Where Deals Go to Die: 5 Sales Administration Steps You Should Automate Today

sales enablement

Today’s guest post is from Chris Bucholtz, content marketing manager for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. I worked with Chris a few years ago and he is brilliant. Oh and he is the kind of guy you can talk to about anything including baseball, model airplanes, and the Tuskegee Airmen. Here we go:

Anyone who sells in large companies has seen it: a deal that races through its early stages and seems like a sure thing, then abruptly grinds to a halt – not because the buyer suddenly got cold feet but because the salesman has become hung up on internal processes.

These administrative tasks are important – your company wouldn’t do them if they were not. They provide a means of control for sales managers, a record for marketing to evaluate its performance, and even help out the sales rep once in a while by offering up some insight about a customer.

But at times, these tasks can pile up and threaten to bury salespeople beneath a mountain of non-selling task. According to a 2013 study by Pace Productivity, the time salespeople actually spent selling only amounts to 22 percent of daily activity, while planning and administrative tasks consume 33 percent of salespeople’s time.

In theory, reducing the time and effort spent on administrative tasks is highly lucrative. If you spend a quarter of your time actually selling (about 500 hours a year), and you’re making your quota of $1 million, that means that your selling time is worth $2000 an hour. Every hour you can move from administration to selling is enormously valuable, then; save 50 hours in a year, or one hour a week, and you’ve added a potential $100,000 to your sales.

But still, you see salespeople toiling away on non-selling activities – and worse yet, they may come at the expense of selling. These are the areas of your sales process where deals go to die a slow, painful, needless death, often because salespeople are struggling with outmoded ways of recording data about them. Your spread sheets become these deals’ funeral shroud – and the worst part is it didn’t have to happen!

Here are five examples of areas where automation could have saved the deal – and, in time, can save you selling time that you can use to close more deals and bring in more sales and commissions:

1.     Lost in the Process

The saddest of these needless deaths comes when the sales administration process itself has become so confusing that sales reps get tangled in its complexity. Aspects of the process may be automated, but they aren’t integrated. Similarly, a sales organization may be using CRM but may lack the proper tools to record and analyze other aspects of the process, like pricing or quote management. Forcing the salesperson to be a data entry expert and manually move data from one system to another is a monumental waste of his time. Worse, if he doesn’t keep up to date, he’s likely to never get data into your systems, defeating the whole purpose for their existence. I call this “Lost in the Process,” a condition that is either monumentally frustrating to the salesperson or which alters his mindset around what’s important. He no longer focuses on closing the deal – he focuses on “feeding the beast” in order to keep his manager happy in the short term around data about the sales process. Of course, no one is happy when the deal falls through.

The secret to making the process navigable for salespeople is to integrate your software solutions properly, or equip them with a suite of software that manages the process from lead to money. It’s not about making it simple. It’s about saving the salespeople time and mental energy so that administering sales data is simple and takes as little time as possible.

2.     Territorial Failure

Every sales rep wants a big territory. The thinking is that the bigger the territory, the more sales opportunities there are to cash in on. Well, yes and no.

Territory management software exists for a reason, and that reason is not to punish go-getters. It’s to spread prospective customers evenly over your sales team (with their abilities factored in) so that you can get the most return from every area you sell into and from every salesperson.

Too small a territory leaves sales people frustrated and angry. But when you make one territory too small, it’s likely you also made another one too big – and the size of that territory can actually impede sales. That seems counterintuitive, but think it through: a right-sized territory allows your sales reps to spend the right amount of time going through leads, then focusing his or her attention on the deals that are likely to close. The oversized territory, however, forces you rep to spend a lot more time in the initial stages of reviewing and making initial contact with a lot more leads. When he’s down to the hot leads, he now has less time to work them – and he has more to work to do to cover them all. All the result is that some hot leads are dropped, and the ones that are worked are worked more hastily and are less likely to convert. That’s a waste – for the salesperson, for the marketing department who found the leads, and for your business. Had you used territory management software, other salespeople could have picked up those lost deals.

3.     Configure, Price, Quote

So, the salesperson is getting down toward the finish line. The customer’s close to buying, and he asks for a discount. The salesperson asks for approval – and, because the process isn’t automated, he waits. Hopefully, the customer will be patient – and the competition isn’t standing by with an automated CPQ tool in place in order to beat your salesperson to the punch.

Sales managers relish having personal control over their organizations, but leaving CPQ as a manual process is asking for trouble. Not only is it an easily automated task, but it’s another source of distraction for sales managers, who should be training and coaching salespeople instead of approving deals themselves, or managing teams of people who develop and approve quotes. Some degree of human intervention is inevitable, but for larger organizations the parameters of acceptable deals are well known and can be managed through CPQ in a nearly hands-off way. Salespeople get quotes and approvals nearly instantly, flattening out a sales speed bump and getting deals done faster.

4.     Contract Signature

Here we are at the end of the deal. The quote’s been generated, hands have been shaken, and all that’s left is to get the contract signed. But here’s another spot where a process left un-automated can cost you deals. In fact, a study released in August, 2014 by Apptus and Adobe revealed that simply streamlining contract renewals with an e-signature solution could contribute to revenue growth of 15 percent or more.

The problem is that physical contracts have to run a gauntlet of potential distractions: they sit on executives’ desks and can get misplaced; they might get wet or torn and need to be replaced; a signature might be signed in the wrong place, and so on. All of these are trivial problems – and all of them delay the deal, and postpone payment, costing the seller money.

Contract signature management tools such as EchoSign and DocuSign have established their effectiveness and their security. If you’re not using one, why not? You’re literally delaying the close of your deals by waiting for the mailman to bring you a signature.

5.     Forecasting

Sales forecasting without automation can be an intensely aggravating exercise in guessing, extrapolating and justifying. It’s also very difficult, even with automation. According to a 2012 study by CSO Insights, less than half of all forecasted B2B opportunities result in a sales win. A little less than one third result in a competitive loss, and just under 25 percent result in the prospect doing nothing.

The failure of an organization to use software to assist in this difficult process hurts deals in a different way: it keeps sales managers away from their salespeople and prevents them from spending time on coaching, troubleshooting and assisting them when they need it. This is truly death from above: a task that should be highly automated diverts the sales manager just when he’s needed most, potentially by multiple salespeople. His expertise could help push a few deals across the finish line, but instead he’s occupied trying to make somewhat-informed guesses from a disparate collection of often-incomplete data. And while his salespeople’s deals crash down, his forecast gets even more difficult to live up to.

Callidus, sales productivityChris Bucholtz is content marketing manager for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. A regular columnist for CRM Buyer and CMS Wire, Chris has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on CRM since 2006. When he’s not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he’s wearing his airplane geek hat; he’s written three books on World War II aviation. You can read him regularly on the CallidusCloud blog.


Image from Justin Morgan