraging opportunities on a company wide scale equates to increased revenue streams compliant with Federal Acquisition Regulations. Siemens system creates query lists that immediately cross references positive and negative outcomes based on what the sales force and top management deems as acceptable parameters. The system then correlates the aspects that fit the best, based on a given scenario in addition to information garnered through “needs analysis” which increases the success rates, as well as procuring vital information as to what can generate higher sales in similar future situations.

All three examples utilize “needs analysis workshops” that promote and reinforce fact-based coaching and system building tools to stimulate thinking and increase effectiveness/efficiency of problem management. IBM and Maersk’s global knowledge and expertise of automation/implementation via hub or cloud initiatives have provided them with a unique offering in regard to implementation. Siemens has opted for an in-house point-of-sale data delivery system that promotes continually updated global distributor management information across all levels of the organization.

Even though these companies utilized different processes to accomplish their various goals, a common thread has been their thought process and methodology. Aligning company sales policies and processes to increase value, coupled with software that supports core processes, has inevitably created an atmosphere that not only encourages adequate training, but also encourages independent thinking and helps improve sales force skill sets.

How can these three companies, comparatively speaking, be so similar but operate successfully in such different areas of expertise? The methodology is the binding piece that joins the three together. When the methodology supports the processes but is not solely driving the processes, the implementation of the sales automation technology can be delivered much smoother and effectively. The automation cycle employed by all of them promote “needs analysis” in conjunction with partnering with implementation entities.

Being able to understand what the sales force wants and actually needs are two different animals. These companies ‘get it’ and have been able to design processes that facilitate those needs that have become benchmarks for other industries.

Robert S. Gnuse is president of Gnuse Consulting Group, LLC, based in Cumming, GA. He. has more than 40 years of sales, marketing and operational management and engineering expertise. You can reach him at rsgnuse@comcast.net.

Khalid Harris is an independent consultant/researcher for the Association of Test Publishers.